In the United States, “profiling” is a dirty word — and rightly so. It is one way in which state power transgresses civil rights with the consequence that individuals can be subject to unjustified questioning or detention. But when the US employs profiling overseas, the targets don’t just get arrested, they get killed — killed merely on the basis of suspicions about who they are and what they might be doing. An individual for whom an arrest warrant couldn’t be issued because investigators had not even been able to establish his name, can nevertheless be eliminated — no further questions asked. Whoever the US government calls a terrorist it also claims the right to kill.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
The Central Intelligence Agency is preparing to launch a secret program to kill al Qaeda militants in Yemen, where months of antigovernment protests, an armed revolt and the attempted assassination of the president have left a power vacuum, U.S. officials say.
The covert program that would give the U.S. greater latitude than the current military campaign is the latest step to combat the growing threat from al Qaeda’s outpost in Yemen, which has been the source of several attempted attacks on the U.S. and is home to an American-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who the U.S. sees as a significant militant threat.
The CIA program will be a major expansion of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Yemen. Since December 2009, U.S. strikes in Yemen have been carried out by the U.S. military with intelligence support from CIA. Now, the spy agency will carry out aggressive drone strikes itself alongside the military campaign, which has been stepped up in recent weeks after a nearly yearlong hiatus.
The U.S. military strikes have been conducted with the permission of the Yemeni government. The CIA operates under different legal restrictions, giving the administration a freer hand to carry out strikes even if Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, now receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, reverses his past approval of military strikes or cedes power to a government opposed to them.
The CIA has been ramping up its intelligence gathering efforts in Yemen in recent months in order to support a sustained campaign of drone strikes. The CIA coordinates closely with Saudi intelligence officers, who have an extensive network of on-the-ground informants, officials say.
The new CIA drone program will initially focus on collecting intelligence to share with the military, officials said. As the intelligence base for the program grows, it will expand into a targeted killing program like the current operation in Pakistan.
While the specific contours of the CIA program are still being decided, the current thinking is that when the CIA shifts the program from intelligence collection into a targeted killing program, it will select targets using the same broad criteria it uses in Pakistan. There, the agency selects targets by name or if their profile or “pattern of life”—analyzed through persistent surveillance—fits that of known al Qaeda or affiliated militants.
By using those broad criteria, the U.S. would likely conduct more strikes in Yemen, where the U.S. now only goes after known militants, not those who fit the right profile.