The Associated Press reports: In a bid to save the CIA’s drone campaign against al-Qaida in Pakistan, US officials offered key concessions to Pakistan’s spy chief that included advance notice and limits on the types of targets. But the offers were flatly rejected, leaving US-Pakistani relations strained as President Barack Obama prepares to meet Tuesday with Pakistan’s prime minister.
CIA Director David Petraeus, who met with Pakistan’s then-spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha at a meeting in London in January, offered to give Pakistan advance notice of future CIA drone strikes against targets on its territory in a bid to keep Pakistan from blocking the strikes – arguably one of the most potent U.S. tools against al-Qaida.
The CIA chief also offered to apply new limits on the types of targets hit, said a senior U.S. intelligence official briefed on the meetings. No longer would large groups of armed men rate near-automatic action, as they had in the past – one of the so-called “signature” strikes, where CIA targeters deemed certain groups and behavior as clearly indicative of militant activity.
Pasha said then what Pakistani officials and its parliament have repeated in recent days: that Pakistan will no longer brook independent U.S. action on its territory by CIA drones, two Pakistani officials said.
The Washington Post has a profile of “Roger,” chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, who originally proposed the use of these so-called ‘signature’ strikes — what might otherwise be called targeting groups of men with beards.
When Michael V. Hayden became CIA director in May 2006, Roger began laying the groundwork for an escalation of the drone campaign. Over a period of months, the CTC chief used regular meetings with the director to make the case that intermittent strikes were allowing al-Qaeda to recover and would never destroy the threat.
“He was relentless,” said a participant in the meetings. Roger argued that the CIA needed to mount an air campaign against al-Qaeda “at a pace they could not absorb” and warned that “after the next attack, there would be no explaining our inaction.”
Under Hayden, the agency abandoned the practice of notifying the Pakistanis before launching strikes, and the trajectory began to change: from three strikes in 2006 to 35 in 2008.
A second proposal from the CTC chief, a year or so later, had even greater impact.
“He came in with a big idea on a cold, rainy Friday afternoon,” said a former high-ranking CIA official involved in drone operations. “It was a new flavor of activity, and had to do with taking senior terrorists off the battlefield.”
The former official declined to describe the activity. But others said the CTC chief proposed launching what came to be known as “signature strikes,” meaning attacks on militants based solely on their patterns of behavior.
Previously, the agency had needed confirmation of the presence of an approved al-Qaeda target before it could shoot. With permission from the White House, it would begin hitting militant gatherings even when it wasn’t clear that a specific operative was in the drone’s crosshairs.
Roger’s relentless approach meshed with the Obama mind-set.