Gregory D. Johnsen writes: Muhammad al-Tuhayf was relaxing at his house late in the afternoon on Dec. 12, 2013, when his iPhone rang. A boxy, tired-looking Yemeni shaykh with large hands and a slow voice, Tuhayf heard the news: A few miles from where he was sitting, along a rutted-out dirt track that snaked through the mountains and wadis of central Yemen, U.S. drones had fired four missiles at a convoy of vehicles. Drone strikes were nothing new in Yemen — there had been one four days earlier, another one a couple weeks before that, and a burst of eight strikes in 12 days in late July and August that had set the country on edge. But this one was different: This time the Americans had hit a wedding party. And now the government needed Tuhayf’s help.
The corpses had already started to arrive in the provincial capital of Radaa, and by the next morning angry tribesmen were lining the dead up in the street. Laid out side by side on bright blue tarps and wrapped in cheap blankets, what was left of the men looked distorted by death. Heads were thrown back at awkward angles, splattered with blood that had caked and dried in the hours since the strike. Faces that had been whole were now in pieces, missing chunks of skin and bone, and off to one side, as if he didn’t quite belong, lay a bearded man with no visible wounds.
Clustered around them in a sweaty, jostling circle, dozens of men bumped up against one another as they struggled for position and a peek at the remains. Above the crowd, swaying out over the row of bodies as he hung onto what appeared to be the back of a truck with one hand, a leathery old Yemeni screamed into the crowd. “This is a massacre,” he shouted, his arm slicing through the air. “They were a wedding party.” Dressed in a gray jacket and a dusty beige robe with prayer beads draped over his dagger, the man was shaking with fury as his voice faltered under the strain. “An American drone killed them,” he croaked with another wild gesture from his one free hand. “Look at them.”
A few miles outside of town, Tuhayf already knew what he had to do. This had happened in his backyard; he was one of the shaykhs on the ground. Only three hours south of the capital, the central government held little sway in Radaa. Like a rural sheriff in a disaster zone, he was a local authority, someone who was known and respected. And on Dec. 12, that meant acting as a first responder. Tuhayf needed to assess the situation and deal with the fallout. Every few minutes his phone went off again, the marimba ringtone sounding with yet another update. Already he was hearing reports that angry tribesmen had cut the road north. Frightened municipal employees, worried that they might be targeted, kept calling, begging for his help. So did the governor, who was three hours away at his compound in Sanaa.
It didn’t take Tuhayf long to reach a conclusion. The Americans had made a mess, and to clean it up he was going to need money and guns.
This is the other side of America’s drone program: the part that comes after the missiles fly and the cars explode, when the smoke clears and the bodies are sorted. Because it is here, at desert strike sites across the Middle East, where unsettling questions emerge about culpability and responsibility — about the value of a human life and assessing the true costs of a surgical war.
For much of the past century, the United States has gone to war with lawyers, men and women who follow the fighting, adjudicating claims of civilian casualties and dispensing cash for errors. They write reports and interview survivors. But what happens when there are no boots on the ground? When the lawyers are thousands of miles away and dependent on aerial footage that is as ambiguous as it is inconclusive? How do you determine innocence or guilt from a pre-strike video? When everyone has beards and guns, like they do in rural Yemen, can you tell the good guys from the bad? Is it even possible? And when the U.S. gets it wrong, when it kills the wrong man: What happens then? Who is accountable when a drone does the killing? [Continue reading...]
Khadija al-Saadi writes: Two very different flights landed at Mitiga military airport in Libya just over a decade ago. The first was organized by the CIA and MI6. On board were a family of six surrounded by guards, the frightened children separated from their parents, the father chained to a seat in a rear compartment with a needle stuck in his arm. The second flight, only a couple of days later, carried Tony Blair in comfort, on his way to shake hands and do business with Colonel Gaddafi.
I know about the first flight, because I was one of the children. I know about the chains and the needle because Sami al-Saadi — a long-time political opponent of Colonel Gaddafi — is my father and I saw him in that state. I was 12 years old, and was trying to keep my younger brothers and my six year-old sister calm. The guards took us to see our mother once on the 16-hour flight. She was crying, and told us that we were being taken to Gaddafi’s Libya. Shortly before the plane landed, a guard told me to say goodbye to my father, at the front of the plane. I forced myself ahead and saw him with a needle in his arm. I remember guards laughing at me. Then I fainted.
We were taken off the plane and bundled into cars. Hoods were pulled over my parents’ heads. Libyans forced my mother, sister and I into one car, my brothers and father another. The convoy drove to a secret prison outside Tripoli, where I was certain we were all going to be executed. All I knew about Libya at that time was that Colonel Gaddafi wanted to hurt my father, and that our family had always been moving from country to country to avoid being taken to him. Now we had been kidnapped, flown to Libya, and his people had us at their mercy. [Continue reading...]
Huffington Post: Following reports that Central Intelligence Agency employees improperly accessed computers used by U.S. Senate staff to investigate the agency, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) on Thursday called for the resignation of John Brennan as CIA director.
“After being briefed on the CIA Inspector General report today, I have no choice but to call for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan,” he said in a statement. “The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers. This grave misconduct not only is illegal, but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers. These offenses, along with other errors in judgment by some at the CIA, demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership, and there must be consequences.”
According to a CIA Inspector General’s Office report first obtained by McClatchy, agency employees in 2009 hacked Senate computers being used to compile a report on the agency’s infamous detention and interrogation program — a move that some critics have characterized as a significant breach of the separation of powers. Brennan has apologized to Senate intelligence committee leaders, including Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who took the floor earlier this year to excoriate the agency for skirting the law and attempting to intimidate Congress. [Continue reading...]
The Wall Street Journal reports: On Sept. 7, 2000, in the waning days of the Clinton administration, a U.S. Predator drone flew over Afghanistan for the first time. The unmanned, unarmed plane buzzed over Tarnak Farms, a major al Qaeda camp. When U.S. analysts later pored over video footage from this maiden voyage, they were struck by the image of a commandingly tall man clad in white robes. CIA analysts later concluded that he was Osama bin Laden.
From that first mission, the drone program has grown into perhaps the most prominent instrument of U.S. counterterrorism policy — and, for many in the Muslim world, a synonym for American callousness and arrogance. The U.S. has used drones to support ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and, particularly under President Barack Obama, to hammer the high command of al Qaeda. A recent study by the Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C., estimates that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 2,000 to 4,000 people. Other countries are trying to get into the act, including Iran, which U.S. officials say has flown drones over Iraq during the current crisis there.
Drones seem to be everywhere these days, buzzing into civilian life and even pop culture. French players complained before the World Cup that a mysterious drone-borne camera had spied on their training sessions. Amazon owner Jeff Bezos hopes to use drones for faster home delivery. Tom Cruise starred last summer as a futuristic drone repairman in the sci-fi thriller “Oblivion,” and Captain America himself faced down lethal super-drones in this spring’s “The Winter Soldier.” Hollywood is even using drones in real life, helping to film such tricky scenes as the chase early in the 2012 James Bond caper “Skyfall,” when Daniel Craig as 007 races across the rooftops of Istanbul.
But as ubiquitous as Predators, Reapers, Global Hawks and their ilk may now seem, the U.S. actually stumbled into the drone era. Washington got into the business of using drones for counterterrorism well before 9/11—not out of any steely strategic design or master plan but out of bureaucratic frustration, bickering and a series of only half-intentional decisions. [Continue reading...]
McClatchy reports: The CIA obtained a confidential email to Congress about alleged whistleblower retaliation related to the Senate’s classified report on the agency’s harsh interrogation program, triggering fears that the CIA has been intercepting the communications of officials who handle whistleblower cases.
The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.
At the time, the CIA was embroiled in a furious behind-the-scenes battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the panel’s investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, including accusations that the CIA illegally monitored computers used in the five-year probe. The CIA has denied the charges.
The email controversy points to holes in the intelligence community’s whistleblower protection systems and raises fresh questions about the extent to which intelligence agencies can elude congressional oversight. [Continue reading...]
What a world we’re in. Thanks to smartphones, iPads, and the like, everyone is now a photographer, but it turns out that, in the public landscape, there’s ever less to photograph. So here are a few tips for living more comfortably in a photographically redacted version of our post-9/11 world.
Even if you’re a professional photographer, don’t try to take a picture of Korita Kent’s “Rainbow Swash.” It’s “one of the largest copyrighted pieces of art in the world,” painted atop a 140-foot-high liquefied natural gas tower in Dorchester, Massachusetts. James Prigoff, a former senior vice president of the Sara Lee Corporation and a known photographer, tried to do so and was confronted by two security guards who stopped him. Later, though he left no information about himself and was in a rented car, he was tracked down by the FBI. Evidently he had been dumped into the government’s Suspicious Activity Reporting program run by the Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security. (And when you end up on a list like that, we know that it’s always a living hell to get off it again.) He sums up his situation this way: “So, consider this: A professional photographer taking a photo of a well-known Boston landmark is now considered to be engaged in suspicious terrorist activity?”
And while you’re at it, don’t photograph the water tower in Farmer’s Branch, Texas (as professional photographer Allison Smith found out), or planes taxiing to takeoff at the Denver airport (if you have a Middle Eastern look to you), or that dangerous “Welcome to Texas City” sign (as Austin photographer Lance Rosenfield discovered when stopped by BP security guards and only let off after “a stern lecture about terrorists and folks wandering around snapping photos”), or even the police handcuffing someone on the street from your own front lawn (as Rochester, New York, neighborhood activist Emily Good was doing when the police cuffed and arrested her for the criminal misdemeanor of “obstructing governmental administration”).
The ACLU has just launched a suit challenging that Suspicious Activity Reporting database, claiming quite correctly — as Linda Lye, one of their lawyers, puts it — that the “problem with the suspicious-activity reporting program is that it sweeps up innocent Americans who have done nothing more than engage in innocent, everyday activity, like buying laptops or playing video games. It encourages racial and religious profiling, and targets constitutionally protected activity like photography.”
You know the old phrase, “it’s a free world?” Well, don’t overdo it any more, thank you very much. Your safety, your security, and the well-being of an ever-expanding, ever more aggressive national (and local) security state and its various up-arming and up-armoring policing outfits increasingly trump that freedom. And let’s face it, when it comes to your safety not from most of the real dangers of our American lives but from “terrorism,” freedom itself really has been oversold. Remember the famous phrase from the height of the Cold War era, “better dead than red”? It seems to have been updated without the commies. Now, it’s something like: “better surveilled than sorry.” And based on that, all behavior is fast becoming potentially suspicious behavior.
Since 2013, State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren has been covering our new world of constricting freedoms in what he’s termed “Post-Constitutional America” for TomDispatch. With this look at the government’s newfound “right” to kill an American citizen without due process, he completes a three-part series on the shredding of the Bill of Rights, the previous two parts having focused on the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment. Tom Engelhardt
Dead is dead
Drone-killing the Fifth Amendment
By Peter Van Buren
You can’t get more serious about protecting the people from their government than the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, specifically in its most critical clause: “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In 2011, the White House ordered the drone-killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without trial. It claimed this was a legal act it is prepared to repeat as necessary. Given the Fifth Amendment, how exactly was this justified? Thanks to a much contested, recently released but significantly redacted — about one-third of the text is missing — Justice Department white paper providing the basis for that extrajudicial killing, we finally know: the president in Post-Constitutional America is now officially judge, jury, and executioner.
Due Process in Constitutional America
Looking back on the violations of justice that characterized British rule in pre-Constitutional America, it is easy to see the Founders’ intent in creating the Fifth Amendment. A government’s ability to inflict harm on its people, whether by taking their lives, imprisoning them, or confiscating their property, was to be checked by due process.
Due process is the only requirement of government that is stated twice in the Constitution, signaling its importance. The Fifth Amendment imposed the due process requirement on the federal government, while the Fourteenth Amendment did the same for the states. Both offer a crucial promise to the people that fair procedures will remain available to challenge government actions. The broader concept of due process goes all the way back to the thirteenth-century Magna Carta.
Due process, as refined over the years by the Supreme Court, came to take two forms in Constitutional America. The first was procedural due process: people threatened by government actions that might potentially take away life, liberty, or possessions would have the right to defend themselves from a power that sought, whether for good reasons or bad, to deprive them of something important. American citizens were guaranteed their proverbial “day in court.”
The second type, substantive due process, was codified in 1938 to protect those rights so fundamental that they are implicit in liberty itself, even when not spelled out explicitly in the Constitution. Had the concept been in place at the time, a ready example would have been slavery. Though not specifically prohibited by the Constitution, it was on its face an affront to democracy. No court process could possibly have made slavery fair. The same held, for instance, for the “right” to an education, to have children, and so forth. Substantive due process is often invoked by supporters of same-sex unions, who assert that there is a fundamental right to marry. The meaning is crystal clear: there is an inherent, moral sense of “due process” applicable to government actions against any citizen and it cannot be done away with legally. Any law that attempts to interfere with such rights is inherently unconstitutional.
The Washington Post reports: A suspected U.S. drone strike killed at least 15 people in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, the deadliest such attack in at least a year.
The strike targeted a house in North Waziristan — where the Pakistani military is engaged in a month-old battle against the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups — as well as a vehicle that was passing nearby, local intelligence officials said. The strike killed at least 15 people, although some officials said at least 20 people died.
“The compound was being used by foreign militants, and some local terrorists were present in the vehicle that got targeted,” said one senior intelligence official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The attack near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan took place in an area suspected of housing fighters affiliated with the Afghan Haqqani network as well as Islamist militants from Uzbekistan, local officials said. One villager said he saw the drone fire at least four missiles.
The last time 15 or more people were killed by a U.S. drone was on July 3, 2013, when a missile strike killed 16 people, according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. [Continue reading...]
McClatchy reports: A supposedly secret but locally well-known CIA station on the outskirts of Irbil’s airport is undergoing rapid expansion as the United States considers whether to engage in a war against Islamist militants who’ve seized control of half of Iraq in the past month.
Western contractors hired to expand the facility and a local intelligence official confirmed the construction project, which is visible from the main highway linking Irbil to Mosul, the city whose fall June 9 triggered the Islamic State’s sweep through northern and central Iraq. Residents around the airport say they can hear daily what they suspect are American drones taking off and landing at the facility.
Expansion of the facility comes as it seems all but certain that the autonomous Kurdish regional government and the central government in Baghdad, never easy partners, are headed for an irrevocable split _ complicating any U.S. military hopes of coordinating the two entities’ efforts against the Islamic State. [Continue reading...]
IntelNews.org reports: The German government has instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice, according to media reports. The move follows news that Berlin requested on Thursday the immediate removal from Germany of the United States Central Intelligence Agency chief of station — essentially the top American official in the country. The request came after two German citizens, one working for the BND, Germany’s main external intelligence organization, and one working for the country’s Federal Ministry of Defense, were allegedly found to have been secretly spying for the US. German media reported on Thursday that the temporary halt in Berlin’s intelligence collaboration with Washington applies across the spectrum, with the exception of areas directly affecting tactical security concerns for Germany, such as the protection of its troops in Afghanistan, or defending against immediate terrorist threats. Sources in the German capital claimed that the removal of the CIA station chief was technically a “recommendation for his departure”, and did not constitute an official diplomatic expulsion. However, German observers described the incident as a “diplomatic earthquake”, which would have been unthinkable as a policy option for the German government, barring actions against “pariah states like North Korea or Iran”. [Continue reading...]
It sounded like the beginning of a bad joke: a CIA agent and a U.S. Special Operations commando walked into a barbershop in Sana…
That’s the capital of Yemen in case you didn’t remember and not the sort of place where armed Americans usually wander out alone just to get a haircut. Here’s what we know about the rest of this mysterious tale that surfaced in the U.S. media in early May (only to disappear again shortly thereafter): according to unnamed “American officials,” two armed Yemeni civilians entered that barbershop with the intention of “kidnapping” the Americans, who shot and killed them and were then “whisked” out of the country with the approval of the Yemeni government.
For today, set aside the mystery of what in the world was actually going on in that barbershop and just consider the fact that when “they” do it to “us,” there’s no question about what word to use. It’s kidnapping, plain and simple. When we do it to “them” (even when the they turn out to be innocent of any terror crimes), it’s got a far fancier and more comfortable name: “rendition” or “extraordinary rendition.” When they bust into a barbershop in a tony district in the capital city of Yemen, no question what they have in mind. When we do it in Milan, Benghazi, Tripoli, or other major cities, sometimes with the collusion of the local police, sometimes with the help of the local government, sometimes with no locals at all, we’re just “rendering” our victims to “justice.”
The CIA in particular and more recently U.S. special operators have made global kidnappings — oops, renditions — a regular beat since 9/11. A kind of rampage, actually. As it happens, whatever itcan’t do these days, the “sole superpower” still has the ability to make the global rules to its own liking. So when we wield the “R” word, it couldn’t be more “legal” or at least, as U.S. experts will testify, the only reasonable way to go. Of course, when others wield the “K” word, can there be any question of the nastiness or illegality of their acts? Here’s a guarantee: not a chance. Any judge-jury-and-executioner-rolled-into-one approach to the world (as with, for instance, the CIA’s drone assassination campaigns) is an ugly way to go and will look even uglier when other countries adopt the latest version of the American Way. As with torture (oops, sorry again, “enhanced interrogation techniques”), making global kidnapping your loud and proud way of life is a dangerous path to take, long term, no matter how bad the bad guys are that you may be rendering to justice.
Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture, a new book on the American way of enhanced interrogation techniques, is here to remind us not only of those facts, but of an even uglier one. While the Obama administration washed its hands of torture (global assassination campaigns being its claim to fame), its top officials didn’t think it worth the bother to dismantle the elaborate torture system created in the Bush years, which means that, with another flick of the switch somewhere down the line, off we’ll go again. Tom Engelhardt
The 25th hour
Still living with Jack Bauer in a terrified new American world
By Rebecca Gordon
Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.
In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.
Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was “them or us.” In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.
The Guardian reports: A military judge has rejected the US government’s attempts to keep accounts of the CIA’s torture of a detainee secret, setting up a fateful choice for the Obama administration in staunching the fallout from its predecessor’s brutal interrogations.
In a currently-sealed 24 June ruling at Guantánamo Bay – described to the Guardian – Judge James Pohl upheld his April order demanding the government produce details of the detentions and interrogations of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri during his years in CIA custody. The Miami Herald also reported on the ruling, citing three sources who had seen it.
Among those details are the locations of the “black site” secret prisons in which Nashiri was held until his September 2006 transfer to Guantánamo; the names and communications of CIA personnel there; training and other procedures for guards and interrogators; and discussions of the application of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”. [Continue reading...]
The Wall Street Journal reports: The Taliban warned the U.S. during prisoner-exchange negotiations that led to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl that U.S. drone strikes had come close on several occasions to killing the soldier while he was in captivity, U.S. officials said.
U.S. intelligence agencies believe Sgt. Bergdahl was being held at the time in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where the Central Intelligence Agency carried out an estimated 27 drone strikes in 2013, according to the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank that tracks the drone program. The CIA hasn’t conducted any drone strikes in the tribal areas since Dec. 25, the foundation said. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The Supreme Court on Monday turned down an appeal from James Risen, a reporter for The New York Times facing jail for refusing to identify a confidential source.
The court’s one-line order gave no reasons but effectively sided with the government in a confrontation between what prosecutors said was an imperative to secure evidence in a national security prosecution and what journalists said was an intolerable infringement of press freedom.
The case arose from a subpoena to Mr. Risen seeking information about his source for a chapter of his 2006 book, “State of War.” Prosecutors say they need Mr. Risen’s testimony to prove that the source was Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. official.
Rep. Rush Holt and Steven Aftergood write: Who watches the watchmen?
In the U.S. House of Representatives, the answer to that question – in theory, at least – is the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), which is charged with overseeing the nation’s spy agencies: the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and more.
HPSCI was created in 1977 in the wake of Nixon-era surveillance abuses to serve as a powerful counterbalance to the spy agencies’ inclination to spy on everyone, everywhere, all the time.
Because of the sensitive nature of HPSCI’s work, the committee usually meets in secret, deliberates in secret, and even passes legislation in secret. But all this secrecy creates a problem: How do we know that HPSCI is, in fact, watching the watchmen effectively?
Last year, all the world learned it wasn’t. As the explosive revelations from Edward Snowden and others demonstrated, the intelligence community had been collecting the communications of essentially every American.
Now, for the first time since Snowden’s disclosures, HPSCI has brought its annual intelligence authorization bill to the House floor, where it quickly passed by a vote of 345-59 on Friday morning. This should have represented an opportunity for a dramatic overhaul of the intelligence community and for some critical examination of HPSCI’s own role. But it appears that HPSCI has lost sight of its founding principles – that it is, in effect, choosing allegiance to our nation’s spies, rather than to the law-abiding citizens who are being spied upon. [Continue reading...]
An editorial in the New York Times says: The use of a sham vaccination program in the government’s hunt for Osama bin Laden has produced a lethal backlash in Pakistan where dozens of public health workers have been murdered and fearful parents are shunning polio vaccine for their children.
Leaders of a dozen American schools of public health raised an alarm with the Obama administration 16 months ago and finally got a response this month when the White House promised that the C.I.A. will no longer use phony immunization programs in its spying operations.
The fakery — one of an assortment of intelligence stratagems before the successful raid that killed bin Laden — should never have been used in a world where hardworking health care agencies depend on the trust of local communities.
The C.I.A.’s ruse involved phony door-to-door solicitations by a physician promising to deliver hepatitis B immunizations; his real purpose was to confirm bin Laden’s suspected hiding place. The ploy helped fuel a militant backlash against immunization workers, and as many as 60 health workers and police officers have since been killed.
Meanwhile, polio is on the rise, with Pakistan accounting for 66 of the 82 cases reported so far this year by the World Health Organization. Last year, there were 93 cases of polio in Pakistan, where the health organization warns that the disease is endemic, as it is in Afghanistan and Nigeria.
The C.I.A. can no longer seek to “obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material” gathered this way, according to a promise from the Obama administration. That is small comfort for those suffering the aftereffects of this ruse.
Convincing wary parents to accept polio vaccination — and finding health workers willing to risk violence — has been made more difficult than ever.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports: Domestic buildings have been hit by drone strikes more than any other type of target in the CIA’s 10-year campaign in the tribal regions of northern Pakistan, new research reveals.
By way of contrast, since 2008, in neighbouring Afghanistan drone strikes on buildings have been banned in all but the most urgent situations, as part of measures to protect civilian lives. But a new investigative project by the Bureau, Forensic Architecture, a research project based at London’s Goldsmiths University, and New York-based Situ Research, reveals that in Pakistan, domestic buildings continue to be the most frequent target of drone attacks.
The project examines, for the first time, the types of target attacked in each drone strike – be they houses, vehicles or madrassas (religious schools) – and the time of day the attack took place. [Continue reading...]
Andrea J Prasow writes: A lot can happen in a year. And a lot can’t.
Twelve months ago today, Barack Obama gave a landmark national security speech in which he frankly acknowledged that the United States had at least in some cases compromised its values in the years since 9/11 – and offered his vision of a US national security policy more directly in line with “the freedoms and ideals that we defend.” It was widely praised as “a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America“.
Addressing an audience at the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, the president pledged greater transparency about targeted killings, rededicated himself to closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and urged Congress to refine and ultimately repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which has been invoked to justify everything from military detention to drones strikes.
A year later, none of these promises have been met. Instead, drone strikes have continue (and likely killed and wounded civilians), 154 men remain detained at Guantanamo and the administration has taken no steps to roll back the AUMF. This is not the sort of change Obama promised. [Continue reading...]
Josh Kerbel writes: In 2012, the once-mighty Eastman-Kodak company declared bankruptcy. It was an event that should have reverberated strongly with the United States Intelligence Community (IC) — and not just due to the obvious connection between imaging and spying. Rather, it should have resonated because in Kodak the IC could have glimpsed a reflection of itself: an organization so captivated by its past that it was too slow in changing along with its environment.
To understand the IC’s similar captivation and lethargy — to remain focused on classified collection in an era of increasingly ubiquitous, useful and unclassified data — one must first understand the type of problem around which the modern IC business model remains designed: the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was fundamentally a collection problem. That is to say, it was a closed system (i.e., a discrete entity) with clear edges and a hierarchical governance structure. Given that nature, knowing what was happening in the Soviet Union required the use of classified means of collection — most of which the IC alone possessed.
Today, however, the IC no longer has the luxury of watching a single discrete entity that demands classified collection in order to obtain relevant data. There is a much more expansive range of interconnected and complex challenges. These challenges — economic contagion, viral political and social instability, resource competition, migration, climate change, transnational organized crime, pandemics, proliferation, cyber security, terrorism, etc. — are interdependent phenomena, not discrete ”things.” As such, they are less collection issues than cognitive ones. To put it differently: relevant data about all these issues is widely available—the real challenge is to make sense of it.
This, of course, is a very different world for the IC, one in which it has little experience. Consequently, the IC — unfortunately, but not surprisingly — does what it knows; it grafts its own legacy experience and expertise — classified collection — onto the new challenges that loom. Accordingly, terrorism (a broad phenomenon that needs to be thought about contextually) becomes — mistakenly — about terrorists (distinct things that need to be targeted for collection). Indeed, the whole slew of complex issues mentioned above get artificially and erroneously reduced to discrete chunks. Not only is this dangerously simplistic, it effectively puts the IC on a divergent path from the increasingly complex world it is tasked to understand. [Continue reading...]