Where Rand Paul and John Brennan can agree on US drone program (+video)
Sen. Rand Paul's epic filibuster raised valid concerns about the US drone program, delaying the vote to confirm John Brennan as CIA director. Turns out Mr. Brennan also values transparency and accountability and may support the transfer of CIA drone operations to the US military.
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And despite their counterterrorism accomplishments, these not-so-covert drone operations are proving detrimental to the CIA. In the last ten years, drone strikes have attracted far too much public scrutiny to an organization that prides itself on operating in the shadows and have transformed America’s leading spy agency into what one intelligence officer characterized as “one hell of a killing machine.”Skip to next paragraph
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As of September 2011, about 20 percent of the CIA’s analysts worked as “targeters” whose primary function was to scan data to identify targets for drone strikes. Critics in the intelligence community have argued that this focus on lethal operations has diverted the CIA’s attention away from other threats, such as cyber attacks, nuclear proliferation, and the emergence of China as a potential rival in the Pacific.
Drone strikes may at times be a necessary evil, but the scale on which the US is utilizing them has become counterproductive. Although drone technology is capable of being proportionate and discriminate, the decisionmakers who use drones do not always exhibit these same traits. The CIA’s war of attrition against low-level militants in Pakistan has caused many civilian deaths and inflamed anti-US sentiments. Research by the New America Foundation suggests that drone strikes in Pakistan have killed as many as 368 civilians and recent public opinion polls reveal that 97 percent of Pakistanis oppose CIA drone strikes, and 80 percent have unfavorable views of the US.
Shifting the CIA drone program to the military would likely improve the transparency, accountability, and precision of drone operations, thereby ensuring greater responsibility on the part of the operators and reducing civilian casualties. CIA officials are trained to steal secrets; they aren’t professional soldiers. The US military follows rigorous protocols for mitigating collateral damage and lawyers trained in the laws of war are an integral part of targeting decisions. The CIA has no such legal procedures or sophisticated matrices for assessing collateral damage, and has resisted attempts to create a formalized set of operational guidelines. This makes it ill equipped to deal with the moral, legal, and strategic challenges drones inevitably raise.
The benefits of the military’s experience and professional standards speak for themselves. A report released recently by the United Nations indicates that US military drones operating in Afghanistan fired 294 weapons in 2011, but only one incident caused civilian deaths. In that same year, up to 11 out of 73 CIA drone strikes in Pakistan killed civilians.