The Rise of Drone Warfare and Targeted Killing, A Quick Retrospective

by Kenneth Anderson

From Siobhan Gorman (of the Wall Street Journal’s national security team) a nicely done retrospective on the rise of the drones as part of strategy, technology, law, ethics and philosophy.  It’s a reasonably short piece, quotes the Very Great Bobby Chesney, and gives a good sense of the history of how it came about, linking policy and strategy, all in a short piece.  If you’re looking for a good introduction to a class, or a student looking for a way into the topic, this is a good place to begin.  I sometimes get emails from folks looking for a quick way into this topic, and I will find myself pointing them here.

“CIA has never looked more like its direct ancestor, the OSS, than it does right now,” said former CIA Director Michael Hayden. “It is as intensely operational as it’s ever been.”  The CIA, which doesn’t formally acknowledge the covert program, has killed about 2,000 militants with drones, U.S. officials say, most in the past two years as President Barack Obama’s national security team aggressively expanded the program. In 2010, the number of drone strikes more than doubled, to 114, and this year, drone campaigns are expanding. The CIA now plans flights in Yemen, and the military is using drones to kill militants in Somalia.

“The United States has been fighting al Qaeda for more than a decade now, so it’s only logical that counterterrorism would be a top objective for the CIA,” said agency spokeswoman Marie Harf. “When the country goes to war, its intelligence agencies do, too. That’s always been true, from the days of the OSS in World War II until now.”

Legal challenges to the drone program have secured little traction. The main debate inside the government has been over how to execute the campaign without irreversibly damaging Pakistani cooperation.  American citizens can be targets, too. Under the legal authority for the drone program, the CIA must consult the National Security Council before capturing an American posing an imminent threat, but no additional consultation is required to kill an American, a former senior intelligence official said.

2 Responses

  1. F’ing great!  I will start wearing a target on my back as I walk around Toledo.  There is going to be payback on this at some point – of that I am certain.  I do not remember the OSS targeting Americans as part of its efforts back in the day – but maybe that is too nuanced a point for CIA triumphalists.

    Let us go through the memos in the security services of Libya and Egypt – the kind letters from Gadhafy’s sbires to Porter Goss and the CIA.  Let us read about how Al-Libi got from CIA hands into Egyptian hands to be tortured and make the false link between Saddam and Al Qaeda and then was whisked into Gadhafy’s jail where he “supposedly” hung himself.  Make sure Michael Hayden or Porter Goss tell us that story on the morning shows.  I am sure it is at least as edifying as this dross.


  2. I believe that the use of technology in the fight against terrorism is a must. I totally support the army`s and CIA`s and other agencies effort in the fight against terrorism, because they do it for our safety. However when I hear such declaration as “CIA claims that civilian deaths have been minimal” it gives me goosebumps. How much is minimal, one/two or tens, or hundreds? I prefer none, zero, I want to hear that no civilians were harmed.

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