Point and Click Empire

Is it possible for a newspaper article to be one long Kinsley Gaffe?

Reason I ask that question is that the Washington Post put up a lengthy story recently about the reach and operation of drones under Obama, filled with revelations that you would think the local paper of that company town inside the beltway would swallow, so as to not damage the coveted access their employees get for sticking to lame stenography.  Here’s just a few of them (all emphasis mine)…

-Due to different claims of “legal authority”, the CIA & the military take turns to maximize their firing potential:

The rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military. Lethal operations are increasingly assembled a la carte, piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force.

In Yemen, for instance, the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command pursue the same adversary with nearly identical aircraft. But they alternate taking the lead on strikes to exploit their separate authorities, and they maintain separate kill lists that overlap but don’t match.

This means that when there’s discrepancies, they default to kill anyway.  Interesting way to deal with obvious redundancy, huh?  Sounds like it’d be in a book titled “Everything I Need to Know About Office Relations I Learned Playing Saints Row”.

-That overlap of command, when you look at how congress attempts to deal with it, rapidly looks intentional:

The convergence of military and intelligence resources has created blind spots in congressional oversight. Intelligence committees are briefed on CIA operations, and JSOC reports to armed services panels. As a result, no committee has a complete, unobstructed view. […] Senior Democrats barely blink at the idea that a president from their party has assembled such a highly efficient machine for the targeted killing of suspected terrorists. It is a measure of the extent to which the drone campaign has become an awkward open secret in Washington that even those inclined to express misgivings can only allude to a program that, officially, they are not allowed to discuss.

Of course they weren’t going to blink — the president is from their party, after all. The obvious-yet-covert nature of the program is a rather clever absurdity, since it forces anyone who’d question the elephant in the room to phrase their remarks as gibberish, easily dismissed.  Never mind the fact that it has crossed a line previously thought dealt with over 800 years ago, minor detail.

-This being the Washington Post, the inevitable Anonymous Administration Official makes an appearance to inject some Vitamin BS, downplaying the prospects for expansion of the drone program.  Only this time, the remark basically gets debunked a few lines down:

“People think we start with the drone and go from there, but that’s not it at all,” said a senior administration official involved with the program. “We’re not constructing a campaign around the drone. We’re not seeking to create some worldwide basing network so we have drone capabilities in every corner of the globe.” […] A recent study by the Congressional Budget Office counted 775 Predators, Reapers and other medium- and long-range drones in the U.S. inventory, with hundreds more in the pipeline.

What are those supposed to be used for then?  You don’t just stockpile technology like this with the assumption it’s not going to be used.  Unless

-On armed drone strikes, Obama administration officials are actually more hawkish than that cowboy Bush:

Key members of Obama’s national security team came into office more inclined to endorse drone strikes than were their counterparts under Bush, current and former officials said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former CIA director and current Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan seemed always ready to step on the accelerator, said a former official who served in both administrations and was supportive of the program. Current administration officials did not dispute the former official’s characterization of the internal dynamics.

Anonymous Current co-signing Anonymous Former.  I think I hear the space-time continuum cracking.

-Operational details of the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, including the code cited for doing so — and an example of just how jumbled this whole shiny new Death From Above thing is being handled:

On Sept. 30, Awlaki was killed in a missile strike carried out by the CIA under Title 50 authorities — which govern covert intelligence operations — even though officials said it was initially unclear whether an agency or JSOC drone had delivered the fatal blow. A second U.S. citizen, an al-Qaeda propagandist who had lived in North Carolina, was among those killed.

The execution was nearly flawless, officials said. Nevertheless, when a similar strike was conducted just two weeks later, the entire protocol had changed. The second attack, which killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, was carried out by JSOC under Title 10 authorities that apply to the use of military force.

They didn’t even realize who fired at first.  So, who can’t be trusted with firearms again?

BTW: Has anyone ever explained why the kid was killed?  There was plenty of talk with regard to Awlaki attempting to justify ignoring that he was a U.S. citizen, but why his son?  Preemptive strike redefined? Practice? Did he diss the wrong person on Twitter?  Seriously, I’d like to know where the call on that one came from, because it’s looking so far like it emerged from where the sun doesn’t shine.

-“Hey, we just killed so’n’so, and a few stragglers in the area. Okthanxbai. -CIA”
“Um…y’know that explosion that was on the news a couple weeks ago? No, not that one, the other one. That was us. -JSOC”:

Within 24 hours of every CIA drone strike, a classified fax machine lights up in the secure spaces of the Senate intelligence committee, spitting out a report on the location, target and result.

The outdated procedure reflects the agency’s effort to comply with Title 50 requirements that Congress be provided with timely, written notification of covert action overseas. There is no comparable requirement in Title 10, and the Senate Armed Services Committee can go days before learning the details of JSOC strikes.

Yeah, that overlap is definitely deliberate.  I actually wouldn’t be surprised if some strike were carried out by the CIA but claimed by JSOC for this reason.  Then again, someone could just break that fax machine (aside: why do people still fax? It’s backwards to have to print something out, run it through a machine that dials like a phone, and have it reprint at the other end when faster paperless options exist. Just send a text to their Blackberries, ffs).

-Blowback is not only acknowledged, but practically encouraged:

Somalia, where the militant group al-Shabab is based, is surrounded by American drone installations. And officials said that JSOC has repeatedly lobbied for authority to strike al-Shabab training camps that have attracted some Somali Americans.

But the administration has allowed only a handful of strikes, out of concern that a broader campaign could turn al-Shabab from a regional menace into an adversary determined to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.

Think this through: al-Shabab is a regional thing.  JSOC wants more strikes at them. Possibility is raised that more strikes could piss them off enough to actually try something against the U.S. — making them no longer a regional thing. JSOC wants more strikes anyway.  Here’s an alternative proposal: if people do not threaten the U.S., they are not the U.S.’s problem, so leave them alone.  The people of Somalia can deal with them on their own terms.  Besides, if you treat it as a free fire zone then recruiting for that group is gonna go hammers.

“Somalia would be the easiest place to go in in an undiscriminating way and do drone strikes because there’s no host government to get” angry, the senior administration official said. “But that’s certainly not the way we’re approaching it.”

Whoever this is basically just said “governments matter, people don’t”. Blargh…

I wonder how many angry calls & emails from government officials this has drawn so far.

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About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
This entry was posted in Foreign Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Point and Click Empire

  1. Joe says:

    Yeah, but remote control airplanes with missiles on them are just so fucking cool! They’re like the toys the kids get for Christmas–except you get to kill people with them!

  2. Pingback: Robot wars « Phil Ebersole's Blog

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