Thursday, June 7, 2012

Former top CIA official critical of Obama drone policy



Many critics have argued that the Obama drone program is counter productive. Although militants may be killed the collateral damage to innocents causes more harm than the good achieved. Especially in a tribal society those who suffer loss of relatives have an obligation of revenge. Hence militants have a fertile climate for recruitment after drone attacks.

Many have argued on moral grounds as well that the attacks are a terrible precedent. The official Pakistani position is that the drone attacks there should cease and that they violate Pakistan's sovereignty. This seems correct but the U.S. does not cease and desist and I have never heard any U.S. official worry about this violation.

Whatever reasons have been given against the attacks they continue. They do no doubt kill militants and militant leaders but it is doubtful they kill more than are created by their actions. Since drone attacks were initiated first in Yemen militancy has grown by leaps and bounds. However the attacks are good domestic propaganda although perhaps the American taxpayer might prefer more jobs than a higher tally of militants killed by drones. But now a top official in the war on terror has also come out as a critic of Obama's drone program.

David Grenier was chief of the CIA's counter terrorism center from 2004 to 2006. Grenier is not opposed to drone attacks per se but he does oppose the Obama program. While the Obama administration defends the attacks as very focused and accurate Grenier actually claims the opposite. Grenier claims that the drone policy is far too indiscriminate in its policy. The result could be political instability and even safe havens for a burgeoning terrorist movement. Something of this sort seems to have happened in Yemen although other factors are involved as well.

Grenier says: "It [the drone program] needs to be targeted much more finely. We have been seduced by them and the unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences," Grenier agrees that specific strikes with good intelligence in a feasible strike area may be justified. With the use of signature strikes based on behavior patterns the strikes become much less specific and collateral damage and mistaken attacks much more common. This is what Grenier sees happening in the Obama policy.

Of course Obama manages to reduce collateral damage by definition. Any military age male killed in a strike is simply defined as a suspected militant. This is not likely to impress relatives of a male in this category who simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Grenier emphasised that the use of drones was a valuable tool in tackling terrorism but only when used against specific identified targets, who have been tracked and monitored to a place where a strike is feasible. Some tactics used such as the double tap are adopted from terrorist tactics. Terrorists plant a bomb and then when rescuers arrive they explode another.

The CIA over the weekend killed a suspected militant and then attacked his funeral. Even Mafia rules forbid such actions.But then no doubt all those at the funeral will under the signature strike criteria be suspected militants. Who would attend a militant's funeral but militants!

Grenier remarks:"We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield. We are already there with regards to Pakistan and Afghanistan," Will anyone listen when someone from within the intelligence community speaks out. Do not count on it. For more see this article. I include an interesting video about drone strikes on the Young Turks including Jeremy Scahill.

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