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NBC: Obama Didn’t Know Whom His Drones Killed

From NBC News:

EXCLUSIVE: CIA didn’t always know who it was killing in drone strikes, classified documents show

By Richard Engel and Robert Windrem | June 5, 2013

The CIA did not always know who it was targeting and killing in drone strikes in Pakistan over a 14-month period, an NBC News review of classified intelligence reports shows.

About one of every four of those killed by drones in Pakistan between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, were classified as "other militants,” the documents detail. The “other militants” label was used when the CIA could not determine the affiliation of those killed, prompting questions about how the agency could conclude they were a threat to U.S. national security.

The uncertainty appears to arise from the use of so-called “signature” strikes to eliminate suspected terrorists — picking targets based in part on their behavior and associates. A former White House official said the U.S. sometimes executes people based on “circumstantial evidence.”

Before the elections we told by the New York Times that Obama personally selected the people on the drone hit list. And yet his role in these drone strikes is never mentioned anywhere in this NBC report. In fact, the headline should read: ‘Obama didn’t always know who he was killing in drone attacks.’

Three former senior Obama administration officials also told NBC News that some White House officials were worried that the CIA had painted too rosy a picture of its success and likely ignored or missed mistakes when tallying death totals.

Pickers of nits. Besides, ‘what difference does it make now?’ The war on terror is over. In fact, if we were more cynical we would suspect the news media had this information and purposefully waited until Obama pulled back on his drone attacks to publish it.

NBC News has reviewed two sets of classified documents that describe 114 drone strikes over 14 months in Pakistan and Afghanistan, starting in September 2010. The documents list locations, death and injury tolls, alleged terrorist affiliations, and whether the killed and injured were deemed combatants or non-combatants.

Though the Obama administration has previously said it targets al Qaeda leaders and senior Taliban officials plotting attacks against the U.S. and U.S. troops, officials are sometimes unsure of the targets’ affiliations. About half of the targets in the documents are described as al Qaeda. But in 26 of the attacks, accounting for about a quarter of the fatalities, those killed are described only as “other militants.” In four others, the dead are described as “foreign fighters.”

In some cases, U.S. officials also seem unsure how many people died. One entry says that a drone attack killed seven to 10 people, while another says that an attack killed 20 to 22…

The CIA uses two basic methods to target people for killing, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The first is called a “personality” strike. These strikes target known terrorists, whose identities have been firmly established through intelligence, including visual surveillance and electronic and human intelligence. In other words, the CIA knows who it is killing.

In so-called “signature” strikes, intelligence officers and drone operators kill suspects based on their patterns of behavior — but without positive identification. With signature strikes, the CIA doesn’t necessarily know who it is killing. One former senior intelligence official said that at the height of the drone program in Pakistan in 2009 and 2010, as many as half of the strikes were classified as signature strikes.

Analysts use a variety of intelligence methods and technologies that they say give them reasonable certainty that the “signature” target is a terrorist. Part of the analysis involves crunching data to make connections between the unidentified suspects and other known terrorists and militants. The agency can watch, for example, as an unknown person frequents places, meets individuals, makes phone calls, and sends emails, and then match those against other people linked to the same calls, emails and meetings…

This is the ‘traffic analysis’ we have previously mentioned.

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, June 6th, 2013. Comments are currently closed.

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