Where Does This End?”: After Drone Papers Leaks, U.K. Gov’t Has a Kill List of Its Own

Last week, The Intercept published the most in-depth look at the U.S. drone assassination program to date. “The Drone Papers” exposed the inner workings of how the drone war is waged, from how targets are identified to who decides to kill. They reveal a number of flaws, including that strikes have resulted in large part from electronic communications data, or “signals intelligence,” that officials acknowledge is unreliable. We are joined by Clive Stafford Smith, founder and director of the international legal charity Reprieve, who says the British government also has a secret kill list in Afghanistan.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Last week, The Intercept published this in-depth look at the U.S. drone assassination program, called “The Drone Papers,” exposing the inner workings of how the drone war is waged, from how targets are identified to who decides to kill. They reveal a number of flaws, including that strikes have resulted in large part from electronic communications data, or “signals intelligence,” that officials acknowledge is unreliable. We spoke to Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept, one of the lead reporters on the series.

JEREMY SCAHILL: One of the most significant findings of this—and my colleague, Cora Currier, really dug deep into this—is we published for the first time the kill chain, what the bureaucracy of assassination looks like. And what you see is that all of these officials, including people like the treasury secretary, are part of signing off on all of this, where they have these secret meetings and they discuss who’s going to live and die around the world. And at the end of that process, it is the president of the United States who signs what amounts to a death warrant for whoever they’ve decided should die.

AMY GOODMAN: The kill list is what Jeremy Scahill is talking about. Clive Stafford Smith, as we wrap up, your response?

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, it’s something that just horrifies me, that, you know, I voted for President Obama, twice, and yet every Tuesday they have “Terror Tuesday,” where there’s a PowerPoint display in the White House, and they decide, much like Nero did back in the Colosseum in Rome, whether to give the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down for human beings who we’re just going to murder around the world. And, you know, it begins with terrorism, but it will move on. The British, horrifyingly, have already got a list of people on their list in Afghanistan, where they’re saying they’re going to kill pedophiles, for goodness’ sake. I mean, where does this end, that we just murder people worldwide? I mean, we plan to do a lot to publicize that in the upcoming months.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: When did you learn that Britain has a kill list, to begin with?

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: It was only a couple of weeks ago. Frankly, I’m very pleased, because when both the Brits and the Americans are doing it, we can illustrate the folly of both instead of just picking on the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: Clive Stafford Smith, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Clive Stafford Smith has been Shaker Aamer’s attorney for 10 years at Guantánamo. He’s a human rights lawyer, founder and director of the international legal charity called Reprieve.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’re going to talk about Benghazi. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to testify today for up to 10 hours in Congress. We’re going to be talking about the four men who died—the ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three of the other Americans who died. We’ll be speaking with their friends. Stay with us.


Find this story at 22 October 2015

The Drone Papers” Reveals How Faulty Intel & Secret “Kill Chain” Mark Suspects, Civilians for Death

The Intercept series “The Drone Papers” exposes the inner workings of how the drone war is waged, from how targets are identified to who decides to kill. They expose a number of flaws, including that strikes have resulted in large part from electronic communications data, or “signals intelligence,” that officials acknowledge is unreliable. We speak to Intercept reporter Cora Currier, whose article “The Kill Chain,” reveals how the U.S. identifies and selects assassination targets, from the collection of data and human intelligence all the way to President Obama’s desk.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, today we are looking at “The Drone Papers,” an explosive new exposé by The Intercept based on a cache of secret documents that expose the inner workings of the U.S. military’s assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. It raises the question: Is there a new Edward Snowden?

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by three reporters who worked on “The Drone Papers.” Cora Currier is staff reporter for The Intercept. Her contributions to the “Drone Papers” series include the pieces “The Kill Chain” and “Firing Blind.” Ryan Devereaux, also a staff reporter at The Intercept, wrote “Manhunting in the Hindu Kush.” Also still with us for the hour, Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of the The Intercept, author of—is also author on this series.

Cora Currier, I wanted to turn to your piece, “The Kill [Chain].” How do the targets get chosen?

CORA CURRIER: So this is the first time that we’ve seen documentary evidence of how the Obama White House picks and chooses targets for—to kill them by drone or any other—or other kinds of airstrikes. And this is for operations in Yemen and Somalia. And the slide that we have shows how task force personnel, so people working on the ground in Yemen or Somalia, JSOC task force personnel, working with other intelligence community members, establish—make a package on a target, on a potential target, collecting intelligence, doing reconnaissance. So these people are already under surveillance of various types. And then they put them together, they package them in what they call a “baseball card” on the target, and that passes up the ranks of the military, up the chain of command. It goes through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, secretary of defense, then sends them to the White House.

And there, they’re examined by counsels of senior administration officials, known as the Principals Committee, which is—of the National Security Council, which is basically sort of all the top Cabinet heads of the Obama administration, all his closest advisers, and their deputies, which is called the Deputies Committee. And that’s reportedly where actually a lot of the work gets done, where they really pour over the targets and they think about sort of the—both the legal cases and also the sort of political ramifications and reasons to kill or not to kill somebody. So this is all happening in—this sort of really interagency process happens at the White House. And then, we know from outside reporting that this is the time when, during the period of this study in 2012, 2013, John Brennan, who then became CIA director, was super influential in these discussions. And it was often him that was bringing the baseball cards to the president to finally sign off on giving JSOC operatives then a 60-day window to go after the target.

AMY GOODMAN: The baseball cards?

CORA CURRIER: Mm-hmm, so they would sign off on a “package,” what they called it, a targeting—an operations package, which would have the baseball card, which was all the intelligence on the target, and then a sort of concept of operations about how they might go about getting them. And then they’d have a 60-day window in which they could take a strike against the target. And that is counter to some previous reporting about whether or not the president sort of—you hear this rhetoric that the president personally signs off on each drone strike. It’s not clear that that’s exactly what was meant by that. It seems more likely that he signs off on these packages, and then the actual decision to take a strike goes through the military chain of command.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And a key part of these baseball cards are the SIM cards and the cellphone numbers and—in other words, the signals intelligence attached to each of these individuals?

CORA CURRIER: Right. It’s going to have, you know, everything that they know about them, so from a variety of sources. And one thing that we learned in the documents is that they are heavily reliant on signals intelligence, heavily reliant on communications intelligence, to build a picture of who they think this person is and why they think he’s important.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, in your piece, “The Kill Chain: The Lethal Bureaucracy Behind Obama’s Drone War,” you talk about the different officials who sign off. Jeremy mentioned earlier, for example, the treasury secretary. Why would the treasury secretary be involved with naming who should be killed?

CORA CURRIER: Well, I think, in practice—I mean, by the letter, the Principals Committee of the National Security Council includes all of these—all of these top officials, like the treasury secretary, like the secretary of energy. Is the secretary of energy actually really, you know, a deciding factor in who gets killed in Yemen? No. It’s going to be the—you know, Hillary Clinton at the time of this study was secretary of state, and she would sort of represent the State Department’s opinions about this. Again, would she actually probably have all the background on these individuals? No, it would have been prepared for her by, you know, her second-in-commands or whoever was below her, and they would sort of be representing the views of their agency. So, while all those Cabinet members are, on paper, in the—on the Principals Committee, in practice, it was a smaller circle of advisers.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Jeremy, so, the president is making these decisions on the others below him based on—I mean, it’s very much shaped on the information he’s getting on his desk.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. And, I mean, you know, one of the things that we also see in the documents is that a great deal of the intelligence that they’re basing these packages on come from foreign intelligence sources. So it could be from the Saudis, it could be from Yemenis, it could be from another entity, from Qatar—

AMY GOODMAN: From the Saudis, for example, who want a protester, a pro-democracy protester, dead.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. Right. And, I mean—well, yes, that’s part of it, but more specifically to this, there are cases where it seems as though the U.S. was intentionally fed bad intelligence to—in the effort to try to eliminate a domestic political opponent of the former dictator of Yemen, for instance, where someone that was actually trying to negotiate with al-Qaeda, but was a political opponent of the Yemeni dictator at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was killed in a U.S. drone strike, and it seems quite likely that it was—you know, Yemen had fed that intelligence to try to eliminate one of their opponents. I mean, the WikiLeaks cables were rife with examples of the Yemeni president trying to get the United States to take up his own political cause against the Houthis at the time, who are now controlling parts of Yemen. But the Saudis have a huge influence over who the U.S. targets in that region. And foreign intelligence—they have their own agenda. And if we’re basing a lot of our decision on who should sort of live or die in these cases on foreign intelligence and unreliable signals intelligence, it raises serious questions about who we’re actually killing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and it seems to me the other aspect of this, as your report shows, is that the government’s own reviews shows—states the unreliability of this information. So they’re not only making decisions without any kind of judicial process to kill people, the evidence that they’re using, they themselves acknowledge, is unreliable.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, remember, this task force, the ISR Task Force, that did these studies that are in the document—

AMY GOODMAN: And ISR stands for?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance. And so, this task force is basically an advocacy wing for more drones, more surveillance platforms, and so you have to view it in the context of this is the Pentagon trying to get all the toys and to make themselves, you know, the boss of everything—and they largely are the boss of everything, because they have the biggest budget and they have the most personnel. But what there—you know, what the point there is, is that there’s this not-so-subtle agitation to start being able to do a lot more capturing. I think it’s true what they’re saying about the unreliability of it. But there’s also—you know, there’s a turf war at play here with the CIA, so I think you have to take it with a grain of salt and read it in the context of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the issue of innocent civilians—I mean, there’s also an issue of the people who they believe are absolutely guilty, whether or not, Cora, the president should be the judge and the jury and the executioner. But this percentage that Juan raised earlier of 90 percent innocents killed in a drone strike, explain further what you learned on who lives and who dies.

CORA CURRIER: So what was actually striking about the Pentagon study, which was one of the documents that we had—Ryan looked in detail at these campaigns in Afghanistan, where that 90 percent figure comes from. In Yemen and Somalia, in this Pentagon study, they actually—it was pretty striking for how little they talk about civilian casualties, how little it seems to be an issue. The whole gist of the study was, “Give us”—as Jeremy was saying, “Give us more drones, give us better equipment, so that we can get these high-value targets.” And there was sort of little discussion of what the consequences are if you hit the—of hitting the wrong person. It was more about, like, “We’ve got to be more efficient at getting the people that we want,” and there was very little mention of civilian casualties.

There were a few times that it mentioned that low CDE, or collateral damage estimate, which is military speak for how many civilians might be harmed, was mentioned a few times as kind of a restraining factor on strikes and something that was explaining why they were moving more slowly, because they had these low CDE requirements. And that’s actually really—that word, that standard, low CDE, is interesting, because at the same time as this study was circulated in May 2013 was when the president gave his big speech about how, before the U.S. would take a strike, there had to be near certainty that no civilians would be harmed or injured. And near certainty is not the same as low CDE. And the White House told us that, you know, the standards of the May 2013 speech are still in place, but they wouldn’t explain that discrepancy as to why these internal documents at the same time had this different standard for civilian deaths.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Jeremy Scahill, what was the White House’s reaction to this explosive series?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, the White House was—you know, basically said, “We’re not going to comment on purported internal documents.” And, you know, I mean, Ryan had sort of a funny interaction with the Special Operations Command that he can explain. But at the end of the day, the Pentagon ended up being the one that kind of spoke for all of them and said, you know, “These are internal classified documents, and we’re not going to speak about it.” I mean, they’ll speak about classified material all the time when it benefits their position, like John Brennan leaking things after bin Laden, but, you know, they’re not going to address these things. Or even—I mean, Cora had very concrete questions: Is this still the case? Is this true? You know, they wouldn’t answer a single question.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back, and when we come back, we’re going to talk about Afghanistan. And that’s where Ryan Devereaux comes in. With President Obama now reversing course, the longest war in U.S. history is about to get longer. How do “The Drone Papers” weigh in here? What do they tell us about Afghanistan? And much more. We’re speaking with three of the authors of this series, this stunning series at The Intercept: Jeremy Scahill, Ryan Devereaux and Cora Currier. Stay with us.


Find this story at 13 October 2015


The Obama administration has portrayed drones as an effective and efficient weapon in the ongoing war with al Qaeda and other radical groups. Yet classified Pentagon documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the U.S. military has faced “critical shortfalls” in the technology and intelligence it uses to find and kill suspected terrorists in Yemen and Somalia.
THOSE SHORTFALLS STEM from the remote geography of Yemen and Somalia and the limited American presence there. As a result, the U.S. military has been overly reliant on signals intelligence from computers and cellphones, and the quality of those intercepts has been limited by constraints on surveillance flights in the region.

The documents are part of a study by a Pentagon Task Force on Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. They provide details about how targets were tracked for lethal missions carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, in Yemen and Somalia between January 2011 and summer 2012. When the study was circulated in 2013, the Obama administration was publicly floating the idea of moving the bulk of its drone program to the Pentagon from the CIA, and the military was eager to make the case for more bases, more drones, higher video quality, and better eavesdropping equipment.

Yet by identifying the challenges and limitations facing the military’s “find, fix, finish” operations in Somalia and Yemen — the cycle of gathering intelligence, locating, and attacking a target — the conclusions of the ISR study would seem to undermine the Obama administration’s claims of a precise and effective campaign, and lend support to critics who have questioned the quality of intelligence used in drone strikes.

The study made specific recommendations for improving operations in the Horn of Africa, but a Pentagon spokesperson, Cmdr. Linda Rojas, declined to explain what, if any, measures had been taken in response to the study’s findings, saying only that “as a matter of policy we don’t comment on the details of classified reports.”


One of the most glaring problems identified in the ISR study was the U.S. military’s inability to carry out full-time surveillance of its targets in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Behind this problem lies the “tyranny of distance” — a reference to the great lengths that aircraft must fly to their targets from the main U.S. air base in Djibouti, the small East African nation that borders Somalia and sits just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen.
Surveillance flights are limited by fuel — and, in the case of manned aircraft, the endurance of pilots. In contrast with Iraq, where more than 80 percent of “finishing operations” were conducted within 150 kilometers of an air base, the study notes that “most objectives in Yemen are ~ 500 km away” from Djibouti and “Somalia can be over 1,000 km.” The result is that drones and planes can spend half their air time in transit, and not enough time conducting actual surveillance.

A Pentagon chart showing that as of June 2012 manned spy planes accounted for the majority of flights over Yemen, even though drones were more efficient, since they could spend more time over a target. Over Somalia, the military used a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft. AP = Arabian Peninsula; EA = East Africa.
Compounding the tyranny of distance, the ISR study complained, was the fact that JSOC had too few drones in the region to meet the requirements mandated for carrying out a finishing operation. The military measures surveillance flights in orbits — meaning continuous, unbroken coverage of a target — and JSOC chronically failed to meet “minimum requirements” for orbits over Yemen, and in the case of Somalia had never met the minimum standards. On average, 15 flights a day, by multiple aircraft relieving or complementing one another, were needed to complete three orbits over Yemen.

The “sparse” available resources meant that aircraft had to “cover more potential leads — stretching coverage and leading to [surveillance] ‘blinks.’” Because multiple aircraft needed to be “massed” over one target before a strike, surveillance of other targets temporarily ceased, thus breaking the military’s ideal of a “persistent stare” or the “unblinking eye” of around-the-clock tracking.

When the military was focused on a “finish” — meaning kill — operation, drones were taken off the surveillance of other targets.
JSOC relied on manned spy planes to fill the orbit gap over Yemen. In June 2012 there were six U-28 spy planes in operation in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, as well as several other types of manned aircraft. The U-28s in Djibouti were “referred to as the ‘Chiclet line,’” according to the ISR study, and “compounded Djiboutian air control issues” because of their frequent flights.

Only in the summer of 2012, with the addition of contractor-operated drones based in Ethiopia and Fire Scout unmanned helicopters, did Somalia have the minimum number of drones commanders wanted. The number of Predator drones stationed in Djibouti doubled over the course of the study, and in 2013, the fleet was moved from the main U.S. air base, Camp Lemonnier, to another Djibouti airstrip because of overcrowding and a string of crashes.

“Blinking” remained a concern, however, and the study recommended adding even more aircraft to the area of operations. Noting that political and developmental issues hampered the military’s ability to build new bases, it suggested expanding the use of aircraft launched from ships. JSOC already made use of Fire Scout helicopter drones and small Scan Eagle drones off the coast of Somalia, as well as “Armada Sweep,” which a 2011 document from the National Security Agency, provided by former contractor Edward Snowden, describes as a “ship-based collection system” for electronic communications data. (The NSA declined to comment on Armada Sweep.)

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency from July 2012 to August 2014, told The Intercept that the surveillance requirements he outlined for tracking al Qaeda while in office had never been met. “We end up spending money on other stupid things instead of actually the capabilities that we need,” he said. “This is not just about buying more drones, it’s a whole system that’s required.”

According to Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has closely studied the drone war, resource constraints in Africa “mean less time for the persistent stare that counterterrorism analysts and commanders want, and got used to in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater.”


The find, fix, finish cycle is known in the military as FFF, or F3. But just as critical are two other letters: E and A, for “exploit and analyze,” referring to the use of materials collected on the ground and in detainee interrogations.
F3EA became doctrine in counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan in the mid-2000s. Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in his memoir that the simplicity of those “five words in a line … belied how profoundly it would drive our mission.” In 2008, Flynn, who worked closely with McChrystal before becoming head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, wrote that “Exploit-Analyze starts the cycle over again by providing leads, or start points, into the network that could be observed and tracked using airborne ISR.”

Deadly strikes thus truncate the find, fix, finish cycle without exploitation and analysis — precisely the components that were lacking in the drone campaign waged in East Africa and Yemen. That shortfall points to one of the contradictions at the heart of the drone program in general: Assassinations are intelligence dead ends.

The ISR study shows that after a “kill operation” there is typically nobody on the ground to collect written material or laptops in the target’s house, or the phone on his body, or capture suspects and ask questions. Yet collection of on-the-ground intelligence of that sort — referred to as DOMEX, for “document and media exploitation,” and TIR, for “tactical interrogation report” — is invaluable for identifying future targets.

A slide from a Pentagon study notes that deadly strikes in Yemen and Somalia reduce the amount of intelligence for future operations. AUMF = 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force; FMV = Full Motion Video; F3EA = Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze; HOA = Horn of Africa
Stating that 75 percent of operations in the region were strikes, and noting that “kill operations significantly reduce the intelligence available from detainees and captured material,” the study recommended an expansion of “capture finishes via host-nation partners for more ‘finish-derived’ intelligence.” One of the problems with that scenario, however, is that security forces in host nations like Yemen and Somalia are profoundly unreliable and have been linked to a wide variety of abuses, including the torture of prisoners.

A report last year by retired Gen. John Abizaid and former Defense Department official Rosa Brooks noted that the “enormous uncertainties” of drone warfare are “multiplied further when the United States relies on intelligence and other targeting information provided by a host nation government: How can we be sure we are not being drawn into a civil war or being used to target the domestic political enemies of the host state leadership?”

In 2011, for example, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal that they had killed a local governor because Yemeni officials didn’t tell them he was present at a gathering of al Qaeda figures. “We think we got played,” one official said. (The Yemeni government disputed the report.)

Despite such warnings, the drone program has relied heavily on intelligence from other countries. One slide describes signals intelligence, or SIGINT, as coming “often from foreign partners,” and another, titled “Alternatives to Exploit/Analyze,” states that “in the reduced access environment, national intelligence partners often have the best information and access.”

The military relies heavily on intelligence from electronic communications, much of it provided by foreign governments, but acknowledges that the information is “neither as timely nor as focused as tactical intelligence.”
One way to increase the reliability of host-nation intelligence is to be directly involved in its collection — but this can be risky for soldiers on the ground. The study called for “advance force operations,” including “small teams of special force advisors,” to work with foreign forces to capture combatants, interrogate them, and seize any written material or electronic devices they possess. According to public Special Operations guidelines, advance force operations “prepare for near-term” actions by planting tracking devices, conducting reconnaissance missions, and staging for attacks. The documents obtained by The Intercept did not specify an optimum number of advisors or where they should be based or how exactly they should be involved in capture or interrogation operations.

Although the study dates from 2013, current Special Operations Commander Joseph Votel echoed its findings in July 2015. Votel noted that his troops were working closely with African Union forces and the Somali government to battle al Shabaab. He added, “We get a lot more … when we actually capture somebody or we capture material than we do when we kill someone.”

A man walks past destroyed buildings in Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province in southern Yemen on Dec. 5, 2012. Photo: Sami-al-Ansi/AFP/Getty Images

With limited ability to conduct raids or seize materials from targeted individuals in Yemen and Somalia, JSOC relied overwhelmingly on monitoring electronic communications to discover and ultimately locate targets.
The documents state bluntly that SIGINT is an inferior form of intelligence. Yet signals accounted for more than half the intelligence collected on targets, with much of it coming from foreign partners. The rest originated with human intelligence, primarily obtained by the CIA. “These sources,” the study notes, “are neither as timely nor as focused as tactical intelligence” from interrogations or seized materials.

Making matters worse, the documents refer to “poor” and “limited” capabilities for collecting SIGINT, implying a double bind in which kill operations were reliant on sparse amounts of inferior intelligence.

The disparity with other areas of operation was stark, as a chart contrasting cell data makes clear: In Afghanistan there were 8,900 cell data reports each month, versus 50 for Yemen and 160 for Somalia. Despite that, another chart shows SIGINT comprised more than half the data sources that went into developing targets in Somalia and Yemen in 2012.

Cellphone data was critical for finding and identifying targets, yet a chart from a Pentagon study shows that the military had far less information in Yemen and Somalia than it was accustomed to having in Afghanistan. DOMEX = Document and Media Exploitation; GSM = Global System for Mobile communication; HOA = Horn of Africa; IIRs = Intelligence Information Reports; SIGINT = Signals Intelligence; TIRs = Tactical Interrogation Reports.
Flynn told The Intercept there was “way too much reliance on technical aspects [of intelligence], like signals intelligence, or even just looking at somebody with unmanned aerial vehicles.”

“I could get on the telephone from somewhere in Somalia, and I know I’m a high-value target, and say in some coded language, ‘The wedding is about to occur in the next 24 hours,’” Flynn said. “That could put all of Europe and the United States on a high-level alert, and it may be just total bullshit. SIGINT is an easy system to fool and that’s why it has to be validated by other INTs — like HUMINT. You have to ensure that the person is actually there at that location because what you really intercepted was the phone.”

In addition to using SIGINT to identify and find new targets, the documents detail how military analysts also relied on such intelligence to make sure that they had the correct person in their sights and to estimate the harm to civilians before a strike. After locating a target, usually by his cellphone or other electronics, analysts would study video feeds from surveillance aircraft “to build near-certainty via identification of distinguishing physical characteristics.”

A British intelligence document on targeted killing in Afghanistan, which was among the Snowden files, describes a similar process of “monitoring a fixed location, and tracking any persons moving away from that location, and identifying if a similar pattern is experienced through SIGINT collect.” The document explains that “other visual indicators may be used to aid the establishment of [positive identification]” including “description of clothing” or “gait.” After a shot, according to the British document and case studies in the Pentagon’s ISR report, drones would hover to determine if their target had been hit, collecting video and evidence of whether the cellphone had been eliminated. (The British intelligence agency, GCHQ, declined to comment on the document.)

A chart comparing the surveillance capabilities of the various drones and aircraft flying over Yemen and Somalia in 2012. APG = Aerial Precision Geolocation; DNR COMINT = Dial Network Recognition Communications Intelligence; ISR = Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; FMV = Full Motion Video; PTT COMINT = Push-to-Talk Communications Intelligence.
Yet according to the ISR study, the military faced “critical shortfalls of capabilities” in the technologies enabling that kind of precise surveillance and post-strike assessment. At the time of the study, only some of the Reaper drones had high-definition video, and most of the aircraft over the region lacked the ability to collect “dial number recognition” data.

The study cites these shortcomings as an explanation for the low rate of successful strikes against the targets on the military’s kill list in Yemen and Somalia, especially in comparison with Iraq and Afghanistan. It presents the failings primarily as an issue of efficiency, with little mention of the possible consequence of bad intelligence leading to killing the wrong people.

Cora Currier, Peter Maass
Oct. 15 2015, 1:58 p.m.
Additional reporting: Jeremy Scahill

Find this story at 15 October 2015

Copyright https://theintercept.com/


From his first days as commander in chief, the drone has been President Barack Obama’s weapon of choice, used by the military and the CIA to hunt down and kill the people his administration has deemed — through secretive processes, without indictment or trial — worthy of execution. There has been intense focus on the technology of remote killing, but that often serves as a surrogate for what should be a broader examination of the state’s power over life and death.
DRONES ARE A TOOL, not a policy. The policy is assassination. While every president since Gerald Ford has upheld an executive order banning assassinations by U.S. personnel, Congress has avoided legislating the issue or even defining the word “assassination.” This has allowed proponents of the drone wars to rebrand assassinations with more palatable characterizations, such as the term du jour, “targeted killings.”

When the Obama administration has discussed drone strikes publicly, it has offered assurances that such operations are a more precise alternative to boots on the ground and are authorized only when an “imminent” threat is present and there is “near certainty” that the intended target will be eliminated. Those terms, however, appear to have been bluntly redefined to bear almost no resemblance to their commonly understood meanings.

The first drone strike outside of a declared war zone was conducted more than 12 years ago, yet it was not until May 2013 that the White House released a set of standards and procedures for conducting such strikes. Those guidelines offered little specificity, asserting that the U.S. would only conduct a lethal strike outside of an “area of active hostilities” if a target represents a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons,” without providing any sense of the internal process used to determine whether a suspect should be killed without being indicted or tried. The implicit message on drone strikes from the Obama administration has been one of trust, but don’t verify.

Photo: The Intercept
GEOLOCATION-WATCHLISTThe Intercept has obtained a cache of secret slides that provides a window into the inner workings of the U.S. military’s kill/capture operations at a key time in the evolution of the drone wars — between 2011 and 2013. The documents, which also outline the internal views of special operations forces on the shortcomings and flaws of the drone program, were provided by a source within the intelligence community who worked on the types of operations and programs described in the slides. The Intercept granted the source’s request for anonymity because the materials are classified and because the U.S. government has engaged in aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers. The stories in this series will refer to the source as “the source.”

The source said he decided to provide these documents to The Intercept because he believes the public has a right to understand the process by which people are placed on kill lists and ultimately assassinated on orders from the highest echelons of the U.S. government. “This outrageous explosion of watchlisting — of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the source said.

“We’re allowing this to happen. And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it.”
The Pentagon, White House, and Special Operations Command all declined to comment. A Defense Department spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on the details of classified reports.”

The CIA and the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) operate parallel drone-based assassination programs, and the secret documents should be viewed in the context of an intense internal turf war over which entity should have supremacy in those operations. Two sets of slides focus on the military’s high-value targeting campaign in Somalia and Yemen as it existed between 2011 and 2013, specifically the operations of a secretive unit, Task Force 48-4.

Additional documents on high-value kill/capture operations in Afghanistan buttress previous accounts of how the Obama administration masks the true number of civilians killed in drone strikes by categorizing unidentified people killed in a strike as enemies, even if they were not the intended targets. The slides also paint a picture of a campaign in Afghanistan aimed not only at eliminating al Qaeda and Taliban operatives, but also at taking out members of other local armed groups.

One top-secret document shows how the terror “watchlist” appears in the terminals of personnel conducting drone operations, linking unique codes associated with cellphone SIM cards and handsets to specific individuals in order to geolocate them.

A top-secret document shows how the watchlist looks on internal systems used by drone operators.
The costs to intelligence gathering when suspected terrorists are killed rather than captured are outlined in the slides pertaining to Yemen and Somalia, which are part of a 2013 study conducted by a Pentagon entity, the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Task Force. The ISR study lamented the limitations of the drone program, arguing for more advanced drones and other surveillance aircraft and the expanded use of naval vessels to extend the reach of surveillance operations necessary for targeted strikes. It also contemplated the establishment of new “politically challenging” airfields and recommended capturing and interrogating more suspected terrorists rather than killing them in drone strikes.

The ISR Task Force at the time was under the control of Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Vickers, a fierce proponent of drone strikes and a legendary paramilitary figure, had long pushed for a significant increase in the military’s use of special operations forces. The ISR Task Force is viewed by key lawmakers as an advocate for more surveillance platforms like drones.

The ISR study also reveals new details about the case of a British citizen, Bilal el-Berjawi, who was stripped of his citizenship before being killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2012. British and American intelligence had Berjawi under surveillance for several years as he traveled back and forth between the U.K. and East Africa, yet did not capture him. Instead, the U.S. hunted him down and killed him in Somalia.

Taken together, the secret documents lead to the conclusion that Washington’s 14-year high-value targeting campaign suffers from an overreliance on signals intelligence, an apparently incalculable civilian toll, and — due to a preference for assassination rather than capture — an inability to extract potentially valuable intelligence from terror suspects. They also highlight the futility of the war in Afghanistan by showing how the U.S. has poured vast resources into killing local insurgents, in the process exacerbating the very threat the U.S. is seeking to confront.

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FIND, FIX, FINISH These secret slides help provide historical context to Washington’s ongoing wars, and are especially relevant today as the U.S. military intensifies its drone strikes and covert actions against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Those campaigns, like the ones detailed in these documents, are unconventional wars that employ special operations forces at the tip of the spear.

The “find, fix, finish” doctrine that has fueled America’s post-9/11 borderless war is being refined and institutionalized. Whether through the use of drones, night raids, or new platforms yet to be unleashed, these documents lay bare the normalization of assassination as a central component of U.S. counterterrorism policy.

“The military is easily capable of adapting to change, but they don’t like to stop anything they feel is making their lives easier, or is to their benefit. And this certainly is, in their eyes, a very quick, clean way of doing things. It’s a very slick, efficient way to conduct the war, without having to have the massive ground invasion mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan,” the source said. “But at this point, they have become so addicted to this machine, to this way of doing business, that it seems like it’s going to become harder and harder to pull them away from it the longer they’re allowed to continue operating in this way.”

The articles in The Drone Papers were produced by a team of reporters and researchers from The Intercept that has spent months analyzing the documents. The series is intended to serve as a long-overdue public examination of the methods and outcomes of America’s assassination program. This campaign, carried out by two presidents through four presidential terms, has been shrouded in excessive secrecy. The public has a right to see these documents not only to engage in an informed debate about the future of U.S. wars, both overt and covert, but also to understand the circumstances under which the U.S. government arrogates to itself the right to sentence individuals to death without the established checks and balances of arrest, trial, and appeal.

Among the key revelations in this series:


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KILL CHAINIt has been widely reported that President Obama directly approves high-value targets for inclusion on the kill list, but the secret ISR study provides new insight into the kill chain, including a detailed chart stretching from electronic and human intelligence gathering all the way to the president’s desk. The same month the ISR study was circulated — May 2013 — Obama signed the policy guidance on the use of force in counterterrorism operations overseas. A senior administration official, who declined to comment on the classified documents, told The Intercept that “those guidelines remain in effect today.”

U.S. intelligence personnel collect information on potential targets, as The Intercept has previously reported, drawn from government watchlists and the work of intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies. At the time of the study, when someone was destined for the kill list, intelligence analysts created a portrait of a suspect and the threat that person posed, pulling it together “in a condensed format known as a ‘baseball card.’” That information was then bundled with operational information and packaged in a “target information folder” to be “staffed up to higher echelons” for action. On average, it took 58 days for the president to sign off on a target, one slide indicates. At that point, U.S. forces had 60 days to carry out the strike. The documents include two case studies that are partially based on information detailed on baseball cards.

The system for creating baseball cards and targeting packages, according to the source, depends largely on intelligence intercepts and a multi-layered system of fallible, human interpretation. “It isn’t a surefire method,” he said. “You’re relying on the fact that you do have all these very powerful machines, capable of collecting extraordinary amounts of data and information,” which can lead personnel involved in targeted killings to believe they have “godlike powers.”


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FIRING BLINDIn undeclared war zones, the U.S. military has become overly reliant on signals intelligence, or SIGINT, to identify and ultimately hunt down and kill people. The documents acknowledge that using metadata from phones and computers, as well as communications intercepts, is an inferior method of finding and finishing targeted people. They described SIGINT capabilities in these unconventional battlefields as “poor” and “limited.” Yet such collection, much of it provided by foreign partners, accounted for more than half the intelligence used to track potential kills in Yemen and Somalia. The ISR study characterized these failings as a technical hindrance to efficient operations, omitting the fact that faulty intelligence has led to the killing of innocent people, including U.S. citizens, in drone strikes.

The source underscored the unreliability of metadata, most often from phone and computer communications intercepts. These sources of information, identified by so-called selectors such as a phone number or email address, are the primary tools used by the military to find, fix, and finish its targets. “It requires an enormous amount of faith in the technology that you’re using,” the source said. “There’s countless instances where I’ve come across intelligence that was faulty.” This, he said, is a primary factor in the killing of civilians. “It’s stunning the number of instances when selectors are misattributed to certain people. And it isn’t until several months or years later that you all of a sudden realize that the entire time you thought you were going after this really hot target, you wind up realizing it was his mother’s phone the whole time.”

Within the special operations community, the source said, the internal view of the people being hunted by the U.S. for possible death by drone strike is: “They have no rights. They have no dignity. They have no humanity to themselves. They’re just a ‘selector’ to an analyst. You eventually get to a point in the target’s life cycle that you are following them, you don’t even refer to them by their actual name.” This practice, he said, contributes to “dehumanizing the people before you’ve even encountered the moral question of ‘is this a legitimate kill or not?’”

By the ISR study’s own admission, killing suspected terrorists, even if they are “legitimate” targets, further hampers intelligence gathering. The secret study states bluntly: “Kill operations significantly reduce the intelligence available.” A chart shows that special operations actions in the Horn of Africa resulted in captures just 25 percent of the time, indicating a heavy tilt toward lethal strikes.


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MANHUNTING IN THE HINDU KUSH The White House and Pentagon boast that the targeted killing program is precise and that civilian deaths are minimal. However, documents detailing a special operations campaign in northeastern Afghanistan, Operation Haymaker, show that between January 2012 and February 2013, U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. In Yemen and Somalia, where the U.S. has far more limited intelligence capabilities to confirm the people killed are the intended targets, the equivalent ratios may well be much worse.

“Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association,” the source said. When “a drone strike kills more than one person, there is no guarantee that those persons deserved their fate. … So it’s a phenomenal gamble.”


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MANHUNTING IN THE HINDU KUSH The documents show that the military designated people it killed in targeted strikes as EKIA — “enemy killed in action” — even if they were not the intended targets of the strike. Unless evidence posthumously emerged to prove the males killed were not terrorists or “unlawful enemy combatants,” EKIA remained their designation, according to the source. That process, he said, “is insane. But we’ve made ourselves comfortable with that. The intelligence community, JSOC, the CIA, and everybody that helps support and prop up these programs, they’re comfortable with that idea.”

The source described official U.S. government statements minimizing the number of civilian casualties inflicted by drone strikes as “exaggerating at best, if not outright lies.”


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KILL CHAINAccording to one secret slide, as of June 2012, there were 16 people in Yemen whom President Obama had authorized U.S. special operations forces to assassinate. In Somalia, there were four. The statistics contained in the documents appear to refer only to targets approved under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, not CIA operations. In 2012 alone, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there were more than 200 people killed in operations in Yemen and between four and eight in Somalia.


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FIRING BLINDIn Afghanistan and Iraq, the pace of U.S. strikes was much quicker than in Yemen and Somalia. This appears due, in large part, to the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq were declared war zones, and in Iraq the U.S. was able to launch attacks from bases closer to the targeted people. By contrast, in Somalia and Yemen, undeclared war zones where strikes were justified under tighter restrictions, U.S. attack planners described a serpentine bureaucracy for obtaining approval for assassination. The secret study states that the number of high-value targeting operations in these countries was “significantly lower than previously seen in Iraq and Afghanistan” because of these “constraining factors.”

Even after the president approved a target in Yemen or Somalia, the great distance between drone bases and targets created significant challenges for U.S. forces — a problem referred to in the documents as the “tyranny of distance.” In Iraq, more than 80 percent of “finishing operations” were conducted within 150 kilometers of an air base. In Yemen, the average distance was about 450 kilometers and in Somalia it was more than 1,000 kilometers. On average, one document states, it took the U.S. six years to develop a target in Somalia, but just 8.3 months to kill the target once the president had approved his addition to the kill list.


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KILL CHAINThe White House’s publicly available policy standards state that lethal force will be launched only against targets who pose a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons.” In the documents, however, there is only one explicit mention of a specific criterion: that a person “presents a threat to U.S. interest or personnel.” While such a rationale may make sense in the context of a declared war in which U.S. personnel are on the ground in large numbers, such as in Afghanistan, that standard is so vague as to be virtually meaningless in countries like Yemen and Somalia, where very few U.S. personnel operate.

While many of the documents provided to The Intercept contain explicit internal recommendations for improving unconventional U.S. warfare, the source said that what’s implicit is even more significant. The mentality reflected in the documents on the assassination programs is: “This process can work. We can work out the kinks. We can excuse the mistakes. And eventually we will get it down to the point where we don’t have to continuously come back … and explain why a bunch of innocent people got killed.”

The architects of what amounts to a global assassination campaign do not appear concerned with either its enduring impact or its moral implications. “All you have to do is take a look at the world and what it’s become, and the ineptitude of our Congress, the power grab of the executive branch over the past decade,” the source said. “It’s never considered: Is what we’re doing going to ensure the safety of our moral integrity? Of not just our moral integrity, but the lives and humanity of the people that are going to have to live with this the most?”

Jeremy Scahill
Oct. 15 2015, 1:57 p.m.

Find this story at 15 October 2015

Copyright https://theintercept.com/

Every Drone Mission the FBI Admits to Flying

The FBI insists that it uses drone technology in the U.S. to conduct surveillance in “very limited circumstances.” What those particular circumstances are remain a mystery, because the Bureau refuses to identify instances where agents deployed unmanned aerial vehicles, even as far back as 2006.

The obscurity of the FBI drone missions, like that of other domestic law enforcement agencies, has frustrated advocates for transparency and privacy. In a letter to Senator Rand Paul in July 2013, the agency indicated that it had used drones a total of ten times since late 2006—eight criminal cases and two national security cases—and had authorized drone deployments in three additional cases, but did not actually fly them.

The only specific case where the FBI is willing to confirm using a drone was in February 2013, as surveillance support for a child kidnapping case in Alabama. After this and a previous flight in 2012, the agency found its drone missions “strikingly sucessful.”

But new documents obtained by MuckRock as part of the Drone Census flesh out the timeline of FBI drone deployments in detail that was previously unavailable. While heavily redacted—censors deemed even basic facts that were already public about the Alabama case to be too sensitive for release, apparently—these flight orders, after action reviews and mission reports contain new details of FBI drone flights.

New details, summarized in the timeline above, include FBI drone flights as part of investigations into dog fighting operations and drug trafficking rings in 2011, as well as to track a top ten most wanted fugitive in 2012. The documents confirm nine flown missions (ones with after action reports or actual flight orders), as well as five drone mission approvals and one mission proposal, without any confirmation that the FBI actually deployed the drone as proposed.

Previously, the FBI had acknowledged that its first operational deployment of drones took place in October 2006:

These new documents include confirmations of another eight drone operations between February 2011 and February 2013, plus an additional five drone mission approvals and one proposal without confirmation that the FBI actually deployed the drone as proposed.

There was also an instance in April 2011 where FBI aviation managers rejected a drone flight request based on safety concerns:

The FBI redacted location and case details from these operational documents save for the dates, even for operations now three year. This has been the normsince a judge ordered the release of thousands of pages of documents on FBI drone deployments last year. FBI records officers have tried redacting information from documents already published in full online, and withheldvirtually all UAV purchasing and invoice data.

But a handful of details escaped the censors in these latest documents.

In August 2011, the FBI’s Field Flight Operations Unit approved drone surveillance to investigate a “large-scale dog fighting operation” at a redacted location, based on “a review of the case Agent’s surveillance objectives and the nature of the terrain and airspace.”

While there are no after-action documents to confirm the mission took place, FBI aviation managers suggested that agents ask the Federal Aviation Administration for “as large a COA [Certificate of Authorization] as possible” for this mission, suggesting that the drone was meant to survey a wide region.

A few months later, in November 2011, the FBI held a meeting at Quantico to consider flying drones as part of Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigations of Mexican organizations:


Again, the FBI has not confirmed whether the proposed mission took place, or where.

In a mission hailed by agency officials as “a signal achievement in the history of the FBI,” the FBI drone team was deployed on short notice on May 9, 2012 as part of a kidnapping investigation. The mission was slated to “serve both as a tactical resource and a technology demonstration.”

The after-action report hails the operation as a “strikingly successful” milestone, in that it “marked the first use of a UAS [unmanned aerial system] to pursue a top ten fugitive.”


That same day, on May 9, 2012, the FBI added Adam Mayes to its Ten Most Wanted list. Mayes was wanted for the kidnap and murder of a Tennessee woman and one of her daughters, as well as for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

The FBI and state investigators found Mayes and the two remaining young girls the next day—the day after its drone team was scrambled to a kidnap-murder-unlawful-flight investigation—in heavy woods a few miles from Mayes’s home in Mississippi.

Media reports indicate that the long search was brought to an end after a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer “spotted a small blonde child peeking over a ridge.” No outlets reported the involvement of a drone in the manhunt. When law enforcement closed in, Mayes reportedly shot himself in the head, and the two girls were recovered without serious injuries.

While report details point to the involvement of drones in this manhunt, the FBI has refused to confirm whether its “signal achievement” centered around Mayes.

“Other than the hostage crisis site in Alabama, involving a kidnapper who abducted a boy and held him hostage in a bunker,” wrote FBI Special Agent Ann Todd in response to our request for confirmation, “we have not publicly identified specific cases where we have used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).”

It’s not only the general public that the FBI keeps in the dark regarding drone deployments. Even the FAA and agency partners do not receive details.

An FBI dossier on drone use from April 2007 indicates that the FAA has urged the FBI to maintain “the same standards as manned fixed-wing aircraft.” But it says the FBI may forgo notifying the FAA in “exigent circumstances”:


In a July 30, 2012 email to the FAA and a redacted agency at the close of a drone operation at a redacted location for a redacted purpose, an FBI aviation administrator begged pardon for keeping its partners in the dark:


“While details of the mission intent must remained guarded for now,” the aviation manager wrote, “I hope to release full details in the future.” As with most of the FBI’s drone deployments, those details have yet to see the light.

April 16, 2014 // 04:30 PM EST

Find this story at 16 April 2014

© 2014 Vice Media Inc

CIA’s Pakistan drone strikes carried out by regular US air force personnel

Former drone operators claim in new documentary that CIA missions flown by USAF’s 17th Reconnaissance Squadron

A regular US air force unit based in the Nevada desert is responsible for flying the CIA’s drone strike programme in Pakistan, according to a new documentary to be released on Tuesday.

The film – which has been three years in the making – identifies the unit conducting CIA strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas as the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron, which operates from a secure compound in a corner of Creech air force base, 45 miles from Las Vegas in the Mojave desert.

Several former drone operators have claimed that the unit’s conventional air force personnel – rather than civilian contractors – have been flying the CIA’s heavily armed Predator missions in Pakistan, a 10-year campaign which according to some estimates has killed more than 2,400 people.

Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, said this posed questions of legality and oversight. “A lethal force apparatus in which the CIA and regular military collaborate as they are reportedly doing risks upending the checks and balances that restrict where and when lethal force is used, and thwart democratic accountability, which cannot take place in secrecy.”

The Guardian approached the National Security Council, the CIA and the Pentagon for comment last week. The NSC and CIA declined to comment, while the Pentagon did not respond.

The role of the squadron, and the use of its regular air force personnel in the CIA’s targeted killing programme, first emerged during interviews with two former special forces drone operators for a new documentary film, Drone.

Brandon Bryant, a former US Predator operator, told the film he decided to speak out after senior officials in the Obama administration gave a briefing last year in which they said they wanted to “transfer” control of the CIA’s secret drones programme to the military.

Bryant said this was disingenuous because it was widely known in military circles that the US air force was already involved.

“There is a lie hidden within that truth. And the lie is that it’s always been the air force that has flown those missions. The CIA might be the customer but the air force has always flown it. A CIA label is just an excuse to not have to give up any information. That is all it has ever been.”

Referring to the 17th squadron, another former drone operator, Michael Haas, added: “It’s pretty widely known [among personnel] that the CIA controls their mission.”

Six other former drone operators who worked alongside the unit, and who have extensive knowledge of the drone programme, have since corroborated the claims. None of them were prepared to go on the record because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Bryant said public scrutiny of the programme had focused so far on the CIA rather than the military, and it was time to acknowledge the role of those who had been carrying out missions on behalf of the agency’s civilian analysts.

“Everyone talks about CIA over Pakistan, CIA double-tap, CIA over Yemen, CIA over Somalia. But I don’t believe that they deserve the entirety of all that credit for the drone programme,” he said. “They might drive the missions; they might say that these are the objectives – accomplish it. They don’t fly it.”

Another former drone operator based at Creech said members of the 17th were obsessively secretive.

“They don’t hang out with anyone else. Once they got into the 17th and got upgraded operationally, they pretty much stopped talking to us. They would only hang out among themselves like a high school clique, a gang or something.”

Shamsi said the revelations, if true, raised “a host of additional pressing questions about the legal framework under which the targeted killing programme is carried out and the basis for the secrecy that continues to shroud it.”

She added: “It will come as a surprise to most Americans if the CIA is directing the military to carry out warlike activities. The agency should be collecting and analysing foreign intelligence, not presiding over a massive killing apparatus.

“We don’t know precisely what rules the CIA is operating under, but what we do know makes clear that it’s not abiding by the laws that strictly limit extrajudicial killing both in and out of traditional battlefields. Now we have to ask whether the regular military is violating those laws as well, under the secrecy that the CIA wields as sword and shield over its killing activities.

“Congressional hearings in the last year have made it embarrassingly clear that Congress has not exercised much oversight over the lethal programme.”

In theory, the revelation could expose serving air force personnel to legal challenges based on their direct involvement in a programme that a UN special rapporteur and numerous other judicial experts are concerned may be wholly or partly in violation of international law.

Sitting 45 miles north-west of Las Vegas in the Mojave desert, Creech air force base has played a key role in the US drone programme since the 1990s.

The 432d wing oversees four conventional US air force Predator and Reaper squadrons, which carry out surveillance missions and air strikes in Afghanistan.

There is another, far more secretive cluster of units within the wing called the 732nd Operations Group, which states that it “employs remotely piloted aircraft in theatres across the globe year-round”.

This operations group has four drone squadrons, which all appear to be linked with the CIA.

The 30th Reconnaissance Squadron “test-flies” the RQ-170 Sentinel, the CIA’s stealth drone which made headlines after one was captured over Iran in December 2011.

The 22nd and 867th Reconnaissance Squadrons each fly Reaper drones, the more heavily armed successor to the Predator.

But it is the last of the four units – the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron – that is now under the most scrutiny.

It is understood to have 300 air crew and operates about 35 Predator drones – enough to provide five or six simultaneous missions during any 24-hour period.

It operates from within an inner compound at Creech, which even visiting military VIPs are unable to access, say former base personnel. Former workers at Creech say the unit was treated as the “crown jewels” of the drone programme.

“They wouldn’t even let us walk by it, they were just so protective of it,” said Haas, who for two years was a drone operator. He was also an operational trainer at Creech.

“From what I was able to gather, it was pretty much confirmed they were flying missions almost exclusively in Pakistan with the intent to strike.”

In the Operations Cell, which receives video feeds from every drone “line” in progress at Creech, mission co-ordinators from the 17th were kept segregated from all the others.

Established as a regular drone squadron in 2002, the unit transitioned to its new “customer” in 2004 at the same time that CIA drone strikes began in Pakistan, former personnel have said.

The operators receive their orders from civilian CIA analysts who ultimately decide whether – and against whom – to carry out a strike, according to one former mid-level drone commander.

Creech air force base would only confirm that the 17th squadron was engaged in “global operations”.

“The 732nd Operations Group oversees global operations of four squadrons – the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron, 22nd Reconnaissance Squadron, 30th Reconnaissance Squadron and the 867th Reconnaissance Squadron. These squadrons are all still active … their mission is to perform high-quality, persistent, multi-role intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in support of combatant commanders’ needs.”

Although the agency’s drone strikes have killed a number of senior figures in al-Qaida and the Taliban, the CIA also stands accused by two United Nations investigators of possible war crimes for some of its activities in Pakistan. They are probing the targeting of rescuers and the bombing of a public funeral.

• Tonje Schei’s film Drone premieres on Arte on 15 April.

• Chris Woods is the author of Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars, which is published next winter in the US and Europe.

Chris Woods
The Guardian, Monday 14 April 2014 14.30 BST

Find this story at 14 April 2014

© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

‘Not bug splats’: Artists use poster-child in Pakistan drone protest

A poster of a young child has appeared in north-west Pakistan to raise awareness of the numerous drone attacks the region suffered. Artists who created the image hope military commanders will think twice about shooting after seeing the portrait.

More than 200 children are believed to have died in the heavily-bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa according to the website notabugsplat.com. ‘Bug splat’ is the name given by the military to a person who has been killed by a drone. Viewing the body through a grainy computer image gives the impression that an insect has been crushed.

Now a giant portrait of a young child has been produced to try and raise awareness of civilian casualties in the region. The hope is now the drone operator will see a child’s face on his or her computer screen, rather than just a small white dot and may think twice before attacking indiscriminately.

The child featured in the poster is nameless, but according to the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, who helped to launch the project in collaboration with a number of artists, both parents were lost to a drone attack.

Drone raids in Pakistan started in 2004 under George W. Bush’s administration as part of the US War on Terror. The vast majority of strikes have focused on the Federally Administered Tribal Area’s and the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa area due to their proximity to Afghanistan, which the country invaded following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Image from notabugsplat.comImage from notabugsplat.com

The United States says drones, which have been continued under Barak Obama’s presidency are more accurate than any other weapon and a vital tool for killing Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. But Pakistani deaths from drone strikes are estimated at between 2,537 and 3,646 over the period from 2004 to 2013, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism says, drawing on media reports.

Civilian deaths have long strained relations between the United States and Pakistan. The issue of drone strikes, while remaining largely out of US headlines, has become one of the most polarizing in Pakistan. While previous reports have made it clear that Pakistani leaders have authorized at least some drone strikes, they publicly maintain that that American unmanned aerial vehicles constantly buzzing in the skies undermine Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Islamabad has tried to convince the United Nations Human Rights Council to pass a resolution that would force US drone strikes to adhere to international law. However, America has not been forthcoming and boycotted recent talks in Geneva.

The number of drone strikes in Pakistan has at least fallen over the last month as the Pakistani government asked the US to limit the number of attacks as they entered peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.

Published time: April 07, 2014 13:29
Edited time: April 08, 2014 15:04 Get short URL

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Revealed: US drone attack in Pakistan killed German ‘security contact’

A German national died in a US drone strike in Pakistan, a report revealed on Monday. The 27-year-old convert to Islam claimed to have close links with German authorities and even to be in contact with security officials.

The strike occurred on February 16, 2012, some 35 km south of the Pakistani town of Mir Ali, which itself is about 30 kilometers south east of the Afghan border.

However, it is only now that details have begun to emerge. The man in question has been identified as Patrick K., from Hesse, central Germany, according to the German paper, Süddeutsche Zeitung and the NDR broadcaster.

An entry at a jihadist forum, which also produced video evidence of his death, stated the man’s full name was Patrick Klaus. Two separate German-language video messages (Part one; Part two) posted by German Islamists show Klaus smiling at the camera as he calls on his compatriots with the same beliefs to: “Follow me”.

The German national apparently switched to Islam at the age of 14, reports Die Welt. In 2011, he moved to Waziristan, a mountainous region near Afghanistan’s border back in 2011 to live with his wife, who is thought to be a Pakistani national.

The reports state that at the time of the strike Patrick K. had been travelling in a pick-up truck alongside several Uzbek fighters. They were heading in the direction of South Waziristan when a MQ-1 Predator drone missile hit the vehicle. Nine others died alongside Patrick K., and the vehicle itself was left completely burnt out.

“He says that he was in close contact with an official from the BKA [Federal Criminal Police Office] in Hesse, who allegedly recruited him successfully,” claims the SZ paper, a link to which can be found in German.

It is also thought that an official from the domestic intelligence agency – the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution – had made efforts to communicate with him.

Patrick KlausPatrick Klaus

Patrick K. had previously been arrested in Bonn in 2011, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung, in the run-up to the Social Democrat’s German Festival to celebrate 150 years of the party’s existence. Security services were on high alert and feared a possible attack. However, suspicions about him were quickly dispelled and the possibility of an attack was dismissed.

Patrick K. travelled to Pakistan a few days afterwards, according to the paper, and subsequently lost contact with the officials that he had allegedly been in contact with. Whilst in Pakistan, he was in contact with the notorious Chouka brothers – Yassin and Mounir Chouka – two German militants of Moroccan descent, who are part of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, deemed a terrorist organization by the UK, US and Russia.

At the time of the 2012 attack’s occurrence, there had been over 260 US drone strikes in the previous eight years. A week prior to the strike, several senior leaders were also killed in an attack in North Waziristan. The area is known for high militant activity, and the US government deems the strikes a necessary and carefully considered part of the struggle against militant groups in its “War against Terror” operation.

Pakistan has repeatedly condemned US drone strikes in the country, with a high court ruling in May last year that strikes in the tribal belt should be considered war crimes. Demonstrations against strikes have also taken place, with a former cricket star-turned politician, Imran Khan, leading a road block demonstration in November against the practice, of which he is a harsh critic.

Published time: January 13, 2014 17:12
Edited time: January 13, 2014 17:49 Get short URL

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Deutscher Konvertit bei Drohnenangriff getötet

Deutscher Konvertit durch Drohne getötetBild vergrößern Patrick K. ist der erste deutsche Konvertit, der bei einem Drohnenangriff getötet worden ist. (Foto: OH)

Erstmals ist ein deutscher Konvertit bei einem Drohnenangriff im afghanisch-pakistanischen Grenzgebiet ums Leben gekommen. Der Angriff soll im Februar 2012 stattgefunden haben. Dies geht aus einer Videobotschaft deutscher Islamisten hervor. Der Offenbacher Patrick K. war den Behörden bekannt: Er soll vor Jahren in Hessen als Informant der islamistischen Szene angeworben worden sein.

Von Marie Delhaes
Erstmals ist ein deutscher Konvertit in Waziristan bei einem Drohnenangriff ums Leben gekommen. Dies geht aus einer Videobotschaft deutscher Islamisten hervor. Der Name des Toten wird mit Patrick K. aus Offenbach angegeben.

Angeblich soll er nach Informationen von SZ.de und des NDR bei einem Drohnenangriff am 16. Februar 2012 in der Nähe der Stadt Mir Ali getötet worden sein. Der 27-Jährige lebte zu diesem Zeitpunkt seit weniger als einem Jahr in Waziristan. Patrick K.s Ehefrau, wahrscheinlich eine Pakistanerin, reiste mit ihm ins afghanisch-pakistanische Grenzgebiet aus.

In der Videobotschaft, die in zwei Teilen in einem dschihadistischen Forum veröffentlicht wurde und der SZ vorliegt, ist Patrick K. einige Minuten lang zu sehen, er lächelt in die Kamera. In dem Video wird auch sein Leben in Deutschland geschildert. Demnach ist er bereits im Winter 2001 als 16-Jähriger zum Islam konvertiert. Angeblich war er von deutschen Sicherheitsbehörden als Informant der islamistischen Szene angeworben worden.

Nach eigenen Angaben stand er in engem Kontakt mit einem Beamten vom BKA in Hessen, der ihn erfolgreich angeworben haben soll. Auch der Verfassungsschutz soll ihn kontaktiert haben. Patrick K. war im Vorfeld des Bonner Deutschlandfestes 2011 in Offenbach festgenommen worden. Es hatte in der islamistischen Szene Gerüchte wegen eines möglichen Anschlags in Bonn gegeben. Der Verdächtige wurde aber bereits einige Stunden später wieder auf freien Fuß gesetzt, da es keine konkreten Hinweise auf einen angeblich geplanten Anschlag gab. Einige Tage später reiste K. nach Pakistan aus. Angeblich wollte er in Kontakt mit dem BKA bleiben, er setzte sich jedoch in die Stammesgebiete ab.


Bei dem Drohnenangriff am 16. Februar war er angeblich mit mehreren usbekischen Kämpfern in einem Pickup unterwegs. Sie fuhren rund 35 Kilometer südlich von Mir Ali in Richtung Südwaziristan, als Raketen der MQ-1 Predator Drohne ihr Fahrzeug trafen.

Augenzeugen berichteten, dass auch eine Stunde nach dem Angriff noch vier Drohnen über dem brennenden Autowrack kreisten. Das Fahrzeug war vollkommen ausgebrannt und keiner der Insassen überlebte. Bei dem Angriff starben insgesamt zehn Menschen.

Nach Zählungen des britischen Dokumentationszentrums “The Bureau of Investigative Journalism” steht die Attacke in einer langen Reihe von Drohnenangriffen. Es war der 263. Angriff seit 2004 und der neunte Drohnenangriff im Jahr 2012. Eine Woche zuvor, am 9. Februar, wurden bei einem Angriff, der ebenfalls in Nordwaziristan stattfand, mehrere hochrangige Führungspersonen getötet. Unter ihnen war Badar Mansoor, der Kommandeur der pakistanischen Taliban mit starken Verbindungen zu al-Qaida.

Die Brüder Chouka
Die Meldung vom Tod des deutschen Konvertiten kam von den Bonner Brüdern Mounir und Yassin Chouka. Die Choukas melden sich regelmäßig aus Waziristan. Sie sind 2008 über den Jemen ins afghanisch-pakistanische Grenzgebiet ausgereist. Seitdem sind sie die Nachrichtensprecher des Dschihads. Viele Jahre veröffentlichten sie ihre Videobotschaften unter dem Label “Studio Jundullah” (Armee Gottes) der Islamischen Bewegung Usbekistan (IBU). Seit einigen Monaten hat sich das geändert. Nun erscheint ihr zweites Video unter dem Namen “Al-Khandaq”, eine Anspielung auf eine historische Schlacht, bei der der Prophet gekämpft hat.

12. Januar 2014 12:24

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© Süddeutsche Zeitung Digitale Medien GmbH

Turning a Wedding Into a Funeral: U.S. Drone Strike in Yemen Killed as Many as 12 Civilians

Human Rights Watch has revealed as many as 12 civilians were killed in December when a U.S. drone targeted vehicles that were part of a wedding procession going toward the groom’s village outside the central Yemeni city of Rad’a. According to HRW, “some, if not all those killed and wounded were civilians” and not members of the armed group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as U.S. and Yemeni government officials initially claimed. The report concluded that the attack killed 12 men, between the ages of 20 and 65, and wounded 15 others. It cites accounts from survivors, relatives of the dead, local officials and news media reports. We speak to Human Rights Watch researcher Letta Tayler, who wrote the report, “A Wedding That Became a Funeral: US Drone Attack on Marriage Procession in Yemen,” and Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of the TheIntercept.org, a new digital magazine published by First Look Media. He is the producer and writer of the documentary film, “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield,” which is nominated for an Academy Award.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A new report has revealed that a U.S. drone strike that killed at least a dozen people in Yemen in December failed to comply with rules imposed by President Obama last year to protect civilians. The strike was carried out by the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command and targeted vehicles that were part of a wedding procession going towards the groom’s village outside the central Yemeni city of Rad’a. According to the Human Rights Watch investigation, quote, “some, if not all those killed and wounded were civilians” and not members of the armed group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as U.S. and Yemeni government officials initially claimed. The report concluded that the attack killed 12 men between the ages of 20 and 65 and wounded 15 others. It cites accounts from survivors, relatives of the dead, local officials and news media reports.

One of the witnesses Human Rights Watch interviewed in Yemen was Abdullah Muhammad al-Tisi of Yakla. He described the scene on the day the wedding procession was attacked on December 12, 2013. His son, Ali Abdullah Muhammad al-Tisi, was killed in that drone strike.

ABDULLAH MUHAMMAD AL-TISI: [translated] We were having a traditional marriage ceremony. According to our traditions, the whole tribe has to go to the bride’s tribe. We were in about 12 to 15 cars with 60 to 70 men on board. He had lunch at the bride’s village at Al Abu Saraimah. Then we left to head back to the groom’s village.

A drone was hovering overhead all morning. There were one or two of them. One of the missiles hit the car. The car was totally burned. Four other cars were also struck. When we stopped, we heard the drone fire. Blood was everywhere, and the people killed and injured were scattered everywhere. The area was full of blood, dead bodies and injured people. I was injured. I saw the missile hit the vehicle behind the car my son was driving.

INTERVIEWER: [translated] Was it your car?

ABDULLAH MUHAMMAD AL-TISI: [translated] It was my own car. I went there to check on my son. I found his body thrown from the car. I turned him over, and he was dead. He was already dead.

I didn’t see any al-Qaeda militants in the procession, and no one from the area is a member of al-Qaeda. The Yemeni government gave us 100 Kalashnikovs and 34 million Yemeni rials, nearly $159,000 U.S., according to tribal tradition. According to tribal tradition, this alone is an admission of guilt, and the money was an admission of guilt. The money was for the burial of the dead and the treatment of the injured. The U.S. government made a big mistake. They killed innocent people. This was a serious crime. They turned many kids into orphans, many wives into widows. Many were killed, and many others were injured, although everyone was innocent.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Abdullah Muhammad al-Tisi talking about the U.S. drone strike in December that killed his son. All of this comes as the White House is reportedly considering using a drone to kill a U.S. citizen living in Pakistan who’s allegedly affiliated with al-Qaeda.

For more, we’re joined right now by Letta Tayler, senior researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism at Human Rights Watch. She wrote the new report titled “A Wedding That Became a Funeral: US Drone Attack on Marriage Procession in Yemen.”

We’re also joined by Democracy Now! video stream by Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of TheIntercept.org, as well as the producer of and the co-writer of the documentary that’s been nominated for an Oscar, Dirty Wars.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Letta, you just recently came back from Yemen, came out with this report. Talk about its findings.

LETTA TAYLER: Well, it’s a pleasure to be here.

What we found is that this strike on a wedding convoy in Yemen killed 12 people, injured 15, including the bride, who received a superficial face wound. And we have serious concerns that the strike not only may have violated international law, but also flies in the face of President Obama’s policies on targeted killings. The president has said the U.S. does not strike unless it has near certainty that no civilians were killed, yet the evidence strongly suggests that at least some of those killed in this strike, and possibly all of them, were civilians.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, could you talk to us about what your research involved in producing the report? And also, you seem to have found contradictions between what national Yemeni officials were saying and what local provincial or officials closer to the ground were saying.

LETTA TAYLER: Yes, indeed, there are a mind-boggling array of on, off and on-the-record comments about this strike, which really underscores the urgent need for the United States to come clean on what exactly happened. I researched this strike in Yemen. This is my seventh or eighth trip to Yemen in recent years, many of those trips to look at this particular issue of targeted killings. I met with relatives and family members there, as well as government officials, academics, journalists and so forth. The most compelling testimony, of course, was from the family members—as you’ve seen in the video, men holding tattered ID cards of their loved ones, in some cases the only remaining item that they had of these people who died, and saying to me, “Explain to me, explain to me why did the U.S. kill my son, why did the U.S. kill my nephew.” Even the—even the son of the groom from a previous marriage was killed in this strike. And these Yemenis deserve answers from the United States as to what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: What has the U.S. said?

LETTA TAYLER: The U.S. has responded to my report in a fashion that I find disappointing and disconcerting. We are getting more of the same obfuscation. We’re getting more off-the-record comments to media that, yes, this strike did hit, that the targets of the strike were militants. But where is the evidence? Show us the proof. Show us the findings of your reports. If indeed militants were killed, let us judge the facts. Let us see if you’re complying with law and with your own policy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, the government did claim that there was a particular militant that they were looking to kill, but then his name did not appear in the list of the dead, right?

LETTA TAYLER: Yes, Shawqi al-Badani. He was not among the 12 names that were given to me, the 12 bodies that were identified by relatives as well as other media in Yemen. And indeed, the relatives I spoke to said they never heard of this man.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, in Dirty Wars, you go to Yemen. You investigate a number of drone strikes. Talk about how this one fits in, the December attack that is now—we’re talking about, of the Human Rights Watch report.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, first of all, I mean, what I think is really key here that Letta and the team at Human Rights Watch have really zeroed in on is that when there are—when there’s these strikes and civilians are killed, the Obama administration has stated that they do a review, that they do an investigation. And indeed, these anonymous officials have been saying to major media outlets that they did an internal investigation and that the Department of Defense determined that the individuals that were killed were in fact legitimate combatants. And yet, those reports are never made public.

In the cases that I’ve investigated in Yemen, one of which was the al-Majalah bombing that you referenced, it was the first time that we know of that President Obama authorized a military-style attack inside of Yemen. And that wasn’t a drone attack; it was actually a cruise missile attack. And it killed three dozen—more than three dozen people, the overwhelming majority of whom were women and children. There supposedly was an internal investigation into that, and yet the White House won’t release it. The Pentagon will not release these investigations that they do. In the case of the drone bombings of Anwar Awlaki, an American citizen, and then his 16-year-old son two weeks later in a separate drone strike, again they said that there was an internal investigation into the killing of this boy. The findings of it are not released.

And what we’re seeing right now, and we’ve talked about this a lot on the show, boils down to the Obama administration trying to wage what it perceives—what it believes is, you know, pre-emptive war or preventative strikes, where they’re killing people that they think may one day pose a threat, or they may have picked up chatter that they’ve been discussing some kind of a plot. And there’s no—not even a sort of vague idea that we should have any kind of a law enforcement approach to the crime of terrorism anymore. They’re just zapping people, you know, in acts of precrime. The idea of judicial process or legal process has been replaced by the National Security Agency tracking the metadata of individuals in various countries, building profiles of where—what telephones are in contact with other telephones, where particular SIM cards have been physically or geographically. And then you have a secret process in the White House on these so-called Terror Tuesday meetings where officials essentially condemn the users of these SIM cards or phones to death, and then President Obama signs off, and the drone serves as the executioner. That’s basically the judicial process that the U.S. now offers to people who are actually not even accused of the crime of terrorism, just perceived by the White House to be involved with it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Jeremy, you’ve mentioned President Obama’s direct involvement in—of this. I want to turn to him speaking about drone strikes during the first major counterterrorism address of his second term. His comments came one day after Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed U.S. drone strikes had killed four American citizens in Yemen and Pakistan.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And before any strike is taken, there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured—the highest standard we can set. Yes, the conflict with al-Qaeda, like all armed conflict, invites tragedy. But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us, and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Obama. Letta?

LETTA TAYLER: I wanted to point out one thing in this speech. He said, “We’re targeting those who want to get us, not those they hide among.” There is one theory about this December 12th strike on the wedding convoy, that members of AQAP, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based group, may have infiltrated the convoy. If this is true—and I have no idea that it is; we have no evidence one way or the other that AQAP was actually in this convoy, but let’s assume for the moment that this might be correct—that shielding—it’s called human shielding—for AQAP to go into the convoy, would not excuse or exonerate the—excuse the—would not give the United States the right to attack that convoy. The United States as an attacking force always has to distinguish between civilians and combatants. And by combatants, I mean lawful targets. We have a lot of questions as to whether many of the people being killed who the U.S. considers militants are actually lawful targets. So, even if AQAP was hiding among these forces, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that that strike was lawful.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Letta Tayler, Human Rights Watch senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, who just came out with this report, “A Wedding That Became a Funeral: US Drone Attack on Marriage Procession in Yemen.” What are the implications of this report? And what has the U.S. said to you? Have other countries gotten in touch with you?

LETTA TAYLER: Well, the implications of this report are first that we’re still operating in a vast accountability vacuum. The United States is saying, “Trust us,” yet they’re not giving us any information that would allow us to trust them. And this sets a very—not only does this mean that the U.S. may well be violating international law and President Obama’s own policy, but it sets a very dangerous precedent for countries around the world. I don’t find it surprising that journalists from Russia and China call us, frequently, when we come out with a report like this, because there are many leaders in many countries who are very happy to see the U.S. pave the way for taking out people without any justification, anytime, anywhere, and simply calling them terrorists or threats to national security.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jeremy, have we seen any movement at all on the part of the administration, given all of the—all of the publicity that has come out about these strikes now, or even in terms of Congress attempting to rein in the policies of the administration?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, Congress is almost entirely asleep at the wheel when it comes to oversight or raising serious questions about the drone program or the assassination policy in general. I mean, the most vocal critics of this program, who have raised some of the essential questions, are people like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who on many issues really sounds like a raving lunatic, but on this particular issue, when he filibustered the nomination of John Brennan, who really was the drone czar of the Obama administration’s first term, Rand Paul read into the congressional record human rights reports, media reports about civilians killed. It was the first time that there was discussion on the floor of the U.S. Senate of American citizens potentially being targeted for assassination in these drone strikes.

But, you know, polls indicate that a solid percentage of self-identified liberal Democrats support the White House on this, and that’s in part due to the fact that President Obama has projected—and it really boils down to propaganda—that this is somehow a cleaner way of waging war. I think also, politically, many Democrats would be opposing these policies or raising serious questions if their guy wasn’t in the White House. If McCain or Mitt Romney had won those elections, I think we would see a more robust discussion in Congress on this.

But President Obama said in his major address, and then his administration has released papers saying that among the standards is not just that mere certainty that civilians will not be killed, but also that the individuals that they’re targeting represent an imminent threat and that they—and that capture is not feasible. And I think that those two factors in this should also be investigated, because I don’t believe that the majority of the people that are killed in these drone strikes are engaged in an imminent plot that’s going to harm America’s national security or American interests, even as broadly as the Obama administration defines it.

I mean, we really—this should be brought up at an international level, because the U.S., as Letta says, is setting a standard. There are some 80 countries in the world that have weaponized drone technology. It’s just a matter of time before a Russia or a China says, “You know what? America does this. We have the right to do it, too,” and they start doing drone attacks to take out dissidents or people that they perceive to be terrorists.

Every nation around the world now claims that it’s in a war against terrorism. I was just in Egypt, where the U.S.-backed dictatorship of General Sisi is in power, and there are huge posters all over Egypt that talk about how the Egyptian government is in a war against terrorism. It’s really a cooptation of this Bush-Cheney idea, that Obama unfortunately has continued, that if you just label your enemies as terrorists, you can justify doing anything to them and justify denying them of any basic rights. You can’t surrender to a drone, and you can’t turn yourself in when you haven’t been charged with a crime. To what authority do you surrender?

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us. Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of TheIntercept.org, a new digital magazine published by First Look Media, also the producer and writer of the documentary Dirty Wars , which has been nominated for an Oscar. Congratulations, Jeremy, and good luck on your road to the Oscars, which will be on March 2nd. And Letta Tayler, senior researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism at Human Rights Watch. Her report, “A Wedding That Became a Funeral: US Drone Attack on Marriage Procession in Yemen,” we’ll link to at democracynow.org.

This is the 18th birthday of Democracy Now!, and in our breaks, we are showing folks and encouraging people to go to our website at democracynow.org and submit pictures of yourself holding up signs that say, “I need Democracy Now! because…” and you fill in the rest or send us videos, as well. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: That’s Patti Smith, “People Have the Power,” and I thank all the people from all over the world who are sending in pictures and videos letting us know what you think. Again, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. And I’m also thinking today about Julie Drizin, who was the first producer of Democracy Now!, and also our colleague Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who is in Cairo, in Egypt, and our colleagues Anjali Kamat and Nicole Salazar and so many others who make—helped make this program great, as well as Kris Abrams out there in Colorado. Well, I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We’ve been with you for 18 years, as we turn to another story.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Find this story at 21 February 2014


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Karim Khan, Anti-Drone Activist Who Lost Family Members to U.S. Strike, Goes Missing in Pakistan

An anti-drone activist and journalist has gone missing in Pakistan just days before he was due to travel to Europe to speak with Parliament members about the impact of the U.S. drone wars. The legal charity Reprieve says Karim Khan was seized in the early hours of February 5 by up to 20 men, some wearing police uniforms. He has not been seen since. Khan’s brother and son were both killed in a drone strike. In addition to public activism, Khan was also engaged in legal proceedings against the Pakistani government for their failure to investigate the killings of his loved ones. We are joined by filmmaker Madiha Tahir, who interviewed Khan for her documentary, “Wounds of Waziristan.”

“These are people seeking peaceful, legal routes for restitution for a great harm that been done to them,” Tahir says. Of drone victim’s families’ difficulty gaining legal traction, she says, “It speaks to the secretive nature of the American state.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show in Pakistan, where an anti-drone activist and journalist has gone missing just days before he was due to travel to Europe to speak with Parliament members about the impact of the U.S. drone wars. The legal charity Reprieve says Karim Khan was seized in the early hours of February 5th by up to 20 men, some wearing police uniforms. He has not been seen since. Karim Khan’s brother and son were both killed in a drone strike. He told his story in the recent documentary Wounds of Waziristan.

KARIM KHAN: [translated] In 2009, my home was attacked by a drone. My brother and son were martyred. My son’s name was Hafiz Zaenullah. My brother’s name was Asif Iqbal. There was a third person who was a stone mason. He was a Pakistani. His name was Khaliq Dad.

Their coffins were lying next to each other in the house. Their bodies were covered with wounds. Later, I found some of their fingers in the rubble.

As you know, my son had memorized the Qur’an. He was a security guard at the girls’ school, and he was studying for grade 10. My brother had a master’s degree in English. He was a government employee. He loved to debate, but he was so short, he didn’t reach the dais, so they wouldn’t give him many chances to make speeches.

AMY GOODMAN: Karim Khan speaking in the film Wounds of Waziristan. Since his son and brother were killed in 2009, Karim became a prominent anti-drone activist. He’s been missing since last week. The executive director of Reprieve, Clare Algar, said in a statement, quote, “We are very worried about Mr Khan’s safety. He is a crucial witness to the dangers of the CIA’s covert drone programme, and has simply sought justice for the death of his son and brother through peaceful, legal routes,” she said.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Madiha Tahir. She made the film Wounds of Waziristan. She is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Vice, BBC, PRI’s The World, Global Post and other outlets, co-editor of the anthology Dispatches from Pakistan.

Madiha Tahir, thanks so much for being here. We broadcast Wounds of Waziristan and got tremendous response to it. Now one of the key figures who you interview in it, Karim Khan, is gone, at least for the moment. Explain who he is, his significance.

MADIHA TAHIR: Karim Khan is actually one of the first people to bring a case in the Pakistani courts on—about drone attacks. So he’s the one who started to bring cases forward, and he has been working with a lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, who has been fighting on behalf of drone survivors and families of the dead. And Karim was working with Shahzad to help, you know, not only in his own case, but also to help and assist in other cases that were being brought forward in Pakistani courts to demand restitution and demand transparency for—you know, for these attacks.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Madiha, can you give us a sense of how many such cases have been filed and whether other anti-drone activists in Pakistan have been targeted in any way or in fact picked up in the way that he was, Karim Khan?

MADIHA TAHIR: So, Karim is the first, that I know of, that has been picked up who is an anti-drone activist, but disappearances in Pakistan are very common. It’s a common state tactic. It has been happening in Balochistan, where there is a separatist movement, for a long time now. And, in fact, three are families protesting. There were mass graves found in Balochistan of missing people quite recently, only a few weeks ago. So this is a very common tactic by the state, and now, clearly, the Pakistani establishment, which is to say the intelligence agencies and the Pakistani army, want to send a message to the anti-drone movement to tell us to—you know, to tell the movement to shut up, basically.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to your film, Wounds of Waziristan. In this clip, Karim speaks to you, Madiha Tahir.

KARIM KHAN: [translated] You asked me a question about terrorism. Can I ask you one? What is the definition of “terrorism” or “terrorist”?

MADIHA TAHIR: [translated] I don’t know. What do you think it is?

KARIM KHAN: [translated] I think there is no bigger terrorist than Obama or Bush, those who have weaponry like drones, who drop bombs on us while we are in our homes. There are no greater terrorists than them.

AMY GOODMAN: There again, Karim Khan, who went missing last week. And the people who took him, how many people saw this go down?

MADIHA TAHIR: His family was at home. His wife and his children were at home when it happened, so they saw it, and there are other eyewitnesses who saw it. He was picked up by 15 to 20 people. It seems to be people who were dressed in plainclothes, as well as police officers, who picked him up and disappeared him. His whereabouts are unknown. His family has not been able to find out where he’s being kept. Shahzad Akbar, the lawyer, did file something on his behalf in the Lahore court, and the court has ordered the intelligence agencies now to produce him by February 20th before the court. So we have to wait for that date and see what happens. But the best scenario would be that he is released before then.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And Karim Khan moved from Waziristan to Rawalpindi. Can you talk about the significance of the area from which he was picked up and whether it’s significant that—or whether it ’ widely believed that the people who were responsible for picking him up were the ISI, the intelligence services, or the military, or a combination?

MADIHA TAHIR: I mean, I think it is significant. It speaks to the nature of—again, it speaks to the nature of state violence in Pakistan. I think the news media both in the United States and in Pakistan has been—and, you know, rightly so—discussing the attacks by militants that have happened in Pakistan, and those acts, you know, have been reprehensible. Just two days ago, there was a bomb blast in a Peshawar cinema that killed anywhere between 11 to 13 people. But it’s important to realize that that violence happens in a context, and that context is state violence, which has been brutal, in the sense of it’s very quiet, there are disappearances like this. In this case, it’s a high-profile activist, but there are many people who we don’t even know have been picked up and disappeared by the state. So it is—you know, there’s a cyclical pattern between state violence and the non-state violence that is happening in Pakistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Madiha, talk about what he would say if he did get out. Where was he going in Europe? Who was he going to be addressing?

MADIHA TAHIR: Karim Khan was actually slated to speak to several European parliaments next week, and he was going to talk about the drone attack that killed his son and his brother on New Year’s Eve in 2009. And he would have talked about the cost of these attacks on the people in the tribal areas in Pakistan, who are some of the most marginalized communities in Pakistan. For simply for wanting to speak out about what happened to him and what is happening and continues to happen in that area, he has been disappeared by the Pakistani state. And certainly, I think, you know, we shouldn’t forget that the United States has backed and funded the Pakistani military, and this is happening, so, in conjunction with these states working together, both Pakistan and the United States.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Madiha, you also spoke about the increasing cycle of violence in Pakistan, both state violence and anti-state violence. Could you draw the links between what you think is the correlation, or if there is any, between the increasing number of drone strikes and really the unprecedented number of suicide bombs that occur now in Pakistan, a place which never knew suicide bombs 10 years—you know, 10 years ago?

MADIHA TAHIR: Yes. I mean, I think it’s—we have to be wary of drawing simple causes. So it’s not that, you know, suicide bombings are happening because. You know, it’s not a straightforward cause; however, there is a linkage. And you’re right, there is a correlation. The suicide attacks have increased in the last decade as Pakistan has been attacked by drones and has participated in the war on terror. The violence in Pakistan has gotten so much worse, not just suicide bombings, but all sorts of blasts happening. So, certainly, the war on terror, if it was meant to protect Pakistanis, is not working at all. It has actually had an adverse effect. By some estimates, you know, anywhere—you know, something like 30,000 Pakistanis have been killed in attacks by non-state actors. So, the war on terror is something that is something that the U.S. and the Pakistani government have been sort of working on together, but it’s certainly not had—it’s certainly not been to the—on behalf of Pakistanis.

AMY GOODMAN: Madiha, I want to go back to your film, Wounds of Waziristan, where you speak with Karim Khan’s lawyer, the man you just mentioned, Shahzad Akbar.

MADIHA TAHIR: This is Shahzad Akbar. He’s Karim’s lawyer. They’ve filed a case against drone attacks in Pakistani courts. He told me why it’s difficult to narrate his clients’ lives for the court and the media.

SHAHZAD AKBAR: For example, you know, when I have a client and we want—OK, this was a person who was killed, so we’d like to construct his life on photographs. You know, you have family photos and—of when he was young, when he was in school, when he was in teens and when he grew up—in all those photos. They’re missing. They’re not there, because, you know, you don’t have the culture of taking pictures for that matter.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2012, Democracy Now! spoke to Shahzad Akbar, the co-founder of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, an organization that represents victims of drone strikes in Pakistani courts. Again, he is Karim Khan’s lawyer. And Akbar explained why he decided to visit the United States at that time.

SHAHZAD AKBAR: I, on behalf of the victims in Pakistan, wanted to reach out to Americans so that they can make an informed judgment on drones. Their opinion matter, and it’s going to matter in next elections, as well. So they need to know what drones are doing to humans in Pakistan, many of them who are civilians. And it has been said by independent groups and journalists, as well, a bigger—higher number of civilian victims. And that has to be reported to the American public so they can make an informed judgment on drones, that if American government should let be killing people overseas in their names.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is Shahzad Akbar, who you’ve just watched and listened to. He was in the United States in 2012. But this past year, when some of his clients came to the United States, drone victims—the Rafiq Rehman family, little girl, little boy, both injured when their grandmother was blown up in a drone strike—he was not granted a visa to come to the United States. The significance of this, Madiha Tahir? Of course, it made it much more difficult. They didn’t speak English. He would have been as much their navigator and their comfort. They were in a strange land, in fact a land where the drone came from that killed their grandmother.

MADIHA TAHIR: I mean, these are people that are seeking peaceful, legal routes for restitution for something—for a great harm that has been done to them and for a loss they will suffer for the rest of their lives. And so, to not allow their lawyer is to say that the U.S. doesn’t care about legal—about the rule of law and about the legal process at all, to not allow their representatives to come to the United States and to speak, you know, to stand by his clients and to speak alongside them. I think it’s highly problematic, but I think it speaks to the secretive nature of the American state.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Madiha, can you give us a sense of how many victims or families of victims of drone strikes have attempted to bring their cases to the courts, either in Pakistan or indeed in the U.S.?

MADIHA TAHIR: I’m not sure exactly what the figures are at this point, because the cases are at different levels. Some of them are still—they’re—Shahzad and others are actually still in the process of gathering information in order to, you know, get the cases out there. So the most significant cases right now are—you know, there’s been the Karim Khan’s case and also Noor Khan, who is the son of the tribal—the mullah who was killed on March 17th in a drone attack on a jirga, a gathering, that killed upwards of 40, 50 people.

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration is facing criticism over reports it’s debating whether to kill a U.S. citizen living in Pakistan who’s allegedly plotting terror attacks. On Monday, I spoke with journalist Glenn Greenwald, who recently launched TheIntercept.org with Jimmy Scahill and Laura Poitras. I asked Glenn about the initial Associated Press article that broke the story. And folks can go to our website at democracynow.org to hear what Glenn responded. I think, actually, we have it for you right now.

GLENN GREENWALD: The very idea that the U.S. government suspects an American citizen, not of having already engaged in crimes, but of planning to do so, as Jeremy said, it’s like a pre-crime framework, where the U.S. government tries to guess at who will engage in crimes in the future and then treat them as a criminal—but then, not just treat them as a criminal, but declare them guilty in secret proceedings, not involving any court, but by the decree of the president of the United States to literally, A, declare the person guilty, B, impose the death penalty, and then, C, go out and carry out the execution—just like they did with Anwar Awlaki and Samir Khan. And now they are obviously viewing it as a regular practice. I mean, no American, no matter your political affiliation or ideology, should accept the idea that the president of the United States has the power to order American citizens killed, not on a battlefield or anywhere else that is in a war zone, but simply on the suspicion that they intend to engage in future criminal behavior. To describe that power is to describe the most extremist and out-of-control government you can get.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept. Mahiha?

MADIHA TAHIR: Yes, I mean, I agree with Glenn Greenwald. It is—you know, it is a kind of pre-crime for which this American citizen is now going to be possibly attacked for by the United States. I think it’s important to remember that most of the people who are being attacked in exactly a similar way are not Americans, they are Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somali, etc. In Pakistan, as you know, there has been the tactic of what are called signature strikes, which are strikes that aren’t actually targeting a specific, named, high-value target or anything of that nature, but rather people whose behavioral patterns, for one reason or another, appear to trigger a suspicion in the U.S. intelligence apparatus that they may or may not be militants. We don’t actually know. But simply on that basis, on very faulty intelligence, much of which is happening through cellphone—unreliable cellphone data, you know, a lot of these attacks are carried out, and why we have the figures that we have of the numbers of people killed.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Find this story at 12 February 2014

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

In the shadows of international law

German intelligence services collect data from asylum seekers that could have security relevance and turn it over to the US. In some instances this could be a breach of international law.

In its ongoing “war on terror,” the United States, for years, has been carrying out so-called targeted killings of suspected terrorists with the help of unmanned drone aircraft. Information about possible targets is also passed on to the US intelligence services by their German counterparts, who have gleaned that information from asylum seekers.

Germany’s Central Survey Office (HBW) regularly conducts background checks on asylum seekers. The agency, like the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), answers directly to the chancellor, and is particularly interested in information about suspected terrorists in the asylum seeker’s country of origin.

Theoretically, as German media have pointed out, the transfer of this information could lead to the targeted killing of a person by the United States, making Germany an indirect participant in that action – and that could be a violation of international law, according to Robert Frau, an expert on the subject at Viadrina University in Frankfurt/Oder.

“If Germany were to hand over data to the Americans, which were then used for illegal actions, then Germany would be abetting a breach of international law,” said Frau.

Interpretations of international law

There is no consensus among law experts, however, whether or not drone attacks and targeted killings are a violation of international law, and as such, whether Germany, in passing on information, would be abetting a breach of the law.

This MQ-9 Reaper is one of the main drones used by the US for clandestine air operations

In armed conflicts, persons participating directly in combat operations are legitimate targets. “In such cases, a drone attack is no different than using a missile, or having soldiers fire their weapons,” said Frau.

A targeted killing in that scenario would not be a violation of international law. Both the United States and Germany, for example, are involved in an armed conflict in Afghanistan. Therefore, if Germany passes information to the US on German citizens in Afghanistan and the US uses that information for a targeted killing, that is not a breach of international law, Frau explained.

The situation would be different in Somalia, however. “Germany is not involved in armed conflict there and outside of an armed conflict there are other rules. That means, as a matter of principle, such killings are not legal,” Frau stressed.

No German collusion is known

Hans-Christian Ströbele admits that no German participation is known

It is next to impossible to prove whether or not Germany in the past ever provided information that led to a targeted killing. When asked, the German government points to the necessity of keeping sensitive information secret.

Even the highly critical Green politician, Hans-Christian Ströbele, who is a member of the Parliamentary Control Committee that oversees the intelligence services and has access to secret government files, has said that he has no knowledge of any such cases.

Ströbele did say, however, that there was also no way to totally exclude it either. Germany, he said, had no way of knowing what the US did with the information it received from Berlin.

Once data is passed on, one can assume the US intelligence services will use it as they see fit, agrees law expert Frau. Germany “cannot pass on data with the explicit request that they not be used for illegal acts,” he said.

Date 26.11.2013
Author Sven Pöhle / gb
Editor John Blau

Find this story at 26 November 2013

© 2013 Deutsche Welle |

German spies keep tabs on asylum-seekers

German law promises refuge to those persecuted in their home countries. Now it has been revealed that German intelligence uses the asylum process to find out more about those coming here – and those who stay behind.

When refugees apply for asylum in Germany they have to go through a long process before their stay is approved. Employees of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees ask them questions about the situation in their home country and whether they face political persecution.

They agency is also interested in finding out how refugees arrived in Germany, whether criminal smugglers helped them and whether applicants entered other European countries before arriving in Germany. If they did, international law says they must return to the country of entry.

Victor Pfaff says the HBW are not mysterious

But unknown to the public, there is another authority that can take charge of the process. The Berlin-based Office for Interrogation (HBW) is officially part of the chancellor’s office. Since 1958 if has gathered information to help Germany’s domestic Federal Intelligence Service (BND). Many observers believe it is in reality part of the BND.

Journalists from the daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and public broadcaster NDR reported that HBW employees ask whether asylum-seekers know specific people in their home countries who might belong to a terrorist organization or have information about weapons caches. In theory, this information could be used by intelligence services to find or kill terrorists.

A dangerous game?

Lawyers who advise asylum-seekers about their rights frequently encounter the HBW. Victor Pfaff has been working in Frankfurt as an asylum-rights lawyer for more than 40 years. He has met many HBW employees, finding them always to be very polite and happy to hand out their business cards. “We shouldn’t enshroud them in a fog of mystery,” he said.

Pfaff said the agency denies being part of the BND, even though both organizations report directly to the chancellor.

Asylum-seekers had never complained to him that this questioning caused them problems, Pfaff said. On the contrary, he sometimes approached the HBW for help in speeding up difficult asylum cases. He said if his clients are able to provide useful information, their residence permits can be issued in a matter of days.

But deals like this only happen rarely, Pfaff said, warning that information can also be gathered without consent. “It is problem if German intelligence is secretly present at a an asylum hearing and provides this information to foreign intelligence.” If this happened, asylum-seekers might feel they were being used. Pfaff said he had heard of such cases, and believed they posed a danger, because terrorists could take revenge and kill alleged traitors.

Refugees can spend years in camps such as this one in Friedland, Lower Saxony

Warnings for attempted spying

Claus-Ulrich Prössl heads the Cologne Refugee Council, an organization that assists asylum-seekers throughout the procedure. Prössl said he believes the BND and the HBW are closely connected, and had even heard of cases where people were questioned by BND employees. “A few refugees were hoping that their asylum process would go more quickly, while other refugees did not understand what was going on and were worried.”

Prössl warns asylum-seekers to be careful: “Unfortunately, after the NSA affair, we have to assume that all information will be passed on.” He said he did not see any data protection or confidentiality and worried that the information thus gathered would not stay within the borders of Germany. There must be a reason, he said, why the state of North Rhine-Westphalia had given up on its own security questioning.

Cologne-based lawyer Zaza Koschuaschwili also warns applicants about questions that have nothing to do with the actual asylum process. Sometimes the quality of the available simultaneous translators is poor:”It often happens that interpreters is add their own interpretations or opinions to a statement.” His clients would often complain that they had been musunderstood, he added.

As a lawyer and a native of Georgia, Koschuaschwili can speak both languages and knows his clients’ rights. But whenever the HBW gets involved, attorneys are frequently excluded from interviews.

Refugees give information to the HBW in the hope of gaining residency

Participation is not meant to have drawbacks

DW asked the HBW for an interview to shed light on the relationship between itself and the BND. Its director promised to provide the desired information once a series of questions had been discussed with the chancellor’s office. That process is still ongoing.

Six months ago, Sharmila H. came to Germany from Afganistan. Although she is still waiting for her interview, she says one thing is already clear to her: “I will not answer just any questions,” if intelligence agencies speak to her – just who she is and why she came here.

Pfaff and Koschuaschwili wish to reassure those who are unwilling to cooperate with German intelligence that they should have no fear about the regular procedure for granting asylum.

Sharmila H. hopes they are right.

Date 22.11.2013
Author Wolfgang Dick / ns
Editor Simon Bone

Find this story at 22 November 2013

© 2013 Deutsche Welle

Asylum Seekers in Germany Unwittingly Used As Intelligence Sources

In Somalia, Yusuf A. owned two houses and several cars. He had money and power as a politician with a seat in parliament and occasionally even in the cabinet. Now he lives in a shabby apartment in a small industrial park in Munich. Yusuf hasn’t yet found work and frequently falls ill. He’s lost his wealth, but at least he’s safe. In Somalia, he was under threat from al-Shabaab Islamists. Then it went beyond threats. One day a grenade landed in his house, killing a colleague of his. Yusuf fled to Germany.

He was granted permanent residency with amazing swiftness and was allowed to send for his wife and seven children to join him. The German authorities—and they probably weren’t alone—showed great interest in Yusuf. In the span on seven weeks authorities called him in for questioning five times. The meetings lasted hours. Hearings conducted by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees usually aren’t that involved. But in the case of Yusuf A., another authority came into play: the Main Office for Questioning (the Hauptstelle für Befragungswesen, HBW for short), which was established in during Cold War times to interview refugees and immigrants.

The mysterious agency specializes in drawing on information it teases out of refugees. Just like the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, the BND, the counterpart to the U.S.’s Central Intelligence Agency), it falls under the purview of the Chancellor’s office. Even the federal government is tight-lipped about the intelligence operations conducted within the HBW. This is about secret intelligence, after all.

Old records at Berlin’s administrative court show, however, that the HBW (first created by Germany’s Western allies) has been under the control of the BND since the 1950s. One BND report from 1983 calls witnesses in the HBW asylum process an “opening in the shadows.” That would make the HBW an institution built on a shadow world.

The refugees are expected to give extensive testimony. Testimony about conditions back home, preferably about politicians, terrorists and their networks.

Yusuf won’t say exactly what he told the officers at the HBW. But he will give us one detail; during a meeting he gave up the telephone number of an al-Shabaab leader. He knew a woman who came from the same town and, at the urging of the German officers, coaxed the al-Shabaab leader’s number out of her. He also found out that the Islamist leader seldom used his cellphone and even then used it only briefly. He mostly let his associates speak for him, switching their phones often.

Yusuf now wonders if it was right to pass on the number to the Germans. Cellphone numbers help to locate people, and if the German authorities get a hold of important numbers, the BND can hand them over to the U.S.

The United States is leading a drone war in Somalia that is legally questionable and continually claims the lives of people who have nothing to do with terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab or Al-Qaida. Yusuf knows that.

He says, “You have to attack al-Shabaab. They are evil people.” But he doesn’t want innocent civilians to die in the name of shutting down al-Shabaab.

Refugees like Yusuf who are interviewed by the HBW aren’t told later what was done with the information they provided.

Immigrant as informant

Asylum seekers in Germany are unwittingly being used as intelligence sources. Not every immigrant is called for questioning, but some receive letters from the HBW. They read; “the security situation worldwide” makes it necessary that the government of the Federal Republic of Germany gain information “about the political and social issues in your home country.” The HBW is charged with “collecting reliable information.”

An HBW questionnaire for Afghanis reads: “The people in my hometown openly support the Taliban”—”yes” and “no”. The HBW wants to know how the supply of doctors and drinking water is, how foreign soldiers are perceived, and whether people believe that Afghanistan’s government can stabilize the situation. The questions are written in Afghanistan’s official language, Dari.

Once you’ve filled out the questionnaire, it’s not over. Sometimes two women from the HBW, accompanied by a translator, arrive for a more personal chat. One lawyer from northern Germany says her client was allowed to stay in Germany because of his work helping the U.S. Army in his home country of Afghanistan. Later she learned her client had been questioned by the HBW in a refugee camp. She calls the cooperation between refugees and the HBW a “balancing act”. It’s not yet clear, lawyers say, what’s done with the information from these surveys and interviews or what effect participation—or nonparticipation—has on the refugees’ fate.

The Germany government says participation in the surveys is voluntary and has no influence on the duration or success of the asylum process. But it’s striking how quickly refugees are taken in when they pique the interest of the HBW. Attorneys argue that their clients are especially vulnerable after such an HBW interview session if they are subsequently sent back to their home countries. In many of these refugees’ homelands, it’s not exactly seen as a good thing to be talking to a western intelligence agency.

The German government talks about “post-refuge rationale” that occurs after leaving one’s homeland. If such a “post-refuge rationale” is apparent during the HBW questioning, it will be considered as part of the asylum application. That sounds complicated, especially since the government says there’s no reward system at play.

In off-the-record interviews, several attorneys said clearly: refugees who cooperate with the HBW can expect a speedy process and permanent residency in Germany. Lawyers are mostly shut out of these interview sessions. The authorities explicitly advise the asylum seekers to come without legal representation.

One Somali interpreter who has translated for asylum seekers for many years is convinced that there’s a rewards system at play: “It’s made clear to these people that if they cooperate they will be accepted quicker.” The interpreter came to Germany more than 20 years ago and has assisted many asylum seekers over the years. He fears giving his name would put his work and himself at risk. He says sometimes strange people come to hearings at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees calling themselves interns. “The intern doesn’t come to simply any hearing, but rather just when he thinks someone knows something.” Then the refugee is asked about Islamist groups in great detail. Many refugees come from regions where the U.S. has dropped bombs using unmanned predator drones. Drones are a weapon against which you can’t protect yourself, says the interpreter. “People live in fear.”

Victor Pfaff, a lawyer from Frankfurt, witnessed in the 1970s how asylum seekers had to move through three rooms during an application procedure. One room where the German officials sat, one where representatives from the U.S. intelligence agencies awaited them. The sign read “Liaison Officer “. It was only later that Pfaff learned of the HBW. He considers the agency to be legitimate and thinks it’s in Germany’s interest to make sure no one who poses a security risk should be allowed to remain in the country. That’s one possible outcome of the HBW surveys. But when it comes to cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies, “it could be problematic,” Pfaff says.

The 1980s it came out that the information Turkish refugees had given the HBW/BND somehow landed at the Turkish intelligence agency. A BND officer at the time testified that it be “grave misconduct” if the authorities had been responsible for such a huge slip-up. But the agencies do work together with Turkish intelligence agencies on projects including those in the area of anti-terrorism.

The methods, explanation and assertions from that case sound oddly similar. Three years ago, an insider published an essay under the pseudonym Jack Dawson in the Journal for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies. He wrote that the HBW was a part of a larger interrogation program in Germany, the United Kingdom and the U.S. called the Tripartite Debriefing Programme. France is said to have taken part earlier in its existence.

British and U.S. intelligence officials celebrated the 50th anniversary of the HBW along with their German counterparts in Berlin in 2008.

After Dawson’s revelations British and American intelligence officers began questioning asylum seekers in Germany sometimes even without their German colleagues. Asked in late October, Dawson said that, to the best of his knowledge, the Tripartite program still runs strong. The goal remains the same: gain intelligence from the refugee questioning sessions.

You could even say: whoever wants German protection isn’t safe from American intelligence agencies.

Confronted with Dawson’s information, the German government seems struck by a telling silence. In stilted language, officials refer to rules of confidentiality. “An in-depth answer to the question would reveal details about methods, jeopardizing the future ability and performance of the HBW and BND.” Questions put to U.S. officials about HBW still remains unanswered.

It’s not very easy to pay a visit the HBW headquarters at 150 Hohenzollerndamm in Berlin’s Wilmersdorf district. Surely, that’s by design. In front of the building lies a well-maintained yard. The HBW offices are housed on the fourth floor, where officers can look down from a bay window. But getting up there isn’t simple. There are no stairs that lead to the HBW offices—only an elevator, which requires a key.

There are other HBW offices in Nuremberg, Maiz and Hanover and six refugee reception centers. The German government won’t say anything on the topic. It merely confirms that there is a duty station at the border transit camp in Friedland, in central Germany. In total, just 40 people work at the HBW.

Meanwhile the interviewers have switched their focus towards Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria. At the end of 2012, in response to questions posed by the Green Party, the German government said that since 2000, some 500 to 1,000 “briefings” with refugees and emigrants were conducted, each applicant enduring two to five question sessions each.

But not every asylum seeker is telling the truth. In 1999, the Iraqi Rafed Ahmed Alwan came to the refugee reception center in Zirndorf, near Nuremberg and was questioned there. He provided the BND with information about purported biochemical weapon laboratories in Iraq, which was forwarded to American officials. The C.I.A. gave him the codename Curveball. His statements were later used by the U.S. government to justify the invasion into Iraq.

But the alleged facts were wrong. There were no labs. Alwan, AKA Curveball, got a Germany passport and a contract at some sham offices at, of all places, the BND.

Coincidentally, the BND currently seeks “freelancers” who speak Somali. Applicants are asked to discreetly submit their letters of interest.

November 20, 2013 02:54 pm CET
By Christian Fuchs, John Goetz, Hans Leyendecker, Klaus Ott, Niklas Schenck, Tanjev Schultz

Find this story at 20 November 2013

© Süddeutsche Zeitung Digitale Medien GmbH / Süddeutsche Zeitung GmbH

Geheimer Krieg BND will umstrittene Befragungsstelle auflösen

Die sogenannte Hauptstelle für Befragungswesen ist wenig bekannt, aber sehr umstritten: Asylbewerber werden dort von deutschen und ausländischen Geheimdienstlern ausgehorcht. Die Bundesregierung bestätigt nun diese Praxis. Lange soll es die Stelle aber nicht mehr geben.

Die umstrittene “Hauptstelle für Befragungswesen”, die dem Bundesnachrichtendienst zugeordnet ist, soll aufgelöst werden. Das geht aus einer schriftlichen Antwort der Bundesregierung auf eine Frage von Linksfraktionsvize Jan Korte hervor, die der Nachrichtenagentur dpa vorliegt. Die personelle Ausstattung der Dienststelle sei bereits schrittweise reduziert worden, heißt es darin.

In der Antwort räumt die Regierung ein, dass in der Einrichtung Asylbewerber auch durch Vertreter “der alliierten Partnerdienste ohne deutsche Begleiter” befragt wurden. Es könne außerdem nicht ausgeschlossen werden, dass Informationen aus den Befragungen “auch zum militärischen Lagebild” der Partnerdienste beitragen könnten. Korte kritisierte die Praxis scharf.
500 bis 800 “Vorgespräche”

Nach Recherchen von NDR und Süddeutscher Zeitung im Rahmen des Projekts Geheimer Krieg horchten deutsche Geheimdienstler in der Hauptstelle für Befragungswesen Asylbewerber systematisch aus und gaben Hinweise aus diesen Befragungen an die USA weiter. Diese wiederum nutzen solche Informationen auch für den Einsatz von Kampfdrohnen. Es gibt zudem Hinweise, dass auch britische und amerikanische Nachrichtendienstler in Deutschland Asylbewerber befragen.
Geheime Außenstellen des BND Sie sind mitten unter uns


In der Antwort der Regierung heißt es, in den vergangenen zwei bis drei Jahren hätten durchschnittlich 500 bis 800 “Vorgespräche” pro Jahr stattgefunden. Im Anschluss seien etwa 200 bis 300 Personen befragt worden. Seit der Gründung der Dienststelle 1958 seien an den Befragungen alliierte Nachrichtendienste beteiligt.

Wenn ausländische Geheimdienstler alleine mit Asylbewerbern sprächen, habe der BND “im Vor- und Nachgang” die Aufsicht. Die Ergebnisse der Gespräche würden außerdem im “Meldungssystem” des BND erfasst, bei Bedarf “bereinigt” – etwa im Hinblick auf Datenschutz – und erst dann an die ausländischen Partner weitergegeben. 60 Prozent der erhobenen Informationen der Dienststelle gingen auf diesem Wege an ausländische Geheimdienste.

Korte bezeichnete dies als “absurd”. “Wir sollen mal wieder für dumm verkauft werden”, sagte er der dpa. “Befragungen finden auch durch US-Geheimdienstler statt, aber die Befragungsergebnisse werden angeblich nur nach Prüfung und Freigabe an die USA weitergereicht – und die Befrager haben natürlich alles sofort wieder vergessen und erzählen ihren Dienststellen nichts.”

Zur Nutzung der Informationen aus den Gesprächen mit Asylbewerbern schreibt die Regierung: “Zielsetzung der Befragungen war und ist zu keiner Zeit die Gewinnung von Informationen zur Vorbereitung von Drohneneinsätzen.” Es sei aber nicht auszuschließen, dass die Erkenntnisse auch zum militärischen Lagebild der ausländischen Partner beitragen könnten.
Geheimer Krieg Deutschlands Rolle im “Kampf gegen den Terror”

Eine Serie der Süddeutschen Zeitung und des NDR +++ Panorama-Film “Geheimer Krieg” +++ interaktive Datenbank: Spionen auf der Spur +++ Sonderseite zum Projekt: geheimerkrieg.de +++ alle Artikel finden Sie hier: sz.de/GeheimerKrieg +++ englische Version hier +++
Personal soll reduziert werden

Korte reagierte empört: “Erschreckend ist, dass die Regierung die Berichterstattung der letzten Wochen komplett bestätigen muss, aber scheinbar keinerlei Problem erkennen kann”, sagte er. Niemand könne ausschließen, dass Erkenntnisse aus den Befragungen auch für das gezielte Töten durch Drohnen benutzt würden. “Das ohnehin fragwürdige geheimdienstliche Abschöpfen von Asylsuchenden muss sofort ersatzlos beendet werden”, forderte er.

Die geplante Auflösung der Hauptstelle zeige, dass die derzeitige Praxis offenbar ohnehin entbehrlich sei. Der BND habe die Dienststelle “seit längerem einer Effizienzkontrolle unterzogen” und das Personal dort reduziert, heißt es weiter in der Antwort der Regierung. Ziel sei, die Befragungen direkt in den Krisenregionen im Ausland zu verstärken.

29. November 2013 20:24

Find this story at 29 November 2013

© Süddeutsche Zeitung Digitale Medien GmbH / Süddeutsche Zeitung GmbH

Geheimer Krieg Deutsche Behörde horcht Asylbewerber aus

Wer Informationen über mutmaßliche islamistische Terrorgruppen hat, soll schneller als Asylbewerber anerkannt werden: Die geheime “Hauptstelle für Befragungswesen” befragt Flüchtlinge – das Wissen könnten die USA beim Einsatz von Kampf-Drohnen nutzen.

Beim Einsatz von Kampf-Drohnen greifen US-Geheimdienste auch auf Informationen zurück, die von Asylbewerbern in Deutschland stammen. Nach Angaben eines früheren hochrangigen Pentagon-Mitarbeiters fließen solche Erkenntnisse in das “Zielerfassungssystem” der US-Dienste ein. Selbst scheinbar banale Informationen könnten manchmal reichen, “ein Ziel zu bestätigen – und vielleicht auch dafür, einen Tötungsbefehl auszulösen”. Deutsche Behörden würden angeblich die USA systematisch mit Hinweisen versorgen, die von Flüchtlingen stammen. Dazu können auch die Handydaten von Terrorverdächtigen gehören.

Nach Recherchen der Süddeutschen Zeitung und des Norddeutschen Rundfunks spielt dabei die geheimnisumwitterte “Hauptstelle für Befragungswesen” (HBW), die dem Kanzleramt untersteht, eine zentrale Rolle. Die Bundesregierung macht über die Struktur des HBW selbst bei Anfragen im Parlament keine genauen Angaben. Die Behörde war ursprünglich von den Westalliierten eingerichtet und dann 1958 von der damaligen Bundesregierung übernommen worden. Sie wurde dem Bundesnachrichtendienst zugeordnet.
Geheimer Krieg
Wie Geheimdienste Asylbewerber benutzen

Yusuf A. war in Somalia ein Mann mit Macht, ein Politiker mit Geld und mehreren Autos. Dann muss er nach Deutschland fliehen. Bei Gesprächen über seinen Asylantrag sind nicht nur Beamte vom Bundesamt für Flüchtlinge anwesend. geheimerkrieg.de

Es gibt Hinweise, dass auch britische und amerikanische Nachrichtendienstler in Deutschland Asylbewerber befragen. Manchmal angeblich sogar allein, ohne deutsche Kollegen. In einer internationalen Fachzeitschrift berichtete ein Insider, die Hauptstelle sei Teil eines gemeinsamen Befragungsprogramms von Deutschland, Großbritannien und den USA.
Die HBW führt heute nach amtlichen Angaben jährlich 500 bis 1000 Vorgespräche mit Flüchtlingen und befragt anschließend 50 bis 100 von ihnen intensiv. Ein Schwerpunkt der Befragungen liegt derzeit offenbar bei Flüchtlingen aus Somalia, Afghanistan und Syrien.

Das Bundesinnenministerium teilte jüngst auf eine Anfrage der Linken zur Aufnahme von Syrern mit, dass derzeit jeden Monat etwa zehn Flüchtlinge von der HBW “kontaktiert” würden.

Dolmetschern und Anwälten zufolge, die Asylbewerber betreuen, interessiert sich die Hauptstelle vor allem für Flüchtlinge, die Angaben über mutmaßliche islamistische Terrorgruppen machen können. Wer mit der Hauptstelle kooperiere, werde oft mit einer schnellen Anerkennung als Asylbewerber belohnt und dürfe in der Bundesrepublik bleiben.

Die Bundesregierung bestreitet, dass es solche Belohnungen gibt und betont, zudem seien die Befragungen freiwillig. Über eine Zusammenarbeit von HBW und BND äußert sich die Regierung nicht. Sie ließ eine umfassende Anfrage zu der Behörde weitgehend unbeantwortet. Detaillierte Angaben würden die “weitere Arbeitsfähigkeit und Aufgabenerfüllung von HBW und BND gefährden”, erklärte die Regierung.

Die HBW, die im Kalten Krieg viele Hundert Mitarbeiter hatte, soll heute nur noch knapp vierzig Mitarbeiter beschäftigen. Die Zentrale der Behörde liegt in Berlin. Weitere Büros soll sie in insgesamt sechs Aufnahmelagern für Flüchtlinge haben.

19. November 2013 18:59
Von John Goetz und Hans Leyendecker

Find this story at 19 November 2013

© Süddeutsche Zeitung Digitale Medien GmbH / Süddeutsche Zeitung GmbH

Die Operationen der US-Dienste in Deutschland

Drohnen kommen heute immer häufiger zum Einsatz – auch, um damit Menschen zu töten.

Alles begann mit einem Anruf aus Somalia: Ein Mann aus Mogadischu berichtete dem Panorama Team von einem amerikanischen Drohnenangriff. Das Ziel war ein Terrorist der Terrorgruppe al-Shabaab. Aber wie so häufig in diesem Krieg starb nicht nur der Terrorist, sondern auch Zivilisten. An einem Tag im Oktober vor zwei Jahren wurde der Vater des Anrufers durch US-Kampfdrohnen getötet. Er war ein unschuldiger Kamelbauer, der zur falschen Zeit am falschen Ort war.

Der Film “Geheimer Krieg”, für den Panorama Reporter zwei Jahre recherchiert haben, erzählt die Geschichte des Mannes, der sterben musste, weil die USA ihren Krieg gegen den Terror fast weltweit führen. Im Jemen, in Pakistan und in Afrika bringen sie Verdächtige aus der Luft um – ohne Anklage, ohne Anwalt, ohne Gerichtsurteil.

Panorama: Geheimer Krieg
Sehen Sie hier das gesamte Video der Panorama Sendung von 28. November 2013.
Systematische Einbindung Deutschlands

John Goetz vor der amerikanischen Botschaft in Berlin: Wird von hier das Regierungsviertel abgehört?

John Goetz und sein Team zeigen, wie vor allem Deutschland in diesen leisen und versteckten Krieg eingebunden ist: Der Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) befragt systematisch Flüchtlinge aus Krisenregionen, um deren Informationen – auch über mögliche Ziele – an die Amerikaner weiterzugeben.

Das Afrika-Kommando der US-Streitkräfte sitzt in Stuttgart. Von hier kommen die Befehle für Drohnenangriffe auf Menschen in Afrika. Über die Airbase in Ramstein läuft die Kommunikation der Drohnenpiloten mit den fliegenden Kampfrobotern über Somalia. Und eine Firma, die Terrorverdächtige für die CIA entführt hat, bekommt seit Jahren Millionenaufträge von der Bundesregierung in sensiblen Bereichen.
Bundesregierung und US-Botschaft wiegeln ab

Auf Anfrage wiegelt die Bundesregierung ab: Es würden nur Informationen an US-Dienste weitergegeben, mit denen keine Drohnenangriffe geplant werden könnten. Außerdem lägen “der Bundesregierung keine eigenen gesicherten Erkenntnisse zu von US-Streitkräften in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland angeblich geplanten oder geführten Einsätzen vor”. Auch die amerikanische Botschaft in Berlin widerspricht den Rechercheergebnissen. Es seien “Halbwahrheiten, Spekulationen und Unterstellungen”, sowie “ungeheuerliche Behauptungen”.
Weltweite Recherchen

Am Beispiel des ermordeten Kamelbauern aus Somalia und anderen konkreten Fällen zeigt die Dokumentation erstmals, wie deutsche Dienste und US-Einrichtungen in Deutschland an der Ermordung von unschuldigen Zivilisten durch Drohnen in Afrika beteiligt sind. Dafür haben die Reporter in Afrika, den USA, in der Türkei, Deutschland und in Moskau bei Edward Snowden recherchiert.

Die Ausstrahlung des Films ist der Höhepunkt der Serie “Geheimer Krieg”, in der der Norddeutsche Rundfunk und die “Süddeutsche Zeitung” seit gut zwei Wochen darüber berichten, wie das US-Militär und die amerikanischen und britischen Geheimdienste den Kampf gegen den Terrorismus aus Deutschland steuern und kontrollieren.

28.11.13 | 21:45 Uhr
von John Goetz & Niklas Schenck

Find this story at 28 November 2013
© Norddeutscher Rundfunk

Documents reveal NSA’s extensive involvement in targeted killing program

It was an innocuous e-mail, one of millions sent every day by spouses with updates on the situation at home. But this one was of particular interest to the National Security Agency and contained clues that put the sender’s husband in the crosshairs of a CIA drone.

Days later, Hassan Ghul — an associate of Osama bin Laden who provided a critical piece of intelligence that helped the CIA find the al-Qaeda leader — was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal belt.

The U.S. government has never publicly acknowledged killing Ghul. But documents provided to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden confirm his demise in October 2012 and reveal the agency’s extensive involvement in the targeted killing program that has served as a centerpiece of President Obama’s counterterrorism strategy.

An al-Qaeda operative who had a knack for surfacing at dramatic moments in the post-Sept. 11 story line, Ghul was an emissary to Iraq for the terrorist group at the height of that war. He was captured in 2004 and helped expose bin Laden’s courier network before spending two years at a secret CIA prison. Then, in 2006, the United States delivered him to his native Pakistan, where he was released and returned to the al-Qaeda fold.

But beyond filling in gaps about Ghul, the documents provide the most detailed account of the intricate collaboration between the CIA and the NSA in the drone campaign.

The Post is withholding many details about those missions, at the request of U.S. intelligence officials who cited potential damage to ongoing operations and national security.

The NSA is “focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets,” an NSA spokeswoman said in a statement provided to The Post on Wednesday, adding that the agency’s operations “protect the nation and its interests from threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

In the search for targets, the NSA has draped a surveillance blanket over dozens of square miles of northwest Pakistan. In Ghul’s case, the agency deployed an arsenal of cyber-espionage tools, secretly seizing control of laptops, siphoning audio files and other messages, and tracking radio transmissions to determine where Ghul might “bed down.”

The e-mail from Ghul’s wife “about her current living conditions” contained enough detail to confirm the coordinates of that household, according to a document summarizing the mission. “This information enabled a capture/kill operation against an individual believed to be Hassan Ghul on October 1,” it said.

The file is part of a collection of records in the Snowden trove that make clear that the drone campaign — often depicted as the CIA’s exclusive domain — relies heavily on the NSA’s ability to vacuum up enormous quantities of e-mail, phone calls and other fragments of signals intelligence, or SIGINT.

To handle the expanding workload, the NSA created a secret unit known as the Counter-Terrorism Mission Aligned Cell, or CT MAC, to concentrate the agency’s vast resources on hard-to-find terrorism targets. The unit spent a year tracking Ghul and his courier network, tunneling into an array of systems and devices, before he was killed. Without those penetrations, the document concluded, “this opportunity would not have been possible.”

At a time when the NSA is facing intense criticism for gathering data on Americans, the drone files may bolster the agency’s case that its resources are focused on fighting terrorism and supporting U.S. operations overseas.

“Ours is a noble cause,” NSA Director Keith B. Alexander said during a public event last month. “Our job is to defend this nation and to protect our civil liberties and privacy.”

The documents do not explain how the Ghul e-mail was obtained or whether it was intercepted using legal authorities that have emerged as a source of controversy in recent months and enable the NSA to compel technology giants including Microsoft and Google to turn over information about their users. Nor is there a reference to another NSA program facing scrutiny after Snowden’s leaks, its metadata collection of numbers dialed by nearly every person in the United States.

To the contrary, the records indicate that the agency depends heavily on highly targeted network penetrations to gather information that wouldn’t otherwise be trapped in surveillance nets that it has set at key Internet gateways.

The new documents are self-congratulatory in tone, drafted to tout the NSA’s counterterrorism capabilities. One is titled “CT MAC Hassan Gul Success.” The files make no mention of other agencies’ roles in a drone program that escalated dramatically in 2009 and 2010 before tapering off in recent years.

Even so, former CIA officials said the files are an accurate reflection of the NSA’s contribution to finding targets in a campaign that has killed more than 3,000 people, including thousands of alleged militants and hundreds of civilians, in Pakistan, according to independent surveys. The officials said the agency has assigned senior analysts to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and deployed others to work alongside CIA counterparts at almost every major U.S. embassy or military base overseas.

“NSA threw the kitchen sink at the FATA,” said a former U.S. intelligence official with experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan, referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the region in northwest Pakistan where al-Qaeda’s leadership is based.

NSA employees rarely ventured beyond the security gates of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, officials said. Surveillance operations that required placing a device or sensor near an al-Qaeda compound were handled by the CIA’s Information Operations Center, which specializes in high-tech devices and “close-in” surveillance work.

“But if you wanted huge coverage of the FATA, NSA had 10 times the manpower, 20 times the budget and 100 times the brainpower,” the former intelligence official said, comparing the surveillance resources of the NSA to the smaller capabilities of the agency’s IOC. The two agencies are the largest in the U.S. intelligence community, with budgets last year of $14.7 billion for the CIA and $10.8 billion for the NSA. “We provided the map,” the former official said, “and they just filled in the pieces.”

In broad terms, the NSA relies on increasingly sophisticated versions of online attacks that are well-known among security experts. Many rely on software implants developed by the agency’s Tailored Access Operations division with code-names such as UNITEDRAKE and VALIDATOR. In other cases, the agency runs “man-in-the-middle” attacks in which it positions itself unnoticed midstream between computers communicating with one another, diverting files for real-time alerts and longer-term analysis in data repositories.

Through these and other tactics, the NSA is able to extract vast quantities of digital information, including audio files, imagery and keystroke logs. The operations amount to silent raids on suspected safe houses and often are carried out by experts sitting behind desks thousands of miles from their targets.

The reach of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations division extends far beyond Pakistan. Other documents describe efforts to tunnel into systems used by al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Africa, each breach exposing other corridors.

An operation against a suspected facilitator for al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen led to a trove of files that could be used to “help NSA map out the movement of terrorists and aspiring extremists between Yemen, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Libya and Iran,” according to the documents. “This may enable NSA to better flag the movement of these individuals” to allied security services that “can put individuals on no-fly lists or monitor them once in country.”

A single penetration yielded 90 encrypted al-Qaeda documents, 16 encryption keys, 30 unencrypted messages as well as “thousands” of chat logs, according to an inventory described in one of the Snowden documents.

The operations are so easy, in some cases, that the NSA is able to start downloading data in less time than it takes the targeted machine to boot up. Last year, a user account on a social media Web site provided an instant portal to an al-Qaeda operative’s hard drive. “Within minutes, we successfully exploited the target,” the document said.

The hunt for Ghul followed a more elaborate path.

Ghul, who is listed in other documents as Mustafa Haji Muhammad Khan, had surfaced on U.S. radar as early as 2003, when an al-Qaeda detainee disclosed that Ghul escorted one of the intended hijackers to a Pakistani safe house a year before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

A trusted facilitator and courier, Ghul was dispatched to Iraq in 2003 to deliver a message to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda firebrand who angered the network’s leaders in Pakistan by launching attacks that often slaughtered innocent Muslims.

When Ghul made another attempt to enter Iraq in 2004, he was detained by Kurdish authorities in an operation directed by the CIA. Almost immediately, Ghul provided a piece of intelligence that would prove more consequential than he may have anticipated: He disclosed that bin Laden relied on a trusted courier known as al-Kuwaiti.

The ripples from that revelation wouldn’t subside for years. The CIA went on to determine the true identity of al-Kuwaiti and followed him to a heavily fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed in 2011.

Because of the courier tip, Ghul became an unwitting figure in the contentious debate over CIA interrogation measures. He was held at a CIA black site in Eastern Europe, according to declassified Justice Department memos, where he was slapped and subjected to stress positions and sleep deprivation to break his will.

Defenders of the interrogation program have cited Ghul’s courier disclosure as evidence that the agency’s interrogation program was crucial to getting bin Laden. But others, including former CIA operatives directly involved in Ghul’s case, said that he identified the courier while he was being interrogated by Kurdish authorities, who posed questions scripted by CIA analysts in the background.

The debate resurfaced amid the release of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” last year, in which a detainee’s slip after a brutal interrogation sequence is depicted as a breakthrough in the bin Laden hunt. Ghul’s case also has been explored in detail in a 6,000-page investigation of the CIA interrogation program by the Senate Intelligence Committee that has yet to be released.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the panel, sought to settle the Ghul debate in a statement last year that alluded to his role but didn’t mention him by name.

“The CIA detainee who provided the most significant information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques,” Feinstein said in the statement, which was signed by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

The George W. Bush administration’s decision to close the secret CIA prisons in 2006 set off a scramble to place prisoners whom the agency did not regard as dangerous or valuable enough to transfer to Guantanamo Bay. Ghul was not among the original 14 high-value CIA detainees sent to the U.S. installation in Cuba. Instead, he was turned over to the CIA’s counterpart in Pakistan, with ostensible assurances that he would remain in custody.

A year later, Ghul was released. There was no public explanation from Pakistani authorities. CIA officials have noted that Ghul had ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group supported by Pakistan’s intelligence service. By 2007, he had returned to al-Qaeda’s stronghold in Waziristan.

In 2011, the Treasury Department named Ghul a target of U.S. counterterrorism sanctions. Since his release, the department said, he had helped al-Qaeda reestablish logistics networks, enabling al-Qaeda to move people and money in and out of the country. The NSA document described Ghul as al-Qaeda’s chief of military operations and detailed a broad surveillance effort to find him.

“The most critical piece” came with a discovery that “provided a vector” for compounds used by Ghul, the document said. After months of investigation, and surveillance by CIA drones, the e-mail from his wife erased any remaining doubt.

Even after Ghul was killed in Mir Ali, the NSA’s role in the drone strike wasn’t done. Although the attack was aimed at “an individual believed to be” the correct target, the outcome wasn’t certain until later when, “through SIGINT, it was confirmed that Hassan Ghul was in fact killed.”

By Greg Miller, Julie Tate and Barton Gellman, Published: October 17

Find this story at 17 October 2013

© The Washington Post Company

‘Back in the business of killing’

Ever since September 11, the US – with the help of the CIA – has been carrying out a secret war that defies imagination, says New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti. And it’s not just Washington giving the green light.

The campaign against America’s enemies is silent and precise. Commanders fight without troops. They operate from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia – their “troops” in front of computer screens in Nevada or New Mexico. Their weapons are unmanned drones.

“The CIA, over the last 12 years, has very much been back in the business of killing,” said Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Mazzetti in an interview with DW. “Since the September 11 attacks, the CIA has gradually transformed into very much of a paramilitary organization.”
Mark Mazzetti also broke news of the CIA’s destruction of interrogation tapes in 2007

Just released in Germany, “The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth” contains evidence gathered by the New York Times journalist via interviews with intelligence operatives and politicians. Mazzetti speaks of a military complex catalysed by developments in drone technology.

“It’s the military, it’s the spy services, it’s private companies that have in many ways created this new state where they can carry out these secret missions and secret eavesdropping,” he said.

Blurred boundaries

The new procedural structures followed in the wake of the terror attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and Pentagon which resulted in more than 3,000 deaths. Anti-terrorism legislation enacted under President George W. Bush, Mazzetti says, circumvented earlier prohibitions on targeted killings.

“There’s a whole new world that has emerged since the Spetember 11 attacks,” he said.

Borders between the army and secret service became blurred. Roughly 60 percent of the CIA’s current staff was hired after the 2001 terror attacks. Many of those hires have a simple task: hunting and killing people.

Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, further pursued that policy – with the help of, among other things, a secret agreement with the Pakistani government. Local tribal areas in Pakistan were considered sanctuaries for Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Since 2004, drones have been flying over such areas and firing rockets at the homes, vehicles and territories of supposed Islamists. Publicly, the Pakistani government has reacted with protests to violations of its sovereign territory. Quietly, Mazzetti says, Pakistan might have endorsed them.

“There are suspicions that privately, they have been giving their approval for the strikes,” he said, “because the US has also gone after enemies of Pakistan.” One example was Taliban leader Nek Mohammed. He became the first official target of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan and his death, Mazzetti says, was a precondition for the US to receive flyover rights for further strikes.
In Yemen, August 2013 saw four strikes in three days, leaving fifteen dead

Drone missions were then expanded – to Yemen as well as Somalia. Resulting mishaps are greeted by silence in Washington. Its successes are celebrated in the media.

Carte blanche from Washington

In certain countries, Washington has given the CIA complete control over drone operations.

“In Pakistan, for instance, the CIA really has the authority to target individuals or groups of individuals without asking the White House’s permission,” Mazzetti said. In countries like Yemen, he added, President Obama has insisted that the White House have more control over the kill list. Those operations are first reviewed by task forces within the White House.

Less controversial are attacks on individuals who have been clearly identified. In “signature attacks,” however, that is not the case.

“Signature strikes are based on patterns of activities. In other words, they look on the ground. They don’t know specifically who these people are, but they suspect they’re doing suspicious activities – they might be trying to cross the border into Afghanistan,” Mazzetti said. “[The CIA] has the authority to carry out a strike.”

Such attacks are controversial – particularly due to the increase in civilian casualties. One of the more notorious cases occurred in March 2011 in Pakistan. More than 40 civilians were killed during a drone attack on a suspected Taliban meeting in North Waziristan, an area considered by the Pakistani government to have been “Talibanized.” The meeting turned out to be an open-air tribal gathering.

Further developments

Over time, Pakistan’s government began turning away from the attacks it once invited. Protests against America’s “killer drones” took place both outside the government and within it.
Only in Pakistan did Obama score lower than presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a pre-election, worldwide survey

Pakistani authorities refer to the latest UN figures citing 330 drone attacks. Approximately 2,200 people are thought to have been killed in those attacks, but according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent journalist network based in London, the figures are far higher. Among those killed, 400 were civilians, according to official statements from Pakistan. Another 200 were considered “non-combatants.” The UN has called on the US to release its own statistics on civilian casualties resulting from drone strikes.

“President Obama has indicated, although he doesn’t say it publicly, that these strikes in Pakistan will continue as long as there are American troops in Afghanistan. So that should be at least another year,” Mazzetti said.

It’s a policy Obama will have to clarify with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who will be visiting the White House on Wednesday (23.10.2013). It will be equally difficult, Mazzetti says, for the US government to justify arguments against other countries’ use of military drones. In China or Russia, for example, the technology for unmanned warfare is already readily available.
Soon to be weaponized?

For Mazzetti, the idea of the world turning into a “silent battlefield” is as frightening as the role drones might play in day-to-day America in the future.

With police already utilizing drones for criminal investigations, the journalist and author believes that in just five-to-10 years, weaponized drones will be used for domestic crime-fighting.

Date 22.10.2013
Author Antje Passenheim, Washington / cd
Editor Rob Mudge

Find this story at 22 October 2013

© 2013 Deutsche Welle

Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan

This report is the result of nine months of research by the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School (Stanford Clinic) and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law (NYU Clinic). Professor James Cavallaro and Clinical Lecturer Stephan Sonnenberg led the Stanford Clinic team; Professor Sarah Knuckey led the NYU Clinic team. Adelina Acuña, Mohammad M. Ali, Anjali Deshmukh, Jennifer Gibson, Jennifer Ingram, Dimitri Phillips, Wendy Salkin, and Omar Shakir were the student research team at Stanford; Christopher Holland was the student researcher from NYU. Supervisors Cavallaro, Sonnenberg, and Knuckey, as well as student researchers Acuña, Ali, Deshmukh, Gibson, Salkin, and Shakir participated in the fact-finding investigations to Pakistan.

In December 2011, Reprieve, a charity based in the United Kingdom, contacted the Stanford Clinic to ask whether it would be interested in conducting independent investigations into whether, and to what extent, drone strikes in Pakistan conformed to international law and caused harm and/or injury to civilians. The Stanford Clinic agreed to undertake independent fact-finding and analysis on these questions, as well as others related to drone strikes and targeted killings in Pakistan, beginning in December 2011. Later, the NYU Clinic agreed to join the research project and participated in the second research trip to Pakistan, as well as in additional research, writing, and editing of this report.

In the course of the research, the Stanford and NYU Clinics have exchanged information and logistical support with Reprieve and its partner organization in Pakistan, the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR). The latter organization assisted in contacting many of the potential interviewees, particularly those who reside in North Waziristan, and in the difficult work of arranging interviews. The Stanford and NYU Clinics designed the research project, analyzed information, and drafted and edited the report independently from Reprieve and FFR.

Cavallaro, Knuckey, and Sonnenberg supervised and directed the preparation of the report, oversaw the writing, and served as the final editors of this publication. Students Acuña, Ali, Deshmukh, Gibson, and Shakir drafted initial sections of the report. Acuña, Ali, Gibson and Shakir synthesized and restructured the initial draft sections. Holland from the NYU Clinic also assisted with research for the report. Firas Abuzeid, Jennifer Ingram, Usman Liaqat, Clara Long, Waqas Mustafeez, Ada Sheng, and Zade Shakir assisted the research team in the review and fact-checking of the final version.

Abdulrasheed Alabi, Danny Auron, Dr. Rajaie Batniji, Kristen DeRemer, Aisha Ghani, Emi MacLean, Veerle Opgenhaffen, Professor Margaret Satterthwaite, Dr. Saad Shakir, Hina Shamsi, Professor Shirin Sinnar, Professor Allen Weiner, and Nate Wessler reviewed and commented on this report or some part thereof. The Stanford and NYU Clinics would like to thank these scholars and practitioners for volunteering their time and expertise. The opinions and positions articulated in this report are the exclusive responsibility of the research team and not of these external reviewers.

The Clinics also extend our appreciation to the Brave New Foundation, in particular its president, Robert Greenwald, as well as Josh Busch, Aminta Goyel, Jeff Cole, David Fisher, Joseph Suzuki, and John Amick for preparing a short video to accompany the report.

The Stanford and NYU Clinics express our sincere thanks to our translators in Islamabad and Peshawar. In particular, we would like to thank Muhammad Abdullah Ather, Rascim Khan Khattak, Muzafar Mohiuddin, Obaid Khan, Adnan Wazir, Usama Khilji, and Amna Bilal.

A particular debt of gratitude is owed to those who agreed to be interviewed for this report, often at risk to themselves. This includes in particular the Waziris who traveled long distances and faced significant risks to share their accounts of living under drones with our research team.

Executive Summary and Recommendations

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.[1]

This narrative is false.

Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies. Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones.

Real threats to US security and to Pakistani civilians exist in the Pakistani border areas now targeted by drones. It is crucial that the US be able to protect itself from terrorist threats, and that the great harm caused by terrorists to Pakistani civilians be addressed. However, in light of significant evidence of harmful impacts to Pakistani civilians and to US interests, current policies to address terrorism through targeted killings and drone strikes must be carefully re-evaluated.

It is essential that public debate about US policies take the negative effects of current policies into account.

First, while civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians. In public statements, the US states that there have been “no” or “single digit” civilian casualties.”[2] It is difficult to obtain data on strike casualties because of US efforts to shield the drone program from democratic accountability, compounded by the obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan. The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children.[3] TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals. Where media accounts do report civilian casualties, rarely is any information provided about the victims or the communities they leave behind. This report includes the harrowing narratives of many survivors, witnesses, and family members who provided evidence of civilian injuries and deaths in drone strikes to our research team. It also presents detailed accounts of three separate strikes, for which there is evidence of civilian deaths and injuries, including a March 2011 strike on a meeting of tribal elders that killed some 40 individuals.

Second, US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.

Third, publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best. The strikes have certainly killed alleged combatants and disrupted armed actor networks. However, serious concerns about the efficacy and counter-productive nature of drone strikes have been raised. The number of “high-level” targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low—estimated at just 2%.[4] Furthermore, evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks. As the New York Times has reported, “drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants.”[5] Drone strikes have also soured many Pakistanis on cooperation with the US and undermined US-Pakistani relations. One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy.[6]

Fourth, current US targeted killings and drone strike practices undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections and may set dangerous precedents. This report casts doubt on the legality of strikes on individuals or groups not linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, and who do not pose imminent threats to the US. The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its targeted killing policies, to provide necessary details about its targeted killing program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to strike hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy. US practices may also facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments. As drone manufacturers and officials successfully reduce export control barriers, and as more countries develop lethal drone technologies, these risks increase.

In light of these concerns, this report recommends that the US conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing practices, taking into account all available evidence, the concerns of various stakeholders, and the short and long-term costs and benefits. A significant rethinking of current US targeted killing and drone strike policies is long overdue. US policy-makers, and the American public, cannot continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm and counter-productive impacts of US targeted killings and drone strikes in Pakistan.

This report also supports and reiterates the calls consistently made by rights groups and others for legality, accountability, and transparency in US drone strike policies:
The US should fulfill its international obligations with respect to accountability and transparency, and ensure proper democratic debate about key policies. The US should:
Release the US Department of Justice memoranda outlining the legal basis for US targeted killing in Pakistan;
Make public critical information concerning US drone strike policies, including as previously and repeatedly requested by various groups and officials:[7] the targeting criteria for so-called “signature” strikes; the mechanisms in place to ensure that targeting complies with international law; which laws are being applied; the nature of investigations into civilian death and injury; and mechanisms in place to track, analyze and publicly recognize civilian casualties;[8]
Ensure independent investigations into drone strike deaths, consistent with the call made by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism in August 2012;[9]
In conjunction with robust investigations and, where appropriate, prosecutions, establish compensation programs for civilians harmed by US strikes in Pakistan.
The US should fulfill its international humanitarian and human rights law obligations with respect to the use of force, including by not using lethal force against individuals who are not members of armed groups with whom the US is in an armed conflict, or otherwise against individuals not posing an imminent threat to life. This includes not double-striking targets as first responders arrive.
Journalists and media outlets should cease the common practice of referring simply to “militant” deaths, without further explanation. All reporting of government accounts of “militant” deaths should include acknowledgment that the US government counts all adult males killed by strikes as “militants,” absent exonerating evidence. Media accounts relying on anonymous government sources should also highlight the fact of their single-source information and of the past record of false government reports.

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© Copyright 2012 Living Under Drones by Stanford Law School