Classified Report Shows America's Drones Aren't Just Killing Al Qaeda Members

A leaked intelligence report should be a milestone in the public's understanding of the American drone program
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An anti-drone protest in Pakistan (Reuters).

The Obama administration's drone attacks have not just targeted Al Qaeda leaders, but a wide variety of groups and individuals in Pakistan, according to classified intelligence documents obtained by McClatchy's Jonathan Landay.

"At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were 'assessed' as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists," Landay writes in the story, published today.

This is despite the administration's rhetoric about how the CIA is using its drones solely to go after high-ranking Al Qaeda officials. Landay notes that when John Brennan gave the longest defense of the program on record, he "referred to al Qaida 73 times, the Afghan Taliban three times and mentioned no other group by name."

While my colleague Conor Friedersdorf has repeatedly questioned the moral and legal logic of the drone war, Micah Zenko of the Council of Foreign Relations ponders another dark possibility in the McClatchy article. The United States is leading the creation and adoption of drone technology and forming the norms for their deployment in ad hoc, hypocritical way. So what's going to happen when other countries get their own large drone fleets?

Other governments "won't just emulate U.S. practice but (will adopt) America's justification for targeted killings," said Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations. "When there is such a disconnect between who the administration says it kills and who it (actually) kills, that hypocrisy itself is a very dangerous precedent that other countries will emulate."
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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