The C.I.A.'s Silence on Drone Strikes Is Getting Awkward

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The C.I.A.'s policy of silence around its drone program has really gotten in the agency's way as it tries to defend against a scathing new investigative report that found U.S. drones target rescuers and funerals in Pakistan. The agency doesn't talk about drone strikes at all because they're considered top secret, so that means a "senior American counter-terrorism official" had to go on background to talk to The New York Times about the report just to defend the intelligence community. The C.I.A. needs somebody to go to bat for it on the report from the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism because the findings are pretty horrific: U.S. drones target not just the militants they initially strike, but those who come to do rescue work after those strikes, and mourners at the funerals for victims of those strikes. They've killed somewhere between 282 and 535 civilians in a total of 260 strikes, the report found.

Clearly, the C.I.A. would like to defend itself on those charges, but with everybody talking off the record and some "American officials familiar with the rules governing the strikes" conceding to The Times that they do fire missiles at suspected militants not on any target list, the going is tough. The best the intelligence community could do was to get "American officials" to claim that the numbers of deaths were too high, and have that one unnamed counter-terrorism official to point out that the agency decides on its targets after "intensive intelligence collection." The official also provided the closest the agency can come to P.R. spin, pointing out the public relations benefit to terrorists in painting the drone program in a bad light: "One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions — there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed," the official said. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.