What follows is my summary of their findings:
- The New America Foundation cited 96 articles as the basis for their conclusion that there have been zero civilian casualties in Pakistan during 2012. Links to ten of the articles didn't work, so the NYU team ultimately analyzed 86 total articles from a total of 13 different news sources.
- In 74 percent of the articles, the only source for the number of "militants" killed was anonymous government officials (almost always unnamed Pakistani officials).
- The New America Foundation documented 27 separate drone strikes in 2012. In more than half of those drone strikes -- 16 of them, to be exact -- all information about the number of "militants" killed came from unnamed government officials (almost always unnamed Pakistani officials).
- In 15 articles cited by the New America Foundation sources said the identities of those killed could not be identified. And in 18 articles, the "compound" or other object of attack was said to be "destroyed," calling into question estimates about numbers of casualties and the identities of the dead.
In his work on drones, Bergen pointedly notes that the New America Foundation relies on reports "from reliable media organizations with deep reporting capabilities in Pakistan," as though "deep reporting" is a prerequisite if New America is to treat a casualty estimate as reliable. But many of the accounts that form the basis of New America estimates are no more deeply reported than getting an unnamed official to state the number of deaths, which is taken on faith because it's the only information available. There is, of course, reason to doubt the accuracy of both Pakistani intelligence and government officials, especially those who are only willing to speak off the record.
Yet Bergen writes in his CNN piece that the New America Foundation's estimate of innocents killed is "far below the civilian death rate that the Pakistani government and
other private research groups such as Pakistan Body Count have claimed. A
report released by Pakistani authorities in 2010 estimated that for
every militant killed in a drone strike in 2009, 140 Pakistani civilians
also died, and that the civilian casualty rate for that year was more
than 90%." In other words, confronted with an official estimate of civilians killed from Pakistan's government, Bergen treats it skeptically, and concludes that it is wildly wrong. Yet when an anonymous Pakistani officials gives an estimate that is filtered through any one of 13 press outlets, Bergen treats it as reliable, using it to inform his analysis of the actual number of innocents killed.
That brings us to the information that never appears in Bergen's articles.
Most problematically, he separates drone strike victims into "militants" and "civilians" without ever offering a working definition of "militant." Bergen does note that the Obama Administration reportedly "considers as a 'militant'
any military-age male in the strike target area," and assures readers that "The New America data is
not based on the U.S. official definition of a militant and does not
rely on any U.S. official counting of the strikes." Eight days ago, I emailed Clara Hogan, a press liaison at New America, asking about its working definition of militant, but received no answer. I emailed Bergen the same question on July 13, but haven't received a reply from him either. As best I can tell, the New America Foundation is following the usage of the various media outlets whose work it draws upon, or the definition used by named and unnamed Pakistani officials, or both, which is problematic, because neither the press nor the Pakistani government seems to have a consistent, rigorous, or transparent definition of what "militant" means.