Saturday, October 31, 2009

Squirters, or defining terrorism

Sect'y Clinton faces critics of U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan:

During a live broadcast of an interview before a predominantly female audience of several hundred, Clinton struggled to avoid describing the classified U.S. effort to target terrorists, and still try to explain the efforts of American foreign policy.

One woman asked Clinton how she would define terrorism.

''Is it the killing of people in drone attacks?'' the woman asked. Then she asked if Clinton considered both the U.S. missile strikes and militant bombings like the one that killed more than 100 civilians in the city of Peshawar earlier in the week as acts of terrorism.

''No, I do not,'' Clinton replied.


Asked repeatedly about the drones, a subject that involves highly classified CIA operations, Clinton said only that ''there is a war going on.'' She added that the Obama administration is committed to helping Pakistan defeat the insurgents.

From Jane Mayer's astonishing reporting on the CIA's classified drone program.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of a “push-button” approach to fighting Al Qaeda, but the embrace of the Predator program has occurred with remarkably little public discussion, given that it represents a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force. And, because of the C.I.A. program’s secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place, despite the fact that the agency has killed many civilians inside a politically fragile, nuclear-armed country with which the U.S. is not at war. Should something go wrong in the C.I.A.’s program—last month, the Air Force lost control of a drone and had to shoot it down over Afghanistan—it’s unclear what the consequences would be.

The Predators in the C.I.A. program are “flown” by civilians, both intelligence officers and private contractors. According to a former counterterrorism official, the contractors are “seasoned professionals—often retired military and intelligence officials.” (The intelligence agency outsources a significant portion of its work.) Within the C.I.A., control of the unmanned vehicles is split among several teams. One set of pilots and operators works abroad, near hidden airfields in Afghanistan and Pakistan, handling takeoffs and landings. Once the drones are aloft, the former counterterrorism official said, the controls are electronically “slewed over” to a set of “reachback operators,” in Langley. Using joysticks that resemble video-game controls, the reachback operators—who don’t need conventional flight training—sit next to intelligence officers and watch, on large flat-screen monitors, a live video feed from the drone’s camera. From their suburban redoubt, they can turn the plane, zoom in on the landscape below, and decide whether to lock onto a target. A stream of additional “signal” intelligence, sent to Langley by the National Security Administration, provides electronic means of corroborating that a target has been correctly identified. The White House has delegated trigger authority to C.I.A. officials, including the head of the Counter-Terrorist Center, whose identity remains veiled from the public because the agency has placed him under cover.

People who have seen an air strike live on a monitor described it as both awe-inspiring and horrifying. “You could see these little figures scurrying, and the explosion going off, and when the smoke cleared there was just rubble and charred stuff,” a former C.I.A. officer who was based in Afghanistan after September 11th says of one attack. (He watched the carnage on a small monitor in the field.) Human beings running for cover are such a common sight that they have inspired a slang term: “squirters.”

Although Ms. Clinton was reluctant to divulge details on the secret program, according to Mayer, the CIA is working with Pakistani inelligence. But no matter how drone attacks in a country with which we are not at war is defined, I'm pretty sure those "squirters" have to be defined as "terrorized."



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