Trump Unleashes CIA To Hunt Down Terrorists

FILE - This Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows a U.S. Predator drone as it flies over the moon above Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan. A U.S. drone fired a pair of missiles that hit a vehicle in northwestern Pakistan, near the Afghan border killing three suspected militants, in Datta Khel village of North Waziristan tribal region at about midnight Thursday, two intelligence officials said. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

While former Clinton officials were obsessing on Trump’s speech before the CIA’s Wall of Stars, real business was being conducted. Via the Wall Street Journal:

President Donald Trump has given the Central Intelligence Agency secret new authority to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, U.S. officials said, changing the Obama administration’s policy of limiting the spy agency’s paramilitary role and reopening a turf war between the agency and the Pentagon.

The new authority, which hadn’t been previously disclosed, represents a significant departure from a cooperative approach that had become standard practice by the end of former President Barack Obama’s tenure: The CIA used drones and other intelligence resources to locate suspected terrorists and then the military conducted the actual strike. The U.S. drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was the best example of that hybrid approach, U.S. officials said.

The Obama administration put the military in charge of pulling the trigger to promote transparency and accountability. The CIA, which operates under covert authorities, wasn’t required to disclose the number of suspected terrorists or civilian bystanders it killed in drone strikes. The Pentagon, however, must publicly report most airstrikes.

Mr. Trump provided the authority to the CIA not long after meeting with intelligence officials at the agency headquarters on Jan. 21, the day after he was inaugurated, the U.S. officials said. Mr. Trump’s nominee for director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, had yet to be confirmed.

This is pretty much nonsense. The Defense Department isn’t any more required to publicly report drone strikes than the CIA is allowed to conceal them. The decision on reporting is an administrative one that the Obama administration made and it may or may not make sense.

The policy also makes sense. A obvious demarcation is possible between areas that are considered “areas of active hostilities,” where DoD will operate, and a much larger area, including Pakistan’s border regions, where DoD can’t operate but which serve as sort of a Costa del Sol for terrorists.

The change is not making some people happy:

“There are a lot of problems with the drone program and the targeted killing program, but the CIA should be out of the business of ordering lethal strikes,” said Christopher Anders, deputy director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Anders said the Pentagon should be used for such strikes because it is more publicly accountable to policy makers, members of Congress and the American public.

“It does not mean the CIA cannot have a role in assisting in the use of force in locating targets, but that decision on whether to strike or not to strike and that order should be coming from through the military chain of command,” he said. “The CIA should be a foreign intelligence gathering and analysis organization—not a paramilitary one.”

Under pressure by the ACLU, other human rights groups and others, Mr. Obama in 2013 began to push for more drone operations to be conducted by the Defense Department.

I know a lot of people had a problem with Obama using drones to kill terrorists, especially when they were American citizens bearing arms against their country, I was not one of them. My objection to whacking terrorists with drone attacks is that you only make headway in a counterinsurgency/counterterrorism operation by taking prisoners and wringing them dry. Dead men can’t tell you what they know. And knowing what they know lets you kill more of them, more efficiently, and block their future operations. Unfortunately, as we saw with the raid in Yemen, we’ve entered a Cloud Cuckoo Land in the public and congressional perception of combat operations where missions are considered a failure if any Americans are killed. That kind of unrealistic expectation leaves any administration that is serious about combating terrorism only one tool in its toolbox: the Hellfire missile.

What this policy hints at, however, is that the area of operations for hunting known terrorists is about to expand in a huge way (more on that later today).