Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta has long been committed to the drone war, escalating its influence as a strategy while Director at the CIA – even though he knew the strikes were hitting the Pakistan Taliban, rather than Al-Qaeda. CIA Director Michael Hayden lobbied hard for its expansion, having created a huge bureaucracy that dealt increasingly with ‘operations’ and ‘targeting’ rather than ‘analytics’ and ‘policy making’.
The drone campaign in Pakistan started off badly. The former President of Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf was a reliable ally and as such tight constraints were placed on the CIA for choosing targets for drone strikes – ‘high value’. Yet collateral damage was unavoidable. For example, a single strike against a madrassa on Oct. 26, 2006 killed 80 local students.
Despite that disastrous start, however, the CIA had quickly become deeply committed internally to building a major program around the drone war. In 2005, the agency had created a career track in targeting for the drone program for analysts in the intelligence directorate, the Sept. 2 Post article revealed.
This decision meant that drone analysts could make a career out of it, indicating the drone wars would go on indefinitely.
In 2007, Hayden lobbied President George W. Bush to dispense with constraints limiting the targeting for drone attacks, according to the account in New York Times reporter David Sanger’s book “The Inheritance”.
Hayden asked for permission to carry out strikes against houses or cars merely on the basis of behavior that matched a “pattern of life” associated with Al-Qaeda or other groups.
Some restraints were lifted, yet in the first six months of 2008, only four strikes were carried out.
In mid-2008, however, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell returned from a May 2008 trip to Pakistan determined to prove that the Pakistani military was covertly supporting Taliban insurgents – especially the Haqqani network – who were gaining momentum in Afghanistan.
Bush wanted the drone strikes to focus primarily on the Afghan Taliban targets rather than Al-Qaeda and its Pakistani Taliban allies. And according to Sanger’s account, Bush quickly removed all of the previous requirements for accurate intelligence on specific high-value targets and for assurances against civilian casualties.
Released from the original constraints, the CIA ramped up its activity in the second half of 2008 to 4-5 strikes a month.
Leon Panetta, Obama’s new CIA director, was firmly committed to the drone war. He continued to present it to the public as a strategy to destroy Al-Qaeda, even though he knew the CIA was now striking mainly Afghan Taliban and their allies, not Al-Qaeda.
In his first press conference on Feb. 25, 2009, Panetta, in an indirect but obvious reference to the drone strikes, said that the effort to destabilize Al-Qaeda and destroy its leadership “have been successful”.
Under Panetta, drone strikes accelerated. The CIA has the major drone campaign it originally anticipated.
Not everyone agreed. In a secret assessment as CENTCOM commander on May 27, 2009, leaked to the Washington Post, Petraeus warned that drone strikes were fueling anti-U.S. sentiments in Pakistan.
Gareth Porter, ISI / Common Dreams.