Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has insisted that the U.S. needs to keep its covert drone program in place. Panetta served as CIA director between 2009 and 2011, during which time the intensity and severity of strikes in Pakistan increased dramatically.
Asked if the CIA “targeted killings” should be curtailed in coming years, Panetta told AFP in an interview that there was still a need to continue the drone strikes more than a decade since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
“I think it depends on the nature of the threat that we’re confronting. We are in a war. We’re in a war on terrorism and we’ve been in that war since 9/11.
“The whole purpose of our operations were aimed at those who attacked this country and killed 3,000 innocent people in New York as well as 200 people here at the Pentagon,”
Before taking over as defense secretary, Panetta oversaw a dramatic increase in drone raids in Pakistan as head of the CIA from 2009-2011.
“I think we had a responsibility to use whatever technology we could to be able to go after those who not only conducted that attack but were planning to continue to attack this country,” he said.
“It’s been an important part of our operations against Al-Qaeda, not just in Pakistan, but also in Yemen, in Somalia and I think it ought to continue to be a tool we ought to use where necessary,” he said.
“Having said that, we always need to continue to look at it, to make sure we develop the right standards, that we’re abiding by the laws of this country, that we’re doing it in a way that hopefully can be a little more transparent with the American people.” But he said “to protect this country” it was not enough to have operations carried out openly by the military.
Secret action led by the CIA was also needed “when you got those kind of operations where, because of the nature of the country you’re in or the nature of the situation you’re dealing with, it’s got to be covert.”