Peter Bergen reviews “The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth””

Blurb: “A Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter’s riveting account of the transformation of the CIA and America’s special operations forces into man-hunting and killing machines in the world’s dark spaces: the new American way of war”.

Mark Mazzetti’s new book, “The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth“, explores the transformation of the CIA from an intelligence-gathering machine into a paramilitary killing machine – exemplified in the near decade-long drone war fought in Pakistan’s tribal areas and beyond.

For example, the Navy SEAL Team 6 assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abottabad was a “deniable” mission because it was folded, or “sheep-dipped,” into CIA command. As Mazzetti observes, over the past decade “the CIA’s top priority was no longer gathering intelligence on foreign governments and their countries, but man hunting.” Such is the “military-intelligence-complex”…

Panetta’s tenure at CIA, Mazzetti writes, was known for its “aggressive — some would come to believe reckless — campaign of targeted killings.” He authorized 216 CIA drone strikes in Pakistan that killed at least 1,196 people, mostly militants, but also a smaller number of civilians, according to a count by the New America Foundation. Panetta, a devout Catholic, observed that he had “said more Hail Marys in the last two years than I have in my whole life.” Conversely, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was deeply irritated when the CIA rather than the military led the ground operation in late 2001 that ejected the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. He came to the conclusion that “the only answer was to make the Pentagon more like the CIA.”

The Obama doctrine is precisely this “way of the knife” – a counterterrorist battle fought with a small, “precise” footprint, and one heavily reliant on drones and Special Forces.

The benefits of the way of the knife are obvious: Few Americans are put at risk, and the costs are relatively low in a time of budgetary constraints. But as Mazzetti points out, this type of knife fighting is not as surgical as some of its proponents think, for it “creates enemies just as it has obliterated them.” It also has “lowered the bar for waging war, and it is now easier for the United States to carry out killing operations at the ends of the earth than at any other time in its history.”

The CIA drone program, which was conceived of as a way to kill the leaders of militant groups, had evolved into a counterinsurgency air force that killed mostly lower-level members of the Taliban in Pakistan.

But in pursuing the “way of the knife”, Mazzetti suggests that the CIA failed to fully anticipate and comprehend important – even seismic shifts – in the Muslim world after the Arab Spring.

More here, including information on the privitzation of military intelligence.

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