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Miller reports: "The CIA is urging the White House to approve a significant expansion of the agency's fleet of armed drones, a move that would extend the spy service's decade-long transformation into a paramilitary force, US officials said."

Predator drone, an unmanned aircraft. (photo: Everett)
Predator drone, an unmanned aircraft. (photo: Everett)

Petraeus, CIA Seek to Expand Drone Fleet

By Greg Miller, The Washington Post

20 October 12


he CIA is urging the White House to approve a significant expansion of the agency's fleet of armed drones, a move that would extend the spy service's decade-long transformation into a paramilitary force, U.S. officials said.

The proposal by CIA Director David H. Petraeus would bolster the agency's ability to sustain its campaigns of lethal strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and enable it, if directed, to shift aircraft to emerging al-Qaeda threats in North Africa or other trouble spots, officials said.

If approved, the CIA could add as many as 10 drones, the officials said, to an inventory that has ranged between 30 and 35 over the past few years.

The outcome has broad implications for counterterrorism policy and whether the CIA gradually returns to being an organization focused mainly on gathering intelligence, or remains a central player in the targeted killing of terrorism suspects abroad.

In the past, officials from the Pentagon and other departments have raised concerns about the CIA's expanding arsenal and involvement in lethal operations, but a senior Defense official said that the Pentagon had not opposed the agency's current plan.

Officials from the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon declined to comment on the proposal. Officials who discussed it did so on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitive nature of the subject.

One U.S. official said the request reflects a concern that political turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa has created new openings for al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

"With what happened in Libya, we're realizing that these places are going to heat up," the official said, referring to the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. No decisions have been made about moving armed CIA drones into these regions, but officials have begun to map out contingencies. "I think we're actually looking forward a little bit," the official said.

White House officials are particularly concerned about the emergence of al-Qaeda's affiliate in North Africa, which has gained weapons and territory following the collapse of the governments in Libya and Mali. Seeking to bolster surveillance in the region, the United States has been forced to rely on small, unarmed turboprop aircraft disguised as private planes.

Meanwhile, the campaign of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen has heated up. Yemeni officials said a strike on Thursday - the 35th this year - killed at least seven al-Qaeda-linked militants near Jaar, a town in southern Yemen previously controlled by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the terrorist group's affiliate is known.

The CIA's proposal would have to be evaluated by a group led by President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, officials said.

The group, which includes senior officials from the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, is directly involved in deciding which alleged al-Qaeda operatives are added to "kill" lists. But current and former officials said the group also plays a lesser-known role as referee in deciding the allocation of assets, including whether the CIA or the Defense Department takes possession of newly delivered drones.

"You have to state your requirements and the system has to agree that your requirements trump somebody else," said a former high-ranking official who participated in the deliberations. "Sometimes there is a food fight."

The administration has touted the collaboration between the CIA and the military in counterterrorism operations, contributing to a blurring of their traditional roles. In Yemen, the CIA routinely "borrows" the aircraft of the military's Joint Special Operations Command to carry out strikes. The JSOC is increasingly engaged in activities that resemble espionage.

The CIA's request for more drones indicates that Petraeus has become convinced that there are limits to those sharing arrangements and that the agency needs full control over a larger number of aircraft.

The U.S. military's fleet dwarfs that of the CIA. A Pentagon report issued this year counted 246 Predators, Reapers and Global Hawks in the Air Force inventory alone, with hundreds of other remotely piloted aircraft distributed among the Army, the Navy and the Marines.

Petraeus, who had control of large portions of those fleets while serving as U.S. commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, has had to adjust to a different resource scale at the CIA, officials said. The agency's budget has begun to tighten, after double-digit increases over much of the past decade.

"He's not used to the small budget over there," a U.S. congressional official said. In briefings on Capitol Hill, Petraeus often marvels at the agency's role relative to its resources, saying, "We do so well with so little money we have." The official declined to comment on whether Petraeus had requested additional drones.

Early in his tenure at the CIA, Petraeus was forced into a triage situation with the agency's inventory of armed drones. To augment the hunt for Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al-Qaeda terrorist plots, Petraeus moved several CIA drones from Pakistan to Yemen. After Awlaki was killed in a drone strike, the aircraft were sent back to Pakistan, officials said.

The number of strikes in Pakistan has dropped from 122 two years ago to 40 this year, according to the New America Foundation. But officials said the agency has not cut back on its patrols there, despite the killing of Osama bin Laden and a dwindling number of targets.

The agency continues to search for bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and has carried out dozens of strikes against the Haqqani network, a militant group behind attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The CIA also maintains a separate, smaller fleet of stealth surveillance aircraft. Stealth drones were used to monitor bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Their use in surveillance flights over Iran's nuclear facilities was exposed when one crashed in that country last year.

Any move to expand the reach of the CIA's fleet of armed drones probably would require the agency to establish additional secret bases. The agency relies on U.S. military pilots to fly the planes from bases in the southwestern United States but has been reluctant to share overseas landing strips with the Defense Department.

CIA Predators that are used in Pakistan are flown out of airstrips along the border in Afghanistan. The agency opened a secret base on the Arabian Peninsula when it began flights over Yemen, even though JSOC planes are flown from a separate facility in Djibouti. your social media marketing partner


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+12 # futhark 2012-10-20 10:51
More drones mean more money for weapons manufacturers. More drone strikes mean more innocent civilians killed. More innocent civilians killed means more people who hold America in contempt. A self-generating cycle of waste, suffering, and death is put into motion. Stop the drone attacks!
+8 # dburdick 2012-10-20 10:59
How many more reasons do we need before we abandon Obama, just as he abandoned us along with Hope and Change in favor of suckling the Corporate teat and pandering to the right, and shift our support to a third party candidate who will stand with us?

These are the same drones Obama has launched in flagrant violation of international and national law, and of justice and decency, into the territory of sovereign states, at times to assassinate American citizens without the protection of the law, and without a trace of oversight. These are the drones he would hand over, along with the Imperial Presidency of Bush (and Obama, too), to his successor, whoever that successor might be.

My God! What sort of a country have we become?

Rocky Anderson has an uninterrupted public record of supporting the rule of law, of opposing aggressive and undeclared war, of calling for the prosecution of war criminals even if they sit in the halls of power, and oh so much more. He only asks for your support, your vote, in return.
+1 # RMDC 2012-10-20 18:40
"My God! What sort of a country have we become?:

The US has from the very start been a murderous genocidal empire. Ask Africans who were enslaved here for 250 years. Ask Native Americans who were nearly exterminated. Ask the Vietnamese, the Koreans, the Japanese, the Salvadorans, the Yugoslavs, the Iraqis, and I could go on.

Patraeus comes from a long line of US psychopathic killers. He lives only to kill. More drones will make it able for him to join in with genocide of blacks in Libya. He will want to finish off the job.
0 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-21 15:27
And as a special promotion, this year: Vote Rocky and get Romney for free.
+1 # jlstiles 2012-10-20 11:45
Yet another reason to not vote for Obomney in this election and go third party or write-in. No president claiming to be for hope and change in the world would support this barbaric and cowardly program.
+2 # RMDC 2012-10-20 18:42
I'm voting Green -- Jill Stein. I would never vote for a murderer like Obama. Romney will become a murder the minute he takes office. I hope Obama loses just because of all the bad decisions he has made. I really don't care who takes up residence in the national Whore House.
0 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-21 15:30
My troll alarm has been going frantic since I turned to this page.
At this point, as long as third party candidates cannot have a reasonable chance to win, voting for a third party candidate in a swing state is unfortunately casting half a vote for Romney.

Unfortunately for I agree to some degree with most of what's been said here, but Romney would be unbearable.
0 # RMDC 2012-10-22 04:31
I don't live in a swing state. I live in a very solidly democratic state. So my voting for the Green candidate Jill Stein will not cause Romney to win in my state.
+5 # cordleycoit 2012-10-20 13:18
It is only a matter of time before there is a drone covering every news person on the planet. And only a n matter of time before they start attacking those whose stories are hostile to what ever secret tribunal runs these horrors.
+3 # Old Man 2012-10-20 13:40
I would rather have Drones fighting "The Wars" Republicans got us into instead of my Sons boots being on the ground in a foreign country.
If they want more wars we must have a draft, that way the high and mighty wealthy will have to participate.
I don't think we need any more Drones all tho.
+3 # RMDC 2012-10-20 18:43
If you don't want your sons to go to a war, tell them that. Tell them what war really is. They will not be heroes. They will be suckers who do the dirty work for psychopaths like Patraeus.
0 # futhark 2012-10-20 21:25
Suggestion: Call up your local high school and find out if the taxpayer-provid ed computer system is being used by students to play "Killing Floor" or another game of its ilk, in which students on networked computers hunt each other down in a virtual labyrinth and blow each other to bloody smithereens. It's the ideal ethical training for drone pilots, anesthetizing young minds against any sense of compassion for what they see on a video screen. After all, it's only a game, and a really cool one, at that.

Google "Killing Floor" or look it up on Wikipedia if you are unfamiliar with it. These are your kids and its your money being spent in the public schools.

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