Tag Archives: clandestine operations

The Alliance between CIA and Pakistan

And, perhaps most crucially, the two fractious allies’ top spies are talking again, with a view to enhancing their cooperation as the 2014 deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan looms.   The relationship between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has been at the core of Washington and Islamabad’s alliance for over a decade now — and sometimes the source of the mutual misery. After 9/11, both intelligence agencies collaborated closely to capture scores of al-Qaeda suspects. But over the past two years, as suspicions have grown, the two sides have become near adversaries.

The ISI is often accused of supporting jihadist proxies attacking U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan — and is widely considered to have been either incompetent or complicit when it came to Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan. The CIA was found to be operating independently within Pakistan’s jealously guarded territory, running unauthorized contractors, recruiting local informants and showering drones at their fiercest pace yet.  But as bitter memories of those disputes begin to recede and new faces assume leadership roles, there is some cautious optimism going forward now — this despite domestic imperatives in both countries (an election year in the U.S., the heated anti-American populism in Pakistan) making rapprochement difficult. Last month the new head of ISI, Lieut. General Zaheer-ul-Islam, made his first visit to Washington, meeting with top intelligence, defense and Administration officials. Tentative agreements were made in terms of joint operations against militants in the region, the Wall Street Journal reported. But, officials from both sides say, fundamental differences linger.

Little is known about General ul-Islam, but a change at the top of ISI will please U.S. security officials. The previous ISI chief, now retired Lieut. General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, had become fiercely hostile to Washington in his final year — engaging in “shouting matches” with then CIA director Leon Panetta, cutting cooperation down to a minimum, ordering the harassment of U.S. diplomats in Pakistan and locking up Shakil Afridi, the physician who ran a vaccination program in the town where bin Laden was found hiding.

Afridi is currently serving a 33-year sentence handed down to him by a tribal court. The charges were not explicitly for spying for the U.S., but there is little doubt in observers’ minds that this is the reason he was punished. Afridi wasn’t arrested for the alleged offenses he has been convicted for until the ISI discovered his vaccination program and links to the CIA. At one point, according to a Pakistani military official familiar with the discussions, the CIA suggested that the ISI strip Afridi of his nationality and hand him over to the U.S. General Pasha angrily refused, saying it would set a bad precedent — one that could encourage others to spy for foreign countries if there were no consequences. U.S. Congressmen reacted angrily to Afridi’s imprisonment, voting to cut $33 million of U.S. assistance to Pakistan, one million for each year he’s serving in prison. The question of Afridi’s fate will likely have come up during ul-Islam’s visit to the U.S. There may be no movement soon, but if relations between Washington and Islamabad grow warmer, the ISI may eventually be persuaded to arrange for Afridi’s quiet release.

The harassment of U.S. officials hasn’t changed much, says a U.S. official. Vehicles are constantly stopped, security personnel searched with unusual rigor, and there is even pressure on the U.S. to abandon the construction of a new consulate in Peshawar. On other fronts, ul-Islam has maintained a low profile, a decision thought to be influenced by his predecessor’s controversial visibility. “Unlike General Pasha,” says a senior politician from Pakistan’s opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, “we don’t see the new head of the ISI interfering in politics — yet.”

During the new ISI chief’s visit, U.S. officials repeated their long-standing concerns about the Haqqani network, a potent jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda that is based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal territory along the Afghan border. From their sanctuary there, say U.S. officials, the group contentedly plots terrorist attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, before slipping back across the border. The ISI is widely suspected of offering the group support, with Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, even describing the Haqqanis as “a veritable arm of the ISI” in his valedictory testimony before Congress last year.

The Pakistanis deny backing the Haqqanis but concede links with them and their reluctance to confront them. They plaintively cite a lack of resources and insist their priority is targeting militants mounting attacks inside Pakistan, but tellingly add that the Haqqanis will be crucial to any future Afghan settlement that Pakistan hopes to be a part of. But a series of unremitting, violent attacks in and around Kabul, authored by the Haqqanis, has intensified the pressure on the Pakistanis.

Last October, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, discussed the possibility of “limiting the space” given to the Haqqanis in North Waziristan with Clinton during her visit to Islamabad. The Pakistani army said it had certain contingency plans in place for limited, surgical operations to reclaim territory in some of North Waziristan’s main towns. These plans were shelved soon after, with the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. Now, as pressure builds again, with enduring attacks and Congressmen calling for the Haqqani network to be designated as a foreign terrorist organization, the plans will have to be revisited. The new U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Richard Olson, told U.S. lawmakers during his confirmation hearings last month that he will be committed to taking on the Haqqanis.

Without a Pakistani military operation against the Haqqanis, the CIA has focused on drone strikes against them and other militants in the region. The strikes, U.S. officials insist, are effective. Some Pakistani military officials also have conceded improved accuracy. But there are limits to what can be achieved by a drone-only strategy, and there are political costs. Drone strikes have not only become hugely unpopular in Pakistan, where the parliament has united in denouncing them, but also across the world. A Pew Research Center survey published in June found that majorities in countries as diverse as France, Germany, the Czech Republic, China, Japan, Brazil and Turkey opposed the widespread use of drone strikes.

An acknowledgment of the accumulating political costs may temper the frequency with which the CIA uses drone strikes. General David Petraeus, the new CIA director, is said to appreciate that the program is unsustainable. Previous CIA director Panetta was seen as being indulgent of “the CT guys and their shiny toys,” says the official. Drone strikes increased to a pace of one every four days at their height.

But there are certain points at which they are seen as a necessity — and they will continue to be used despite ul-Islam’s insistence last month in Washington that they stop. Just days after Clinton’s apology and the reopening of the NATO supply lines, a drone strike in North Waziristan reportedly killed 20 suspected militants. The actual figure, the U.S. official says, was lower. But it was a truck packed with explosives heading across the border. “It was a clear shot,” the official says. “We had to take it.” And that is one of the many differences in opinion that both sides will somehow have to learn to live with.

Omar Waraich.The CIA and ISI: Are Pakistan and the U.S.’s Spy Agencies Starting to Get Along?, Time, Aug. 7, 2012

What is In-Q-Tel? Technology Branch of CIA

Throughout its lifetime, the CIA has operated at the cutting edge of science and technology. From the U-2 spy plane to the CORONA satellite, CIA’s “wizards of Langley” earned a reputation for bold innovation and risk taking, working in advance of the private sector and other branches of government. Much of CIA’s technology success was a result of identifying gaps and opportunities.  By the late 1990s, the pace of commercial innovation had overtaken the ability of government agencies to develop and incorporate new technologies. Private industry represented technical insights and innovation far too important to ignore. Driven by private sector R&D investment, these commercial technologies addressed many of the same information technology, biotechnology, communications, and energy challenges that faced the Intelligence Community.

In 1998, CIA identified technology as a top strategic priority, and set out a radical plan to create a new venture that would help increase the CIA’s access to private sector innovation. In-Q-Tel was chartered in February 1999 by a group of private citizens at the request of the Director of Central Intelligence and with the support of the U.S. Congress. IQT was tasked with building a bridge between the Agency and a new set of technology innovators.

From the website IQT (2012)

Kamikaze Drones: Shortening the Kill Chain

The 2-foot-long Switchblade drone [unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)] is so named because its wings fold into the fuselage for transport and spring out after launch. It is designed to fit into a soldier’s rucksack and is fired from a mortar-like tube. Once airborne, it begins sending back live video and GPS coordinates to a hand-held control set clutched by the soldier who launched it.  When soldiers identify and lock on a target, they send a command for the drone to nose-dive into it and detonate on impact. Because of the way it operates, the Switchblade has been dubbed the “kamikaze drone.”

The Obama administration, notably the CIA, has long been lambasted by critics for its use of combat drones and carelessly killing civilians in targeted strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia. In 2010, a United Nations official said the CIA in Pakistan had made the United States “the most prolific user of targeted killings” in the world.

The Switchblade drone appears to be an improvement as an alternative to traditional drone strikes, in terms of minimizing civilian harm, but it also raises new concerns, said Naureen Shah, associate director of the Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project at Columbia Law School.  She pointed out that when a drone strike is being considered there are teams of lawyers, analysts and military personnel looking at the data to determine whether lethal force is necessary. But the Switchblade could shorten that “kill chain.”  “It delegates full responsibility to a lower-level soldier on the ground,” she said. “That delegation is worrisome. It’s a situation that could end up in more mistakes being made.”  Arms-control advocates also have concerns. As these small robotic weapons proliferate, they worry about what could happen if the drones end up in the hands of terrorists or other hostile forces.

The Switchblade “is symptomatic of a larger problem that U.S. military and aerospace companies are generating, which is producing various more exotic designs,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Assn. “This technology is not always going to be in the sole possession of the U.S. and its allies. We need to think about the rules of the road for when and how these should be used so we can mitigate against unintended consequences.”

The Switchblade is assembled in Simi Valley by AeroVironment Inc., the Pentagon’s top supplier of small drones, which include the Raven, Wasp and Puma. More than 50 Switchblades will be sent to the war zone in Afghanistan this summer under a $10.1-million contract, which also includes the cost of repairs, spare parts, training and other expenses. Officials would not provide details about where the weapons would be used, how many were ordered and precisely when they would be deployed.  AeroVironment, based in Monrovia, developed the weapon on its own, thinking the military could use a lethal drone that could be made cheaply and deployed quickly by soldiers in the field, said company spokesman Steven Gitlin.

“It’s not inexpensive to task an Apache helicopter or F-16 fighter jet from a base to take out an [improvised explosive device] team when you consider fuel, people, logistics support, etc.,” he said.

About a dozen Switchblades were tested last year by special operations units in Afghanistan, according to Army officials, who said the drone proved effective.  The Army is considering buying $100 million worth of the drones in a few years under a program called the Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System, Nichols said. The Air Force and the Marine Corps have also expressed interest in the technology.

AeroVironment is not the only company pursuing small, lethal drones. Textron Defense Systems is also working on a small kamikaze-style drone. Named the BattleHawk Squad-Level Loitering Munition, the drone is being tested at an Army facility in New Mexico.

Excerpts, W.J. Hennigan, Pentagon to soon deploy pint-sized but lethal Switchblade drones, LA Times, June 11, 2012

International Law-Making by Tacit Consent: Drone Killings

When Thomas de Maizière, the German defense minister, told a gathering of army reservists last month that he considered the U.S. strategy of using drones for targeted killings a “strategic mistake,” his remarks received almost no coverage.  Only the online news edition of the German public television broadcaster ARD carried the story.  According to their reporter, Mr. de Maizière said he thought it was unwise to have U.S. commanders direct such attacks from their base in the United States.  Repeated requests to the reservists’ association for a full transcript of the speech went unanswered. Nor did the Defense Ministry publish the remarks.  Mr. de Maizière is not the only politician in Europe to feel uneasy with the United States’ frequent use of unmanned drones to target what it says are terrorism suspects in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. But many are reluctant to speak out about their doubts.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel; the E.U. foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton; and the new French president, François Hollande, are among the many officials unwilling to publicly criticize the practice of remote control, targeted killings….Even when several German nationals — accused of being militants who had undergone training in terrorist camps in Pakistan — were killed in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan in 2010, the German government played down the incident.  In an official reply to queries by opposition parties in the German Parliament, the government said on nearly every count that either it had no reliable information or that the information it did have was confidential.

In contrast, the Obama administration has had to start explaining the issue of drone attacks as human rights organizations, security experts and the military have begun asking the White House to justify their legality. John O. Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism chief, gave a major speech on the issue in April. He said that the targeted attacks did not breach international law because the United States has been acting in self-defense since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.  Mr. Brennan added that the White House was doing everything possible to balance security and transparency.

Legal experts say, however, that most of the targeted killings are carried out by the C.I.A. The agency is not subject to the same transparency or accountability as the military would be.  “The laws of war do not prohibit intelligence agencies from taking part in combat operations,” said James Ross, legal adviser to Human Rights Watch. “But states are obligated to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and actually provide redress for victims of unlawful attacks, and that is difficult in the case of intelligence agencies.”

Apart from the legal issues, the Obama administration has also been accused of leaking details from secret drone attacks to reap political mileage during the presidential election campaign.  Republicans sharply criticized the White House’s announcement last week that Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, had been killed during a drone attack in Pakistan.

Analysts suggest that European governments prefer to turn a blind eye to the drone attacks because they see the Islamist militants targeted by the United States as a danger to Europe, too. Having this threat eliminated outweighs what qualms they may have about the method employed.  “E.U. countries have their own interests in tacitly condoning these tactics,” said Nathalie Van Raemdonck, a guest researcher at the Istituto Affari Internazionali, an independent research center in Rome. “Since they are not involved in any such operations, they cannot be accused of playing any role in targeted killings. The Europeans are content with letting the U.S. do their dirty work.”

European governments, however, are not united on this issue. Britain has armed drones in Afghanistan, and other European countries also employ them for surveillance purposes so the issue of targeted killings does not directly concern them. Government officials point to this to explain their silence.  Analysts say this approach is short-sighted. The United States intends to arm Italian surveillance drones in Afghanistan beginning next year. France has plans for military drones for reconnaissance and attack missions. NATO is trying to get member states to finance surveillance drones that eventually may also be armed.  Even more importantly, China, Russia and other non-Western countries are also working on developing armed drones.  This could lead to a free-for-all situation unless standards for the use of these weapons are agreed upon, legal experts say. It is time, said Mr. Bütikofer, the European Parliament lawmaker, for Europe to break its silence.

Excerpts, JUDY DEMPSEY, Europe Stays Quiet Despite Unease About Drones, NY Times,June 11, 2012

SOCOM: United States Special Operations Command

Admiral McRaven’s [head of the SOCOM] broad goal is to obtain new authority from the Defense Department to move his elite forces faster and outside normal Pentagon deployment channels. That would give him more autonomy to position his personnel and their fighting equipment where intelligence and world events indicate they are most needed. It would also allow the Special Operations forces to expand their presence in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

At a time of declining Pentagon budgets and a waning public appetite for large wars of occupation, the Obama administration hopes to rely more on foreign troops and security forces to tackle extremist threats abroad. These new realities have led to a larger debate within the military about its future priorities, and not all senior officers welcome Admiral McRaven’s ambitious proposals, suspecting a power grab that might weaken the authority of regional commanders.  “I was trying to figure out how to stand in front of this juggernaut that is the Special Operations Command, particularly in today’s world,” Adm. Timothy J. Keating, a former head of the military’s Northern and Pacific commands, said at a Special Operations conference in April in Washington. “I don’t fundamentally understand what needs fixing.”

While it is not unusual for branches of the armed services or combatant commands to lobby Congress for troop benefits or weaponry, like new fighter jets or artillery systems, the Special Operations Command’s hurried pitch because of the pending legislation did not go down well.  In its request in April 2012, the command sought a new $25 million fund to buy uniforms, build barracks and ferry foreign troops rather than using existing Pentagon and State Department aid programs that could have added months to the process. That required changes in the law, so the command asked to tuck them into a Pentagon budget bill the House was poised to pass.

In a three-page, confidential draft legislative proposal, the command argued that by coupling the proposed changes with its existing special fast-track acquisition authorities, it could provide “a fast turnaround resource for dealing with breaking issues.” Special Operations officers would work closely with American ambassadors in each country and the State Department to support foreign policy goals.  The legislative draft filled in some details of a plan sketched out for Congress on March 27 by the Pentagon’s top civilian Special Operations policy official, Michael A. Sheehan. Citing Africa as a prime example, Mr. Sheehan, a West Point graduate who is assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations and low-intensity conflict, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “We will need different authorities, we will need different types of programs in order for us to engage with the range of countries, from Libya down through Mali, which is obviously in the middle of chaos right now, to Mauritania, all the way — and, quite frankly, all the way over to Nigeria.”

But lawmakers and State Department officials were puzzled. Only last year, Mr. Gates and Mrs. Clinton, backed by Congress, agreed to pool resources from their two departments in a new fund to respond more quickly to counter emerging threats from Al Qaeda and other militants in places like Yemen and the Horn of Africa.  The program, the Global Security Contingency Fund (pdf), is small as government programs go — $250 million a year, mostly from the Pentagon — but it is meant to address many of the needs the command’s proposal outlined.

A report accompanying the military budget bill that the House approved last month summed up the objections of not only lawmakers in the House and Senate, but also high-ranking administration officials who met on May 7 at the White House to work out the dispute. “The committee is concerned that the proliferation of similar, overlapping and/or competing building partner capacity authorities creates unnecessary confusion and friction,” the House report said.

Excerpt, ERIC SCHMITT, Elite Military Forces Are Denied in Bid for Expansion, New York Times, June 4, 2012

The Kill List and Body Count: Drones

Just days after taking office, the president [Obamaa] got word that the first strike under his administration had killed a number of innocent Pakistanis. “The president was very sharp on the thing, and said, ‘I want to know how this happened,’ “ a top White House adviser recounted.  In response to his concern, the C.I.A. downsized its munitions for more pinpoint strikes. In addition, the president tightened standards, aides say: If the agency did not have a “near certainty” that a strike would result in zero civilian deaths, Mr. Obama wanted to decide personally whether to go ahead.

The president’s directive reinforced the need for caution, counterterrorism officials said, but did not significantly change the program. In part, that is because “the protection of innocent life was always a critical consideration,” said Michael V. Hayden, the last C.I.A. director under President George W. Bush.  It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.  Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.  “It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

Excerpt, JO BECKER and SCOTT SHANE, Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will, NY Times, May 29, 2012