A new leak of classified documents described by some as a “Second Snowden” is lifting the lid on the American military’s controversial drone assassination program. The use of armed unmanned drones to kill foreign targets (and in some cases American citizens) began under the Bush Administration and was greatly accelerated by the Obama White House.
The documents, which were published by the Intercept, supposedly come from a single anonymous government whistle-blower referred to as “The Source” who felt the public had a right to know about how these life-and-death decisions are being made.
“This outrageous explosion of watchlisting — of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the source said. "We’re allowing this to happen. And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it.”
According to the Intercept:
U.S. intelligence personnel collect information on potential targets, as The Intercept has previously reported, drawn from government watchlists and the work of intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies. At the time of the study, when someone was destined for the kill list, intelligence analysts created a portrait of a suspect and the threat that person posed, pulling it together “in a condensed format known as a ‘baseball card.’” That information was then bundled with operational information and packaged in a “target information folder” to be “staffed up to higher echelons” for action. On average, it took 58 days for the president to sign off on a target, one slide indicates. At that point, U.S. forces had 60 days to carry out the strike. The documents include two case studies that are partially based on information detailed on baseball cards.
Perhaps more interesting than the actual process of selecting drone targets is the fact that the documents are very forthcoming about the program’s limitations. Specifically, using drones to kill terror suspects ends up eliminating valuable intelligence information that may have been gleaned from interrogation had the suspects been captured. The documents also acknowledge that an over-reliance on electronic intelligence often leads to the wrong people being targeted.
“It’s stunning the number of instances when selectors are misattributed to certain people,” the source said. “And it isn’t until several months or years later that you all of a sudden realize that the entire time you thought you were going after this really hot target, you wind up realizing it was his mother’s phone the whole time.”
Perhaps most damaging to the Obama Administration is the revelation that when unknown individuals are killed in a drone attack, they are automatically labeled as an “enemy killed in action” (EKIA) to avoid public scrutiny. That designation will only be changed if it can be proved that the unknown victim was a civilian. This is all the more alarming considering during a five-month period in 2013, nearly 90 percent of individuals killed in airstrikes in northeastern Afghanistan were not intentionally targeted.
“Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association,” the source said. “[When] a drone strike kills more than one person, there is no guarantee that those persons deserved their fate. … So it’s a phenomenal gamble.”
Click here for the Intercept’s drone package in its entirety.