The CIA, Lies And Intelligence – OpEd


After a recent speech, John Brennan, a longtime former CIA officer and currently President Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor, took a question from John Hopkins professor of strategic studies, Elliot Cohen, on the US policy of so-called targeted killing. Brennan responded by highlighting the “surgical” precision that Obama has insisted upon when the US chooses its targets.

If there are terrorists who are in an area where there are women and children or others, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger. In fact I can say that the types of operations that the US has been involved in — in the counter-terrorism realm — that nearly for the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision, of the capabilities that we have been able to develop.

Brennan might have been repeating what he had been told by the CIA and their reports may have stated that in each drone attack over the said period no civilians were knowingly killed. But ignorance is no defense.

Indeed, the CIA’s lack of interest in the truth is evident in the fact that they have been eager to refute the findings on the latest research on civilian casualties from drone attacks on the tribal areas of Pakistan before such findings had even been published.

  • One in seven of all US strikes appear to have resulted in child fatalities.
  • Between 2,292 and 2,863 people have died in the attacks.
  • Since Obama took office, those attacks have occurred on average once every four days.
  • Among those killed only 126 militants have been named.
  • Credible news reports indicate that between 385-775 civilians have been killed, including 164 children.

The New York Times reports:

On May 6, a Central Intelligence Agency drone fired a volley of missiles at a pickup truck carrying nine militants and bomb materials through a desolate stretch of Pakistan near the Afghan border. It killed all the militants — a clean strike with no civilian casualties, extending what is now a yearlong perfect record of avoiding collateral deaths.

Or so goes the United States government’s version of the attack, from an American official briefed on the classified C.I.A. program. Here is another version, from a new report compiled by British and Pakistani journalists: The missiles hit a religious school, an adjoining restaurant and a house, killing 18 people — 12 militants, but also 6 civilians, known locally as Samad, Jamshed, Daraz, Iqbal, Noor Nawaz and Yousaf.

The report, “Drone War Exposed – the complete picture of CIA strikes in Pakistan,” comes from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

CIA drone strikes have led to far more deaths in Pakistan than previously understood, according to extensive new research published by the Bureau. More than 160 children are among at least 2,292 people reported killed in US attacks since 2004. There are credible reports of at least 385 civilians among the dead.

In a surprise move, a counter-terrorism official has also released US government estimates of the numbers killed. These state that an estimated 2,050 people have been killed in drone strikes – of whom all but an estimated 50 are combatants.

The Bureau’s fundamental reassessment of the covert US campaign involved a complete re-examination of all that is known about each US drone strike.

The study is based on close analysis of credible materials: some 2,000 media reports; witness testimonies; field reports of NGOs and lawyers; secret US government cables; leaked intelligence documents, and relevant accounts by journalists, politicians and former intelligence officers.

The Bureau’s findings are published in a 22,000-word database which covers each individual strike in Pakistan in detail. A powerful search engine, an extensive timeline and searchable maps accompany the data.

The result is the clearest public understanding so far of the CIA’s covert drone war against the militants. Yet US intelligence officials are understood to be briefing against the Bureau’s work, claiming ‘significant problems with its numbers and methodologies.’

Iain Overton, the Bureau’s editor said: ‘It comes as no surprise that the US intelligence services would attack our findings in this way. But to claim our methodology is problematic before we had even published reveals how they really operate. A revelation that is reinforced by the fact that they cannot bring themselves to refer to non-combatants as what they really are: civilians and, all too often, children’.

The Bureau’s data reveals many more CIA attacks on alleged militant targets than previously reported. At least 291 US drone strikes are now known to have taken place since 2004.

The intended targets – militants in the tribal areas – appear to make up the majority of those killed. There are 126 named militants among the dead since 2004, though hundreds are unknown, low-ranking fighters. But as many as 168 children have also been reported killed among at least 385 civilians.

More than 1,100 people are also revealed to have been injured in the US drone attacks – the first time this number has been collated.

In the wake of the Bureau’s findings Amnesty International has called for more CIA transparency.

But transparency is not what intelligence agencies trade in — “transparency” is for them nothing more than another name for public relations.

Paul Woodward - War in Context

Paul Woodward describes himself by nature if not profession, as a bricoleur. A dictionary of obscure words defines a bricoleur as “someone who continually invents his own strategies for comprehending reality.” Woodward has at various times been an editor, designer, software knowledge architect, and Buddhist monk, while living in England, France, India, and for the last twenty years the United States. He currently lives frugally in the Southern Appalachians with his wife, Monica, two cats and a dog Woodward maintains the popular website/blog, War in Context (, which "from its inception, has been an effort to apply critical intelligence in an arena where political judgment has repeatedly been twisted by blind emotions. It presupposes that a world out of balance will inevitably be a world in conflict."

2 thoughts on “The CIA, Lies And Intelligence – OpEd

  • August 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    And of course you find nothing wrong with the Taliban or Al Qaeda or Pakistani suicide bombers killing signifcantly larger number of innocent civilians mainly Muslims. More civilians, women, and children have been killed by terrorists than any drone or targeted killing. In fact, more Muslims have been killed by other Muslims than by the US government.

    I eagerly await another biased lopsided article condemning that loss of life from you. However I won’t hold my breath while waiting.

  • August 15, 2011 at 4:49 am

    I don’t get it, without trials, how do we know that any of the dead were actually guilty of crimes. Isn’t this a war crime?


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