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History > 2013 > USA > C.I.A. (I)



Yemen Death

Test Claims of New Drone Policy


December 20, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In some respects, the drone strike in Yemen last week resembled so many others from recent years: A hail of missiles slammed into a convoy of trucks on a remote desert road, killing at least 12 people.

But this time the trucks were part of a wedding procession, making the customary journey from the groom’s house to the house of the bride.

The Dec. 12 strike by the Pentagon, launched from an American base in Djibouti, killed at least a half-dozen innocent people, according to a number of tribal leaders and witnesses, and provoked a storm of outrage in the country. It also illuminated the reality behind the talk surrounding the Obama administration’s new drone policy, which was announced with fanfare seven months ago.

Although American officials say they are being more careful before launching drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere — and more transparent about the clandestine wars that President Obama has embraced — the strike last week offers a window on the intelligence breakdowns and continuing liability of a targeted killing program that remains almost entirely secret.

Both the Pentagon and the C.I.A. continue to wage parallel drone wars in Yemen, but neither is discussed publicly. A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment about the Dec. 12 strike, referring a reporter to a vague news release issued last week by the government of Yemen, written in Arabic.

It remains unclear whom the Americans were trying to kill in the strike, which was carried out in a desolate area southeast of Yemen’s capital, Sana. Witnesses to the strike’s aftermath said that one white pickup truck was destroyed and that two or three other vehicles were seriously damaged. The Associated Press reported Friday that the target of the strike was Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, a militant who is accused of planning a terrorist plot in August that led to the closing of more than a dozen United States Embassies. American officials declined to comment about that report.

At first, the Yemeni government, a close partner with the Obama administration on counterterrorism matters, said that all the dead were militants. But Yemeni officials conceded soon afterward that some civilians had been killed, and they gave 101 Kalashnikov rifles and about 24 million Yemeni riyals (about $110,000) to relatives of the victims as part of a traditional compensation process, a local tribal leader said.

Yemeni government officials and several local tribal leaders said that the dead included several militants with ties to Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, but no one has been able to identify them. Some witnesses who have interviewed victims’ families say they believe no militants were killed at all.

The murky details surrounding the strike raise questions about how rigorously American officials are applying the standards for lethal strikes that Mr. Obama laid out in a speech on May 23 at the National Defense University — and whether such standards are even possible in such a remote and opaque environment.

In the speech, the president said that targeted killing operations were carried out only against militants who posed a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people.” Over the past week, no government official has made a case in public that the people targeted in the strike posed a threat to Americans.

Moreover, the president said in May, no strike can be authorized without “near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured” — a bar he described as “the highest standard we can set.”

At the time, administration officials said that authority over the bulk of drone strikes would gradually shift to the Pentagon from the C.I.A., a move officials said was intended partly to lift the shroud of secrecy from the targeted killing program.

But nearly seven months later, the C.I.A. still carries out a majority of drone strikes in Yemen, with the remote-controlled aircraft taking off from a base in the southern desert of Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon strikes, usually launched from the Djibouti base, are cloaked in as much secrecy as those carried out by the C.I.A.

“The contradictory reports about what happened on Dec. 12 underscore the critical need for more transparency from the Obama administration and Yemeni authorities about these strikes,” said Letta Tayler of Human Rights Watch, who has done extensive research in Yemen about the drone strikes.

The very fact that the drone strike last week targeted an 11-vehicle convoy — a much larger group than Al Qaeda would typically use — suggests that the new American guidelines to rule out civilian casualties may not have been followed in this case.

And the confusion over the victims’ identities raises questions about how the United States government gathers intelligence in such a contested region and with partners whose interests may differ sharply from those of the Obama administration.

The area where the strike occurred, in the central province of Bayda, is almost completely beyond the control of the Yemeni government, and is populated by tribes whose recurring feuds can easily become tied up in the agendas of outsiders.

Over the past two years, the Saudi government — which for decades has used cash to maintain a network of influence in Yemen — has increased its payments to tribal figures in Bayda to recruit informers and deter militants, according to several tribal leaders in the area. This shadowy system appears to contribute to the secretive process of information-gathering that determines targets for drone strikes, a process in which Saudi and Yemeni officials cooperate with Americans.

But Saudi and American interests diverge in important ways in Yemen. Many of the militants there who fight in Al Qaeda’s name are expatriate Saudis whose sole goal is to bring down the Saudi government.

Because of the program’s secrecy, it is impossible to know whether the American dependence on Saudi and Yemeni intelligence results in the killing of militants who pose a danger only to Arab countries.

Some Yemeni officials have also hinted that the timing and target of the drone strike last week may have been influenced by a devastating attack two weeks ago on the Yemeni Defense Ministry in which 52 people were killed, including women, children and doctors at the ministry’s hospital.

That attack ignited a desire for revenge in Yemen’s security establishment and also damaged Al Qaeda’s reputation in Yemen, leaving the group hungry for opportunities to change the subject. Both parties, in other words, may have had reasons to manipulate the facts, both before and after the drone strike.

American officials will not say what they knew about the targets of the strike last week. But in the past, American officials have sometimes appeared to be misinformed about the accidental deaths of Yemeni civilians in drone strikes.

In one example from Aug. 1, a drone strike killed a 28-year-old man who happened to hitch a ride with three men suspected to have been Qaeda members. According to a number of witnesses, relatives and local police officials, the man, Saleh Yaslim Saeed bin Ishaq, was waiting by a gas station late at night when the three men stopped in a Land Cruiser and agreed to give him a ride.

Mr. Ishaq’s ID card and belongings were found in the burned wreckage of the vehicle, and the local police — who confirmed that the other three dead men were wanted militants — said he appeared to have been an innocent person whose presence in the car was accidental.

When contacted about the strike, American officials said they were aware only of the three militants killed. Yet the details of Mr. Ishaq’s death, and an image of his ID card, were published at the time in newspapers and on websites in Yemen.


Shuaib al-Mosawa contributed reporting from Sana, Yemen.

    Yemen Deaths Test Claims of New Drone Policy, NYT, 20.12.2013,






Senate Asks C.I.A.

to Share Its Report on Interrogations


December 17, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the C.I.A. for an internal study done by the agency that lawmakers believe is broadly critical of the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program but was withheld from congressional oversight committees.

The committee’s request comes in the midst of a yearlong battle with the C.I.A. over the release of the panel’s own exhaustive report about the program, one of the most controversial policies of the post-Sept. 11 era.

The Senate report, totaling more than 6,000 pages, was completed last December but has yet to be declassified. According to people who have read the study, it is unsparing in its criticism of the now-defunct interrogation program and presents a chronicle of C.I.A. officials’ repeatedly misleading the White House, Congress and the public about the value of brutal methods that, in the end, produced little valuable intelligence.

Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, disclosed the existence of the internal C.I.A. report during an Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday. He said he believed it was begun several years ago and “is consistent with the Intelligence’s Committee’s report” although it “conflicts with the official C.I.A. response to the committee’s report.”

“If this is true,” Mr. Udall said during a hearing on the nomination of Caroline D. Krass to be the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, “this raises fundamental questions about why a review the C.I.A. conducted internally years ago — and never provided to the committee — is so different from the C.I.A.’s formal response to the committee study.”

The agency responded to the committee report with a vigorous 122-page rebuttal that challenged both the Senate report’s specific facts and its overarching conclusions. John O. Brennan, one of Mr. Obama’s closest advisers before taking over the C.I.A. this year — and who denounced the interrogation program during his confirmation hearing — delivered the agency’s response to the Intelligence Committee himself.

It is unclear what the agency specifically concluded in its internal review.

Mr. Udall, whose public criticisms of the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone data has raised his profile in Congress and won him praise from privacy advocates, said he would not support Ms. Krass’s nomination until the C.I.A. provided more information to the committee about the interrogation program.

Ms. Krass did not respond directly to Mr. Udall’s statements about the internal C.I.A. review. Dean Boyd, an agency spokesman, said the agency was “aware of the committee’s request and will respond appropriately.”

Mr. Boyd said that the C.I.A. agreed with a number of the conclusions of the voluminous Senate investigative report, but found “significant errors in the study.”

“C.I.A. and committee staff have had extensive dialogue on this issue, and the agency is prepared to work with the committee to determine the best way forward on potential declassification,” he said.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is the Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman, said recently that her committee would soon vote to adopt the report’s executive summary and conclusion, which would then be subject to a formal declassification process before it was publicly released.

Republican members of the committee, angry about what they see as a biased and shoddy investigation by their Democratic colleagues, are planning to make public a rebuttal of their own.

The Senate report, which took years to complete and cost more than $40 million to produce, began as an attempt to document what was perhaps the most divisive of the Bush administration’s responses to the Sept. 11 attacks. But it has since become enmeshed in the complex politics of the Obama administration.

President Obama ended the detention program as one of his first acts in the Oval Office, and has repeatedly denounced the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods under the program. During a speech in May, he said that the United States had “compromised our basic values by using torture to interrogate our enemies, and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.”

And yet Mr. Obama has repeatedly resisted demands by human rights groups to seek prosecutions for the lawyers who approved the interrogation methods or the people who carried them out, and the White House has been mostly silent during the debate over the past year about declassifying the Senate report.

For all his criticisms of the counterterrorism excesses during the Bush administration, Mr. Obama has put the C.I.A. at the center of his strategy to kill militant suspects in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

Human rights groups have tried to pressure the White House to intervene to get the Senate report declassified.

“Whether it’s stalling or concealing, the C.I.A. is trying to avoid reckoning with its past abuse,” said Naureen Shah of Amnesty International USA. “And that’s what makes declassifying the Senate’s report so crucial right now.”

Ms. Krass is a career government lawyer who works at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the arm of the department that advises the White House on the legality of domestic and foreign policies.

The office was particularly controversial during the Bush administration, when lawyers there wrote lengthy memos approving C.I.A. interrogation methods like waterboarding and sleep deprivation, as well as signing off on the expansion of surveillance by the National Security Agency.

Under Mr. Obama, the office has approved other controversial practices, including the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric living in Yemen who was an American. Mr. Awlaki was killed in September 2011 by a C.I.A. drone strike, launched from a secret base in Saudi Arabia.

Much of Tuesday’s hearing was consumed by a debate about whether the White House should be forced to share Justice Department legal memos.

Under polite but persistent questioning by members of both parties, Ms. Krass repeatedly said that while the two congressional intelligence committees need to “fully understand” the legal basis for C.I.A. activities, they were not entitled to see the Justice Department memos that provide the legal blueprint for secret programs.

The opinions “represent pre-decisional, confidential legal advice that has been provided,” she said, adding that the confidentiality of the legal advice was necessary to allow a “full and frank discussion amongst clients and policy makers and their lawyers within the executive branch.”

Senator Feinstein appeared unmoved. “Unless we know the administration’s basis for sanctioning a program, it is very hard to oversee it,” she said.

Still, it is expected that the committee will vote to approve Ms. Krass.

    Senate Asks C.I.A. to Share Its Report on Interrogations, NYT, 17.12.2013,






Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes

Cited in Report


October 22, 2013
The New York Times


LONDON — In the telling of some American officials, the C.I.A. drone campaign in Pakistan has been a triumph with few downsides: In more than 300 missile attacks there since 2008, dozens of Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and the pace of the strikes, which officials frequently describe as “surgical” and “contained,” has dropped sharply over the past year.

But viewed from Miram Shah, the frontier Pakistani town that has become a virtual test laboratory for drone warfare, the campaign has not been the antiseptic salve portrayed in Washington. In interviews over the past year, residents paint a portrait of extended terror and strain within a tribal society caught between vicious militants and the American drones hunting them.

“The drones are like the angels of death,” said Nazeer Gul, a shopkeeper in Miram Shah. “Only they know when and where they will strike.”

Their claims of distress are now being backed by a new Amnesty International investigation that found, among other points, that at least 19 civilians in the surrounding area of North Waziristan had been killed in just two of the drone attacks since January 2012 — a time when the Obama administration has held that strikes have been increasingly accurate and free of mistakes.

The study is to be officially released on Tuesday along with a separate Human Rights Watch report on American drone strikes in Yemen, as the issue is again surfacing on other fronts. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a vocal critic of the drone campaign, is to meet with President Obama in the White House. And on Friday, the drone debate is scheduled to spill onto the floor of the United Nations, whose officials have recently published reports that attacked America’s lack of transparency over drones.

But nowhere has the issue played out more directly than in Miram Shah, in northwestern Pakistan. It has become a fearful and paranoid town, dealt at least 13 drone strikes since 2008, with an additional 25 in adjoining districts — more than any other urban settlement in the world.

Even when the missiles do not strike, buzzing drones hover day and night, scanning the alleys and markets with roving high-resolution cameras.

That is because their potential quarry is everywhere in Miram Shah — Islamist fighters with long hair, basketball shoes and AK-47 rifles who roam the streets, fraternize in restaurants and, in some cases, even direct traffic in the central bazaar. The men come from an array of militant groups that take shelter in Waziristan and nearby, including Al Qaeda and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

The militants’ commanders, however, are more elusive. Some turn up at the town’s phone exchange, to place ransom calls to the families of kidnapping victims who have been snatched from across Pakistan. Others run Islamic-style courts, filling the place of the virtually invisible government system. Still others stay completely out of sight, knowing they are being sought by the C.I.A.

In theory, the Pakistani security forces should be in charge. A sprawling base, with a long airstrip that is home to a fleet of American-made Cobra helicopter gunships, dominates the northern part of the town. Military engineers have just completed a new road that leads to the Afghan border, 10 miles to the north.

But apart from sporadic exchanges of fire with the militants, the soldiers are largely confined to their base, leaving residents to fend for themselves.

Unusually for the overall American drone campaign, the strikes in the area mostly occur in densely populated neighborhoods. The drones have hit a bakery, a disused girls’ school and a money changers’ market, residents say. One strike occurred in Matches Colony, a neighborhood named after an abandoned match factory that is now frequented by Uzbek militants.

While the strike rate has dropped drastically in recent months, the constant presence of circling drones — and accompanying tension over when, or whom, they will strike — is a crushing psychological burden for many residents.

Sales of sleeping tablets, antidepressants and medicine to treat anxiety have soared, said Hajji Gulab Jan Dawar, a pharmacist in the town bazaar. Women were particularly troubled, he said, but men also experienced problems. “We sell them this,” he said, producing a packet of pills that purported to treat erectile dysfunction under the brand name Rocket.

Despite everything, a semblance of normal life continues in Miram Shah. On market day, farmers herding goats and carrying vegetables stream in from the surrounding countryside. The bustling bazaar has clothes and food and gun shops.

Communication, however, is difficult. The army disabled the cellphone networks, so residents scramble to higher ground to capture stray signals from Afghan networks. And Internet cafes were shut, on orders from the Taliban, after complaints that young men were watching pornography and racy movies.

That ban distressed families that use the Internet to communicate with relatives working in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and across the Persian Gulf states. Emigrant remittances are a cornerstone of the local economy.

On the edge of town, where buildings melt into low, tree-studded hills, young boys play soccer on the banks of the Tochi River. As in so many other countries, some youngsters wear the jersey of the English soccer club Manchester United.

But the veneer of normality is easily, and frequently, shattered. Every week the streets empty for a day as army supply trucks rumble through. The curfew is strictly enforced: several children and mentally ill residents who have strayed outside have been shot dead, several residents said.

In the aftermath of drone strikes, things get worse. Many civilians hide at home, fearing masked vigilantes with the Ittehad-e-Mujahedeen Khorasan, a militant enforcement unit that hunts for American spies. The unit casts a wide net, and the suspects it hauls in are usually tortured and summarily executed.

Journalists face particular risks. In February, gunmen killed Malik Mumtaz Khan, the president of the local press club. Some blame Pakistani spies, while others say the Taliban are responsible.

Meanwhile state services have virtually collapsed. At the local hospital, corrupt officials are reselling supplies of medicine and fuel in the town market, doctors said. At the government high school, pupils are paying bribes to cheat in public exams — and threatening teachers with Taliban reprisals if they resist, one teacher said.

The collapse has created business opportunities for Taliban spouses: one commander’s wife is a gynecologist, while an Uzbek woman works as a homeopath, the pharmacist said.

For some residents, the only option is to leave. Hajji, a 50-year-old businessman, moved his family to the port city of Karachi in 2011. His family was scared by militant pamphlets that threatened to execute American spies, he said, and the militants prevented his children from obtaining polio vaccinations.

“They think vaccinators are spies who are looking for militant hide-outs,” he said during an interview in Karachi, agreeing to be identified only by part of his name.

For a number of outraged Pakistani officials, the drone debate has centered on claims of civilian casualties, despite American assurances that they have been few. In defending the drone strikes, which have sharply decreased this year, American officials note that the operations have killed many dangerous militants. One major militant killed this year was the Pakistani Taliban deputy, Wali ur-Rehman. He was killed at Chashma village, just outside Miram Shah, in May.

Still, in a speech announcing changes to the drone program in May, Mr. Obama admitted that mistakes had been made. Civilian deaths from drone strikes will haunt him, and others in the American chain of command, for “as long as we live,” he said.

He added, “There must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.”

But the new Amnesty International report, which examines the 45 known strikes in North Waziristan between January 2012 and August 2013, asserts that in several cases drones killed civilians indiscriminately.

Last October, it says, American missiles killed a 68-year-old woman named Mamana Bibi as she picked vegetables in a field close to her grandchildren. In July 2012, 18 laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed near the Afghan border.

Ms. Bibi’s son, Rafiq ur-Rehman, and two of her injured grandchildren are due to travel to the United States next week to speak about their experiences.

“The killing of Mamana Bibi appears to be a clear case of extrajudicial execution,” said Mustafa Qadri, the report’s author, in an interview. “It is extremely difficult to see how she could have been mistaken for a militant, let alone an imminent threat to the U.S.”


Declan Walsh reported from London,

and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Miram Shah, Pakistan.

Zia ur-Rehman contributed reporting from Karachi, Pakistan.

        Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes Cited in Report, NYT, 22.10.2013,






New Head of C.I.A.’s Clandestine Service

Is Picked, as Acting Chief Is Passed Over


May 7, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — John O. Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has replaced the acting head of the agency’s clandestine service, a woman who was at the center of the agency’s detention and interrogation program and played a central role in the destruction of interrogation videotapes, American officials said on Tuesday.

In replacing her, Mr. Brennan could be signaling a shift in the agency’s focus away from over a decade of intense manhunts and paramilitary operations — and putting distance between his tenure and the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program.

Mr. Brennan’s choice to lead the National Clandestine Service is a career undercover officer in his late 50s who has served in Pakistan and other countries. The officer was chosen after Mr. Brennan considered a small number of candidates. One of them was the female officer who had been the acting leader; another was the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, who for years has managed the C.I.A.’s escalation of drone strikes in Pakistan and other countries.

The man he picked served as a Marine and started at the C.I.A. in its paramilitary branch, known as the special activities division. After several years he became what is known as a case officer, carrying out traditional espionage work in his overseas assignments.

A C.I.A. news release Tuesday said he officer would remain undercover in his new job, a rarity in that job, which involves running all C.I.A. espionage and covert action programs.

The move comes as the Obama administration is debating the future of the agency’s targeted killing operations, and as the White House is planning to shift aspects of the armed drone campaign to the Defense Department from the C.I.A.

But the C.I.A. is likely to retain at least part of the drone operations, and two American officials said one issue in the debate is whether the agency should be allowed to carry out so-called signature strikes: drone attacks based on patterns of activity, in which the C.I.A. does not know the identity of the targets.

Signature strikes are one of the most controversial elements of targeted killing operations begun during George W. Bush’s presidency and embraced and expanded by President Obama.

Responding to a query about why the new head of the National Clandestine Service is remaining undercover, Todd D. Ebitz, a spokesman for the agency, said that “senior C.I.A. officers can be kept undercover for several important reasons, including the protection of lives and operational methods.” Generally, the C.I.A. discloses an undercover officer’s identity after determining that revealing it will not jeopardize foreign agents he or she might have recruited overseas.

Despite his tour of duty as the top American spy in Islamabad, the officer is not closely tied to the more controversial aspects of the agency’s counterterrorism mission since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

One former C.I.A. officer who served with the new clandestine chief called him “a safe choice.”

He succeeds the female officer who rose to become acting head of the clandestine service this year after the retirement of her boss, presenting Mr. Brennan with a difficult decision during his first months as C.I.A. director.

Some senior lawmakers — including Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee — had expressed concern that the female officer had ascended to the top of the clandestine service despite her connection to the C.I.A. interrogation program.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ms. Feinstein said she was “supportive” of Mr. Brennan’s choice.

Mr. Brennan was a senior C.I.A. official in 2002 when the agency’s detention and interrogation program began. In his confirmation hearings in February, he said he had opposed the program, which used brutal interrogation techniques widely condemned as torture, although he said he had expressed his concerns only in private conversations with other agency officers.

The female officer had helped develop the C.I.A.’s detention program in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks and was briefly in charge of the agency’s secret prison in Thailand.

In late 2005, she played a role in a decision to destroy videotapes documenting the interrogation of the Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri at the Thailand facility. Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the head of the agency’s clandestine service, ordered the destruction.

The female officer was Mr. Rodriguez’s chief of staff at the time, and according to several former C.I.A. officials was a strong advocate for destroying the tapes, which were in a safe at the agency’s station in Bangkok.

The Justice Department investigated after the tapes’ destruction came to light in late 2007, but no C.I.A. officers were criminally charged. After her time as Mr. Rodriguez’s chief of staff, the officer was the C.I.A.’s station chief in London and New York before becoming acting head of the clandestine service.

    New Head of C.I.A.’s Clandestine Service Is Picked,
    as Acting Chief Is Passed Over, NYT, 7.5.2013,






With Bags of Cash,

C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan


April 28, 2013
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.

All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.

“We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”

The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.

Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan.

“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”

The United States was not alone in delivering cash to the president. Mr. Karzai acknowledged a few years ago that Iran regularly gave bags of cash to one of his top aides.

At the time, in 2010, American officials jumped on the payments as evidence of an aggressive Iranian campaign to buy influence and poison Afghanistan’s relations with the United States. What they did not say was that the C.I.A. was also plying the presidential palace with cash — and unlike the Iranians, it still is.

American and Afghan officials familiar with the payments said the agency’s main goal in providing the cash has been to maintain access to Mr. Karzai and his inner circle and to guarantee the agency’s influence at the presidential palace, which wields tremendous power in Afghanistan’s highly centralized government. The officials spoke about the money only on the condition of anonymity.

It is not clear that the United States is getting what it pays for. Mr. Karzai’s willingness to defy the United States — and the Iranians, for that matter — on an array of issues seems to have only grown as the cash has piled up. Instead of securing his good graces, the payments may well illustrate the opposite: Mr. Karzai is seemingly unable to be bought.

Over Iran’s objections, he signed a strategic partnership deal with the United States last year, directly leading the Iranians to halt their payments, two senior Afghan officials said. Now, Mr. Karzai is seeking control over the Afghan militias raised by the C.I.A. to target operatives of Al Qaeda and insurgent commanders, potentially upending a critical part of the Obama administration’s plans for fighting militants as conventional military forces pull back this year.

But the C.I.A. has continued to pay, believing it needs Mr. Karzai’s ear to run its clandestine war against Al Qaeda and its allies, according to American and Afghan officials.

Like the Iranian cash, much of the C.I.A.’s money goes to paying off warlords and politicians, many of whom have ties to the drug trade and, in some cases, the Taliban. The result, American and Afghan officials said, is that the agency has greased the wheels of the same patronage networks that American diplomats and law enforcement agents have struggled unsuccessfully to dismantle, leaving the government in the grips of what are basically organized crime syndicates.

The cash does not appear to be subject to the oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid to the country or even the C.I.A.’s formal assistance programs, like financing Afghan intelligence agencies. And while there is no evidence that Mr. Karzai has personally taken any of the money — Afghan officials say the cash is handled by his National Security Council — the payments do in some cases work directly at odds with the aims of other parts of the American government in Afghanistan, even if they do not appear to violate American law.

Handing out cash has been standard procedure for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan since the start of the war. During the 2001 invasion, agency cash bought the services of numerous warlords, including Muhammad Qasim Fahim, the current first vice president.

“We paid them to overthrow the Taliban,” the American official said.

The C.I.A. then kept paying the Afghans to keep fighting. For instance, Mr. Karzai’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was paid by the C.I.A. to run the Kandahar Strike Force, a militia used by the agency to combat militants, until his assassination in 2011.

A number of senior officials on the Afghan National Security Council are also individually on the agency’s payroll, Afghan officials said.

While intelligence agencies often pay foreign officials to provide information, dropping off bags of cash at a foreign leader’s office to curry favor is a more unusual arrangement.

Afghan officials said the practice grew out of the unique circumstances in Afghanistan, where the United States built the government that Mr. Karzai runs. To accomplish that task, it had to bring to heel many of the warlords the C.I.A. had paid during and after the 2001 invasion.

By late 2002, Mr. Karzai and his aides were pressing for the payments to be routed through the president’s office, allowing him to buy the warlords’ loyalty, a former adviser to Mr. Karzai said.

Then, in December 2002, Iranians showed up at the palace in a sport utility vehicle packed with cash, the former adviser said.

The C.I.A. began dropping off cash at the palace the following month, and the sums grew from there, Afghan officials said.

Payments ordinarily range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, the officials said, though none could provide exact figures. The money is used to cover a slew of off-the-books expenses, like paying off lawmakers or underwriting delicate diplomatic trips or informal negotiations.

Much of it also still goes to keeping old warlords in line. One is Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek whose militia served as a C.I.A. proxy force in 2001. He receives nearly $100,000 a month from the palace, two Afghan officials said. Other officials said the amount was significantly lower.

Mr. Dostum, who declined requests for comment, had previously said he was given $80,000 a month to serve as Mr. Karzai’s emissary in northern Afghanistan. “I asked for a year up front in cash so that I could build my dream house,” he was quoted as saying in a 2009 interview with Time magazine.

Some of the cash also probably ends up in the pockets of the Karzai aides who handle it, Afghan and Western officials said, though they would not identify any by name.

That is not a significant concern for the C.I.A., said American officials familiar with the agency’s operations. “They’ll work with criminals if they think they have to,” one American former official said.

Interestingly, the cash from Tehran appears to have been handled with greater transparency than the dollars from the C.I.A., Afghan officials said. The Iranian payments were routed through Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff. Some of the money was deposited in an account in the president’s name at a state-run bank, and some was kept at the palace. The sum delivered would then be announced at the next cabinet meeting. The Iranians gave $3 million to well over $10 million a year, Afghan officials said.

When word of the Iranian cash leaked out in October 2010, Mr. Karzai told reporters that he was grateful for it. He then added: “The United States is doing the same thing. They are providing cash to some of our offices.”

At the time, Mr. Karzai’s aides said he was referring to the billions in formal aid the United States gives. But the former adviser said in a recent interview that the president was in fact referring to the C.I.A.’s bags of cash.

No one mentions the agency’s money at cabinet meetings. It is handled by a small clique at the National Security Council, including its administrative chief, Mohammed Zia Salehi, Afghan officials said.

Mr. Salehi, though, is better known for being arrested in 2010 in connection with a sprawling, American-led investigation that tied together Afghan cash smuggling, Taliban finances and the opium trade. Mr. Karzai had him released within hours, and the C.I.A. then helped persuade the Obama administration to back off its anticorruption push, American officials said.

After his release, Mr. Salehi jokingly came up with a motto that succinctly summed up America’s conflicting priorities. He was, he began telling colleagues, “an enemy of the F.B.I., and a hero to the C.I.A.”


Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington.


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 29, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the job title

that Khalil Roman held in Afghanistan from 2002 until 2005.

He was President Hamid Karzai’s deputy chief of staff,

not his chief of staff.

    With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan, NYT, 28.4.2013,






Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands,

With C.I.A. Aid


March 24, 2013
The New York Times


With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.

The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. It has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports.

As it evolved, the airlift correlated with shifts in the war within Syria, as rebels drove Syria’s army from territory by the middle of last year. And even as the Obama administration has publicly refused to give more than “nonlethal” aid to the rebels, the involvement of the C.I.A. in the arms shipments — albeit mostly in a consultative role, American officials say — has shown that the United States is more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war.

From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. The C.I.A. declined to comment on the shipments or its role in them.

The shipments also highlight the competition for Syria’s future between Sunni Muslim states and Iran, the Shiite theocracy that remains Mr. Assad’s main ally. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq on Sunday to do more to halt Iranian arms shipments through its airspace; he did so even as the most recent military cargo flight from Qatar for the rebels landed at Esenboga early Sunday night.

Syrian opposition figures and some American lawmakers and officials have argued that Russian and Iranian arms shipments to support Mr. Assad’s government have made arming the rebels more necessary.

Most of the cargo flights have occurred since November, after the presidential election in the United States and as the Turkish and Arab governments grew more frustrated by the rebels’ slow progress against Mr. Assad’s well-equipped military. The flights also became more frequent as the humanitarian crisis inside Syria deepened in the winter and cascades of refugees crossed into neighboring countries.

The Turkish government has had oversight over much of the program, down to affixing transponders to trucks ferrying the military goods through Turkey so it might monitor shipments as they move by land into Syria, officials said. The scale of shipments was very large, according to officials familiar with the pipeline and to an arms-trafficking investigator who assembled data on the cargo planes involved.

“A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment,” said Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who monitors illicit arms transfers.

“The intensity and frequency of these flights,” he added, are “suggestive of a well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation.”

Although rebel commanders and the data indicate that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been shipping military materials via Turkey to the opposition since early and late 2102, respectively, a major hurdle was removed late last fall after the Turkish government agreed to allow the pace of air shipments to accelerate, officials said.

Simultaneously, arms and equipment were being purchased by Saudi Arabia in Croatia and flown to Jordan on Jordanian cargo planes for rebels working in southern Syria and for retransfer to Turkey for rebels groups operating from there, several officials said.

These multiple logistics streams throughout the winter formed what one former American official who was briefed on the program called “a cataract of weaponry.”

American officials, rebel commanders and a Turkish opposition politician have described the Arab roles as an open secret, but have also said the program is freighted with risk, including the possibility of drawing Turkey or Jordan actively into the war and of provoking military action by Iran.

Still, rebel commanders have criticized the shipments as insufficient, saying the quantities of weapons they receive are too small and the types too light to fight Mr. Assad’s military effectively. They also accused those distributing the weapons of being parsimonious or corrupt.

“The outside countries give us weapons and bullets little by little,” said Abdel Rahman Ayachi, a commander in Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist fighting group in northern Syria.

He made a gesture as if switching on and off a tap. “They open and they close the way to the bullets like water,” he said.

Two other commanders, Hassan Aboud of Soquor al-Sham and Abu Ayman of Ahrar al-Sham, another Islamist group, said that whoever was vetting which groups receive the weapons was doing an inadequate job.

“There are fake Free Syrian Army brigades claiming to be revolutionaries, and when they get the weapons they sell them in trade,” Mr. Aboud said.

The former American official noted that the size of the shipments and the degree of distributions are voluminous.

“People hear the amounts flowing in, and it is huge,” he said. “But they burn through a million rounds of ammo in two weeks.”


A Tentative Start

The airlift to Syrian rebels began slowly. On Jan. 3, 2012, months after the crackdown by the Alawite-led government against antigovernment demonstrators had morphed into a military campaign, a pair of Qatar Emiri Air Force C-130 transport aircraft touched down in Istanbul, according to air traffic data.

They were a vanguard.

Weeks later, the Syrian Army besieged Homs, Syria’s third largest city. Artillery and tanks pounded neighborhoods. Ground forces moved in.

Across the country, the army and loyalist militias were trying to stamp out the rebellion with force — further infuriating Syria’s Sunni Arab majority, which was severely outgunned. The rebels called for international help, and more weapons.

By late midspring the first stream of cargo flights from an Arab state began, according to air traffic data and information from plane spotters.

On a string of nights from April 26 through May 4, a Qatari Air Force C-17 — a huge American-made cargo plane — made six landings in Turkey, at Esenboga Airport. By Aug. 8 the Qataris had made 14 more cargo flights. All came from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, a hub for American military logistics in the Middle East.

Qatar has denied providing any arms to the rebels. A Qatari official, who requested anonymity, said Qatar has shipped in only what he called nonlethal aid. He declined to answer further questions. It is not clear whether Qatar has purchased and supplied the arms alone or is also providing air transportation service for other donors. But American and other Western officials, and rebel commanders, have said Qatar has been an active arms supplier — so much so that the United States became concerned about some of the Islamist groups that Qatar has armed.

The Qatari flights aligned with the tide-turning military campaign by rebel forces in the northern province of Idlib, as their campaign of ambushes, roadside bombs and attacks on isolated outposts began driving Mr. Assad’s military and supporting militias from parts of the countryside.

As flights continued into the summer, the rebels also opened an offensive in that city — a battle that soon bogged down.

The former American official said David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director until November, had been instrumental in helping to get this aviation network moving and had prodded various countries to work together on it. Mr. Petraeus did not return multiple e-mails asking for comment.

The American government became involved, the former American official said, in part because there was a sense that other states would arm the rebels anyhow. The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles that might be used in future terrorist attacks on civilian aircraft.

American officials have confirmed that senior White House officials were regularly briefed on the shipments. “These countries were going to do it one way or another,” the former official said. “They weren’t asking for a ‘Mother, may I?’ from us. But if we could help them in certain ways, they’d appreciate that.”

Through the fall, the Qatari Air Force cargo fleet became even more busy, running flights almost every other day in October. But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft.

Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought. These complaints continue.

“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” said Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province.


The Breakout

Soon, other players joined the airlift: In November, three Royal Jordanian Air Force C-130s landed in Esenboga, in a hint at what would become a stepped-up Jordanian and Saudi role.

Within three weeks, two other Jordanian cargo planes began making a round-trip run between Amman, the capital of Jordan, and Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, where, officials from several countries said, the aircraft were picking up a large Saudi purchase of infantry arms from a Croatian-controlled stockpile.

The first flight returned to Amman on Dec. 15, according to intercepts of a transponder from one of the aircraft recorded by a plane spotter in Cyprus and air traffic control data from an aviation official in the region.

In all, records show that two Jordanian Ilyushins bearing the logo of the Jordanian International Air Cargo firm but flying under Jordanian military call signs made a combined 36 round-trip flights between Amman and Croatia from December through February. The same two planes made five flights between Amman and Turkey this January.

As the Jordanian flights were under way, the Qatari flights continued and the Royal Saudi Air Force began a busy schedule, too — making at least 30 C-130 flights into Esenboga from mid-February to early March this year, according to flight data provided by a regional air traffic control official.

Several of the Saudi flights were spotted coming and going at Ankara by civilians, who alerted opposition politicians in Turkey.

“The use of Turkish airspace at such a critical time, with the conflict in Syria across our borders, and by foreign planes from countries that are known to be central to the conflict, defines Turkey as a party in the conflict,” said Attilla Kart, a member of the Turkish Parliament from the C.H.P. opposition party, who confirmed details about several Saudi shipments. “The government has the responsibility to respond to these claims.”

Turkish and Saudi Arabian officials declined to discuss the flights or any arms transfers. The Turkish government has not officially approved military aid to Syrian rebels.

Croatia and Jordan both denied any role in moving arms to the Syrian rebels. Jordanian aviation officials went so far as to insist that no cargo flights occurred.

The director of cargo for Jordanian International Air Cargo, Muhammad Jubour, insisted on March 7 that his firm had no knowledge of any flights to or from Croatia.

“This is all lies,” he said. “We never did any such thing.”

A regional air traffic official who has been researching the flights confirmed the flight data, and offered an explanation. “Jordanian International Air Cargo,” the official said, “is a front company for Jordan’s air force.”

After being informed of the air-traffic control and transponder data that showed the plane’s routes, Mr. Jubour, from the cargo company, claimed that his firm did not own any Ilyushin cargo planes.

Asked why his employer’s Web site still displayed images of two Ilyushin-76MFs and text claiming they were part of the company fleet, Mr. Jubour had no immediate reply. That night the company’s Web site was taken down.


Reporting was contributed by Robert F. Worth

from Washington and Istanbul;

Dan Bilefsky from Paris;

and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey.

    Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With C.I.A. Aid, NYT, 24.3.2013,






The Drone Question Obama Hasn’t Answered


March 8, 2013
The New York Times


THE Senate confirmed John O. Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Thursday after a nearly 13-hour filibuster by the libertarian senator Rand Paul, who before the vote received a somewhat odd letter from the attorney general.

“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ ” the attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., wrote to Mr. Paul. “The answer to that question is no.”

The senator, whose filibuster had become a social-media sensation, elating Tea Party members, human-rights groups and pacifists alike, said he was “quite happy with the answer.” But Mr. Holder’s letter raises more questions than it answers — and, indeed, more important and more serious questions than the senator posed.

What, exactly, does the Obama administration mean by “engaged in combat”? The extraordinary secrecy of this White House makes the answer difficult to know. We have some clues, and they are troubling.

If you put together the pieces of publicly available information, it seems that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has acted with an overly broad definition of what it means to be engaged in combat. Back in 2004, the Pentagon released a list of the types of people it was holding at Guantánamo Bay as “enemy combatants” — a list that included people who were “involved in terrorist financing.”

One could argue that that definition applied solely to prolonged detention, not to targeting for a drone strike. But who’s to say if the administration believes in such a distinction?

American generals in Afghanistan said the laws of war “have been interpreted to allow” American forces to include “drug traffickers with proven links to the insurgency on a kill list,” according to a report released in 2009 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then led by John Kerry, now the secretary of state.

The report went on to say that there were about 50 major traffickers “who contribute funds to the insurgency on the target list.” The Pentagon later said that it was “important to clarify that we are targeting terrorists with links to the drug trade, rather than targeting drug traffickers with links to terrorism.”

That statement, however, was not very clarifying, and did not seem to appease NATO allies who raised serious legal concerns about the American targeting program. The explanation soon gave way to more clues, and this time it was not simply a question of who had been placed on a list.

In a 2010 Fox News interview, under pressure to explain whether the Obama administration was any closer to capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, Mr. Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, said that “we have gotten closer because we have been able to kill a number of their trainers, their operational people, their financiers.” That revelation — killing financiers — appears not to have been noticed very widely.

As I have written, sweeping financiers into the group of people who can be killed in armed conflict stretches the laws of war beyond recognition. But this is not the only stretch the Obama administration seems to have made. The administration still hasn’t disavowed its stance, disclosed last May in a New York Times article, that military-age males killed in a strike zone are counted as combatants absent explicit posthumous evidence proving otherwise.

Mr. Holder’s one-word answer — “no” — is not a step toward the greater transparency that President Obama pledged when he came into office, but has not delivered, in the realm of national security.

By declining to specify what it means to be “engaged in combat,” the letter does not foreclose the possible scenario — however hypothetical — of a military drone strike, against a United States citizen, on American soil. It also raises anew questions about the standards the administration has used in deciding to use drone strikes to kill Americans suspected of terrorist involvement overseas — notably Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

Is there any reason to believe that military drones will soon be hovering over Manhattan, aiming to kill Americans believed to be involved in terrorist financing? No.

But is it well past time for the United States government to specify, precisely, its views on whom it thinks it can kill in the struggle against Al Qaeda and other terrorist forces? The answer is yes.

The Obama administration’s continued refusal to do so should alarm any American concerned about the constitutional right of our citizens — no matter what evil they may or may not be engaged in — to due process under the law. For those Americans, Mr. Holder’s seemingly simple but maddeningly vague letter offers no reassurance.


Ryan Goodman is a professor of law and co-chairman

of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University.

    The Drone Question Obama Hasn’t Answered, NYT, 8.3.2013,






Drone Strikes’ Dangers

to Get Rare Moment in Public Eye


February 5, 2013
The New York Times


SANA, Yemen — Late last August, a 40-year-old cleric named Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber stood up to deliver a speech denouncing Al Qaeda in a village mosque in far eastern Yemen.

It was a brave gesture by a father of seven who commanded great respect in the community, and it did not go unnoticed. Two days later, three members of Al Qaeda came to the mosque in the tiny village of Khashamir after 9 p.m., saying they merely wanted to talk. Mr. Jaber agreed to meet them, bringing his cousin Waleed Abdullah, a police officer, for protection.

As the five men stood arguing by a cluster of palm trees, a volley of remotely operated American missiles shot down from the night sky and incinerated them all, along with a camel that was tied up nearby.

The killing of Mr. Jaber, just the kind of leader most crucial to American efforts to eradicate Al Qaeda, was a reminder of the inherent hazards of the quasi-secret campaign of targeted killings that the United States is waging against suspected militants not just in Yemen but also in Pakistan and Somalia. Individual strikes by the Predator and Reaper drones are almost never discussed publicly by Obama administration officials. But the clandestine war will receive a rare moment of public scrutiny on Thursday, when its chief architect, John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser, faces a Senate confirmation hearing as President Obama’s nominee for C.I.A. director.

From his basement office in the White House, Mr. Brennan has served as the principal coordinator of a “kill list” of Qaeda operatives marked for death, overseeing drone strikes by the military and the C.I.A., and advising Mr. Obama on which strikes he should approve.

“He’s probably had more power and influence than anyone in a comparable position in the last 20 years,” said Daniel Benjamin, who recently stepped down as the State Department’s top counterterrorism official and now teaches at Dartmouth. “He’s had enormous sway over the intelligence community. He’s had a profound impact on how the military does counterterrorism.”

Mr. Brennan, a former C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has taken a particular interest in Yemen, sounding early alarms within the administration about the threat developing there, working closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret C.I.A. drone base there that is used for American strikes, and making the impoverished desert nation a test case for American counterterrorism strategy.

In recent years, both C.I.A. and Pentagon counterterrorism officials have pressed for greater freedom to attack suspected militants, and colleagues say Mr. Brennan has often been a restraining voice. The strikes have killed a number of operatives of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s affiliate in Yemen, including Said Ali al-Shihri, a deputy leader of the group, and the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

But they have also claimed civilians like Mr. Jaber and have raised troubling questions that apply to Pakistan and Somalia as well: Could the targeted killing campaign be creating more militants in Yemen than it is killing? And is it in America’s long-term interest to be waging war against a self-renewing insurgency inside a country about which Washington has at best a hazy understanding?

Several former top military and intelligence officials — including Stanley A. McChrystal, the retired general who led the Joint Special Operations Command, which has responsibility for the military’s drone strikes, and Michael V. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director — have raised concerns that the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen are increasingly targeting low-level militants who do not pose a direct threat to the United States.

In an interview with Reuters, General McChrystal said that drones could be a useful tool but were “hated on a visceral level” in some of the places where they were used and contributed to a “perception of American arrogance.”

Mr. Brennan has aggressively defended the accuracy of the drone strikes, and the rate of civilian casualties has gone down considerably since the attacks began in Yemen in 2009. He has also largely dismissed criticism that the drone campaign has tarnished America’s image in Yemen and has been an effective recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

“In fact, we see the opposite,” Mr. Brennan said during a speech last year. “Our Yemeni partners are more eager to work with us. Yemeni citizens who have been freed from the hellish grip of A.Q.A.P. are more eager, not less, to work with the Yemeni government.”

Christopher Swift, a researcher at Georgetown University who spent last summer in Yemen studying the reaction to the strikes, said he thought Mr. Brennan’s comments missed the broader impact.

“What Brennan said accurately reflected people in the security apparatus who he speaks to when he goes to Yemen,” Mr. Swift said. “It doesn’t reflect the views of the man in the street, of young human rights activists, of the political opposition.”

Though Mr. Swift said he thought that critics had exaggerated the role of the strikes in generating recruits for Al Qaeda, “in the political sphere, the perception is that the U.S. is colluding with the Yemeni government in a covert war against the Yemeni people.”

“Even if we’re winning in the military domain,” Mr. Swift said, “drones may be undermining our long-term interest in the goal of a stable Yemen with a functional political system and economy.”

A Parallel Campaign

American officials have never explained in public why the C.I.A. and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command are carrying out parallel drone campaigns in Yemen. Privately, however, they describe an arrangement that has evolved since the frantic, ad hoc early days of America’s war there.

The first strike in Yemen ordered by the Obama administration, in December 2009, was by all accounts a disaster. American cruise missiles carrying cluster munitions killed dozens of civilians, including many women and children. Another strike, six months later, killed a popular deputy governor, inciting angry demonstrations and an attack that shut down a critical oil pipeline.

Not long afterward, the C.I.A. began quietly building a drone base in Saudi Arabia to carry out strikes in Yemen. American officials said that the first time the C.I.A. used the Saudi base was to kill Mr. Awlaki in September 2011.

Since then, officials said, the C.I.A. has been given the mission of hunting and killing “high-value targets” in Yemen — the leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who Obama administration lawyers have determined pose a direct threat to the United States. When the C.I.A. obtains specific intelligence on the whereabouts of someone on its kill list, an American drone can carry out a strike without the permission of Yemen’s government.

There is, however, a tighter leash on the Pentagon’s drones. According to American officials, the Joint Special Operations Command must get the Yemeni government’s approval before launching a drone strike. This restriction is in place, officials said, because the military’s drone campaign is closely tied to counterterrorism operations conducted by Yemeni special operations troops.

Yemen’s military is fighting its own counterinsurgency battle against Islamic militants, who gained and then lost control over large swaths of the country last year. Often, American military strikes in Yemen are masked as Yemeni government operations.

Moreover, Mr. Obama demanded early on that each American military strike in Yemen be approved by a committee in Washington representing the national security agencies. The C.I.A. strikes, by contrast, resulted from a far more closed process inside the agency. Mr. Brennan plays a role in overseeing all the strikes.

There have been at least five drone strikes in Yemen since the start of the year, killing at least 24 people. That continues a remarkable acceleration over the past two years in a program that has carried out at least 63 airstrikes since 2009, according to The Long War Journal, a Web site that collects public data on the strikes, with an estimated death toll in the hundreds. Many of the militants reported killed recently were very young and do not appear to have had any important role with Al Qaeda.

“Even with Al Qaeda, there are degrees — some of these young guys getting killed have just been recruited and barely known what terrorism means,” said Naji al Zaydi, a former governor of Marib Province, who has been a vocal opponent of Al Qaeda and a supporter of Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Mr. Zaydi, a prominent tribal figure from an area that has long been associated with members of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, pointed out that the identity and background of these men were no mystery in Yemen’s interlinked tribal culture.

A Deadly Ride

In one recent case, on Jan. 23, a drone strike in a village east of Sana killed a 21-year-old university student named Saleem Hussein Jamal and his cousin, a 33-year-old teacher named Ali Ali Nasser Jamal, who happened to have been traveling with him. According to relatives and neighbors of the two men, they were driving home from a nearby town called Jahana when five strangers offered to pay them for a ride. The drone-fired missile hit the vehicle, a twin-cab Toyota Hilux, just outside the village of Masnaa at about 9 p.m. The strangers were later identified in Yemeni news reports as members of Al Qaeda, though apparently not high-ranking ones.

After the strike, villagers were left to identify their two dead relatives from identity cards, scraps of clothing and the license plate of Mr. Jamal’s Toyota; the seven bodies were shredded beyond recognition, as cellphone photos taken at the scene attest. “We found eyes, but there were no faces left,” said Abdullah Faqih, a student who knew both of the dead cousins.

Although most Yemenis are reluctant to admit it publicly, there does appear to be widespread support for the American drone strikes that hit substantial Qaeda figures like Mr. Shihri, a Saudi and the affiliate’s deputy leader, who died in January of wounds received in a drone strike late last year.

Al Qaeda has done far more damage in Yemen than it has in the United States, and one episode reinforced public disgust last May, when a suicide bomber struck a military parade rehearsal in the Yemeni capital, killing more than 100 people.

Moreover, many Yemenis reluctantly admit that there is a need for foreign help: Yemen’s own efforts to strike at the terrorist group have often been compromised by weak, divided military forces; widespread corruption; and even support for Al Qaeda within pockets of the intelligence and security agencies.

Yet even as both Mr. Brennan and Mr. Hadi, the Yemeni president, praise the drone technology for its accuracy, other Yemenis often point out that it can be very difficult to isolate members of Al Qaeda, thanks to the group’s complex ties and long history in Yemen.

This may account for a pattern in many of the drone strikes: a drone hovers over an area for weeks on end before a strike takes place, presumably waiting until identities are confirmed and the targets can be struck without anyone else present.

In the strike that killed Mr. Jaber, the cleric, that was not enough. At least one drone had been overhead every day for about a month, provoking high anxiety among local people, said Aref bin Ali Jaber, a tradesman who is related to the cleric. “After the drone hit, everyone was so frightened it would come back,” Mr. Jaber said. “Children especially were affected; my 15-year-old daughter refuses to be alone and has had to sleep with me and my wife after that.”

Anger at America

In the days afterward, the people of the village vented their fury at the Americans with protests and briefly blocked a road. It is difficult to know what the long-term effects of the deaths will be, though some in the town — as in other areas where drones have killed civilians — say there was an upwelling of support for Al Qaeda, because such a move is seen as the only way to retaliate against the United States.

Innocents aside, even members of Al Qaeda invariably belong to a tribe, and when they are killed in drone strikes, their relatives — whatever their feelings about Al Qaeda — often swear to exact revenge on America.

“Al Qaeda always gives money to the family,” said Hussein Ahmed Othman al Arwali, a tribal sheik from an area south of the capital called Mudhia, where Qaeda militants fought pitched battles with Yemeni soldiers last year. “Al Qaeda’s leaders may be killed by drones, but the group still has its money, and people are still joining. For young men who are poor, the incentives are very strong: they offer you marriage, or money, and the ideological part works for some people.”

In some cases, drones have killed members of Al Qaeda when it seemed that they might easily have been arrested or captured, according to a number of Yemeni officials and tribal figures. One figure in particular has stood out: Adnan al Qadhi, who was killed, apparently in a drone strike, in early November in a town near the capital.

Mr. Qadhi was an avowed supporter of Al Qaeda, but he also had recently served as a mediator for the Yemeni government with other jihadists, and was drawing a government salary at the time of his death. He was not in hiding, and his house is within sight of large houses owned by a former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and other leading figures.

Whatever the success of the drone strikes, some Yemenis wonder why there is not more reliance on their country’s elite counterterrorism unit, which was trained in the United States as part of the close cooperation between the two countries that Mr. Brennan has engineered. One member of the unit, speaking on the condition of anonymity, expressed great frustration that his unit had not been deployed on such missions, and had in fact been posted to traffic duty in the capital in recent weeks, even as the drone strikes intensified.

“For sure, we could be going after some of these guys,” the officer said. “That’s what we’re trained to do, and the Americans trained us. It doesn’t make sense.”


Robert F. Worth reported from Sana, and Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane

from Washington.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 5, 2013

An earlier version of a photo caption accompanying this article misidentified

Daniel Benjamin, a former top counterterrorism official at the State Department,

as David Benjamin.

    Drone Strikes’ Dangers to Get Rare Moment in Public Eye, NYT, 5.2.2013,






Jeanne Vertefeuille, C.I.A. Official

Who Helped Catch a Notorious Mole,

Dies at 80


January 11, 2013
The New York Times


Jeanne Vertefeuille joined the Central Intelligence Agency as a typist in 1954 and then began inching up through the ranks, obtaining postings overseas. By 1986 she had become a midlevel expert on the Soviet Union and counterintelligence. She remained a quiet agency soldier, however — purposefully nondescript and selflessly dedicated. She lived alone and walked to work.

But if she was a gray figure at the agency, Ms. Vertefeuille was also a tenacious and effective one, and in October 1986 was asked to lead a task force to investigate the disappearance of Russians whom the C.I.A. had hired to spy against their own country.

Almost eight years later, the investigation led to the unmasking of a C.I.A. employee, Aldrich Ames, as one of the most notorious traitors in American history. He had sold out the Russian agents — at least eight were executed — for millions in cash. His downfall was in no small part owed to Ms. Vertefeuille (pronounced VER-teh-fay), who brought to the mission a deep knowledge of Soviet spycraft and of her own agency’s workings.

She died on Dec. 29 at age 80. In announcing her death, Michael Morell, the acting director of the C.I.A., called Ms. Vertefeuille “uniquely suited for the job” and described her as “a true C.I.A. icon.” Some compared her work on the Ames case to that of Connie Sachs, the brilliant researcher for British intelligence in John le Carré’s spy novels.

Sandra Grimes, a C.I.A. veteran who also worked on the case, said Ms. Vertefeuille had died of a malignant brain tumor at a nursing home in the Washington area, declining to be more specific. “Jeanne was one of the most private people you can ever, ever imagine,” she said.

Ms. Vertefeuille’s role in the investigation began in 1986 when, as station chief in Gabon, she received a cryptic cable to return to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va. From May through December 1985, she was told, Soviet spies working as American double agents had disappeared at an alarming rate. She was to lead a small task force to investigate, initially composed of two women and two men and later to be joined by Ms. Grimes.

The journalist David Wise wrote in his 1995 book “Nightmover: How Aldrich Ames Sold the C.I.A. to the K.G.B. for $4.6 Million” that women had been chosen for the unit because their bosses felt that women would have more patience in combing through records. He also suggested that relatively low-ranking officials like Ms. Vertefeuille and the others were selected because the agency was operating on the presumption that no C.I.A. colleague could be a traitor.

“The C.I.A. thought it had picked a minor leaguer,” Mr. Wise said of Ms. Vertefeuille in an interview with Time magazine, “but she proved she was good enough for the majors. In the end, she got Ames.”

The investigators did not immediately seize on the idea that a Soviet double agent, or “mole,” was operating inside the agency; it seemed just as likely to them that somebody outside the agency was intercepting communications. But there was a mole.

Mr. Ames, the son of a C.I.A. officer, had worked as an agency file clerk as a teenager. In September 1983, he was appointed head of counterintelligence in the Soviet division. Two years later, struggling financially, he realized his job gave him something of immense value to Moscow: the names of Soviet agents spying for the United States. He began his treachery by selling two names for $50,000, he later said.

As he fed Moscow names and the spies started vanishing, Mr. Ames said, he complained to his Soviet handler. “Why not put a big neon sign over the agency with the word ‘Mole’ written on it?” he recalled saying.

Ms. Vertefeuille’s team struggled with the investigation for years. Its members began to be pulled away to other assignments part time. Even after it was discovered, in November 1989, that Mr. Ames was living far beyond his means, buying Jaguars and a $540,000 home with no down payment, the hunt stalled.

By early 1991, as Ms. Vertefeuille approached the mandatory retirement age of 60, she felt guilty that she had not solved the case, she recalled in “Circle of Treason: A C.I.A. Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed,” a book she wrote with Ms. Grimes that was published last year. She asked to spend her final months of work on the case.

The breakthrough occurred in August 1992, when Ms. Grimes discovered that large deposits in Mr. Ames’s bank account correlated with his meetings with a Soviet official. The F.B.I. joined the case, finding evidence in Mr. Ames’s garbage and computer, and arrested him on Feb. 21, 1994. He pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence in federal prison.

Jeanne Ruth Vertefeuille, an only child, was born in New Haven on Dec. 23, 1932. She majored in history and studied German and French at the University of Connecticut, graduating in 1954. She became interested in the C.I.A. at a job fair, she wrote; she thought it would be fun to travel in Europe. At the agency’s urging, she attended secretarial school before joining.

Her foreign posts included Ethiopia, Finland and The Hague. She learned Russian and became an expert on Soviet spies. Mr. Wise wrote that Ms. Vertefeuille could identify a K.G.B. colonel who had appeared in Copenhagen under one name as the same official who turned up in New Delhi with a different name a decade later. She worked as a C.I.A. consultant until last summer. She never married or had children and leaves no immediate survivors.

In a debriefing after his arrest, Mr. Ames told his interrogators that when K.G.B. officials had asked for the name of a C.I.A. official whom they might plausibly frame as a mole, he said he gave them Ms. Vertefeuille’s name, adding that she was the principal mole hunter.

His admission surprised her. “At first, I wanted to jump across the table and strangle him,” Ms. Vertefeuille said. “But then I started laughing. It really was funny, because he was the one in shackles, not me.”

    Jeanne Vertefeuille, C.I.A. Official Who Helped Catch a Notorious Mole, Dies at 80, 11.1. 2013,






Choice to Lead C.I.A. Faces a Changed Agency


January 7, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama’s nomination on Monday of John O. Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency puts one of his closest and most powerful aides in charge of an agency that has been transformed by more than a decade of secret wars.

Working closely with the president, Mr. Brennan oversaw the escalation of drone strikes in Pakistan in 2010 and was the principal architect of the administration’s secret counterterrorism operations in Yemen. He became a prominent public spokesman for the administration, appearing on television after foiled terrorist plots and giving speeches about the legality and morality of targeted killing.

The question that now faces Mr. Brennan, if he is confirmed by the Senate, is whether the C.I.A. should remain at the center of secret American paramilitary operations — most notably drone strikes — or rebuild its traditional espionage capabilities, which intelligence veterans say have atrophied during years of terrorist manhunts.

Four years ago, Mr. Brennan bowed out of consideration as Mr. Obama’s C.I.A. director in the face of claims from some human rights advocates that he had approved — or at least failed to stop — its use of brutal interrogation methods. He denied the accusations and ended up with a consolation prize, a job as the president’s counterterrorism adviser that most assumed would have offered a much lower profile.

By some measures, Mr. Brennan wielded as much power as if he had led the agency all along — an opportunity that was denied to him until now.

Some C.I.A. veterans and outside experts on Monday questioned whether Mr. Brennan, 57, who has been immersed in counterterrorism for years, is the right person to return the agency to its core mission of stealing secrets from foreign governments and providing long-term analysis.

“He’s going to have to think not just, ‘How do I hunt the latest terrorist?’ but ‘Where do I want this agency to be at the end of my term?’ ” said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former senior C.I.A. official. Right now, he said, “everyone is playing Whac-A-Mole.”

Other current and former officials say that Mr. Brennan himself has worried that counterterrorism operations have consumed the C.I.A. and that he may welcome the chance to take a broader perspective.

“John often had to get involved in lots of tactical discussions, and this is a great opportunity for him to step back and view the agency’s mission strategically,” said Michael E. Leiter, who served as head of the National Counterterrorism Center in both the Bush and Obama administrations.

By sending Mr. Brennan to the C.I.A., Mr. Obama will be placing at the agency’s helm a man he trusts implicitly. But he is also sending an insider who spent 25 years at the agency and is unlikely to face the inbred skepticism and hostility that has sometimes greeted outsiders there.

Mr. Brennan spent most of his C.I.A. career as an analyst, but during the 1990s served a tour as the chief of the station in Saudi Arabia. From 1999 to early 2001, he was chief of staff to George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, as the position was then called. At the end of his C.I.A. service, in 2004 and 2005, Mr. Brennan set up what is now the counterterrorism center.

Mr. Brennan’s nomination won swift praise from influential members of Congress. Both Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, her counterpart in the House, issued statements of support. Mr. Rogers congratulated Mr. Brennan and added, “I look forward to working with him.”

But Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and has taken a strong stand against coercive interrogations, expressed reservations. “I have many questions and concerns about his nomination,” Mr. McCain said in a statement. He said he was especially concerned about what role Mr. Brennan “played in the so-called enhanced interrogation programs while serving at the C.I.A. during the last administration, as well as his public defense of those programs.”

Another Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said Mr. Brennan’s possible role in disclosing information to the news media should also get scrutiny. “John Brennan has not been absolved of responsibility for the slew of high-level security leaks that have characterized this White House,” Mr. Cornyn said in a statement.

Mr. Brennan has said repeatedly that he stood against the abuse of prisoners during the Bush administration. When he withdrew from consideration for the C.I.A. job four years ago, he told Mr. Obama, then the president-elect, he was “a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration,” including “coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding.”

On Monday, several former senior C.I.A. officers who worked with Mr. Brennan in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks said they could not recall Mr. Brennan expressing those concerns to them.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Brennan’s confirmation could be complicated by the old accusations. Minutes after the president announced his nomination, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement demanding a more thorough airing of Mr. Brennan’s record.

“The Senate should not move forward with this nomination until all senators can assess the role of the C.I.A. — and any role by Brennan himself — in torture, abuse, secret prisons and extraordinary rendition,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the A.C.L.U.’s Washington office. She said the Senate should also examine Mr. Brennan’s role in targeted killings, including still-secret legal opinions justifying them.

In his time at the White House, Mr. Brennan has persuaded some human rights advocates that he is supportive of their concerns. He has spoken forcefully for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and colleagues say he has argued for greater openness and clearer rules for targeted killing.

Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First, gave Mr. Brennan a mixed review. “During his four years at the White House, he’s been clear in backing up the president’s insistence that we can’t trade our values for security,” she said. “Of course the Senate should make sure that he was not involved in the torture program during his prior service at the C.I.A., and get commitments from him that the drone program is conducted lawfully.”

Mr. Brennan’s tenure at the White House, where he oversaw counterterrorism operations from a basement office, has not been without missteps. His statement in 2011 that no civilians had been killed in the previous year in drone strikes in Pakistan came under fire as implausible. In a rush to to tell the story of the raid that year that killed Osama bin Laden, he asserted that the Qaeda leader had hidden behind his wives to avoid being killed; officials later acknowledged that his description was inaccurate.

Mr. Brennan supported Mr. Obama in the 2008 campaign, though they did not meet until after the election. On Monday, the president praised him for his role in killing suspected terrorist leaders, his devotion to American values and his ferocious work ethic.

“I’m not sure he slept in four years,” the president said.

    Choice to Lead C.I.A. Faces a Changed Agency, NYT, 7.1.2013,






Nominations for Defense and the C.I.A.


January 7, 2013
The New York Times

In nominating Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary and John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, President Obama has selected two trusted advisers who could help him set a new tone, and conceivably a new direction, on issues of war and peace in his second term. But both candidates must provide answers to serious questions before they can expect confirmation by the Senate.

It is a puzzle that Mr. Obama has nominated as defense secretary a person whose views on gay rights are in question at this sensitive time in the Pentagon’s evolution. The military’s odious “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule was finally legislated out of existence in 2011, under the administration’s leadership. But there is a long way to go to ensure that equal rights are institutionalized.

While a member of the Senate from Nebraska in 1998, Mr. Hagel criticized the nomination of James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg because he was “openly, aggressively gay.” That was a repugnant reason to oppose anyone for public office. Last month, Mr. Hagel issued a statement in which he described his comments 14 years ago as “insensitive,” apologized to Mr. Hormel and insisted he was “fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to L.G.B.T. military families.”

Some leading foreign policy professionals who are gay, including Mr. Hormel, have since said they could support Mr. Hagel’s candidacy. Still, it will be important to hear Mr. Hagel explain at his confirmation hearing how his views have changed and how he plans to make sure that all service members are treated equally and receive the same benefits regardless of sexual orientation. It would also help if he acknowledged that his past comments were not just insensitive but abhorrent.

On national security policy, there is much to like about Mr. Hagel, one of a fading breed of sensible moderate Republicans. Mr. Obama hailed him as “the leader that our troops deserve.” Mr. Hagel’s experience as a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War should give him a special rapport with the troops as well as make him an authoritative voice on the measured use of force. Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Hagel has been deeply critical of the war in Iraq and is believed to favor a more rapid drawdown of troops from Afghanistan. He has also wisely advocated paring the bloated defense budget.

Mr. Hagel’s independence and willingness to challenge Republican orthodoxy on Iraq, sanctions on Iran and other issues — both in the Senate and later as an administration adviser — have so alarmed neocons, hard-line pro-Israel interest groups and some Republican senators that they unleashed a dishonest campaign to pre-emptively bury the nomination. It failed, but the confirmation process could be bruising. The opponents are worried that Mr. Hagel will not be sufficiently in lock step with the current Israeli government and cannot be counted on to go to war against Iran over its nuclear program if it comes to that.

We are encouraged by what we hear about Mr. Hagel’s preference for a negotiated solution with Iran, his reluctance to go to war, and his support for Israel’s security, for a two-state solution and for reductions in nuclear weapons. If confirmed, he would have to tackle the hard job of cutting the defense budget and balancing the competing needs of the different services.

Mr. Brennan has worked closely with Mr. Obama over four years as the counterterrorism adviser. He was at the president’s side during the raid on Osama bin Laden, and pushed an expanded strategy of using drones to kill terrorism suspects. Mr. Brennan withdrew from consideration for the C.I.A. post four years ago after human rights advocates said that he had failed to stop President George W. Bush’s use of torture in interrogating prisoners. He denied those charges at the time, but the Senate Intelligence Committee should revisit the issue at his confirmation hearing. He also should be deeply questioned about how the White House decides on the targets of drone strikes, and whether the American public will ever know if there are explicit rules for these killings.

In his second term, President Obama has an opportunity to put his stamp more firmly on America’s relations with the world. He needs his own team to do that, and the Senate should move as quickly as possible to a vote. Ultimately though, Mr. Obama will need some new approaches to achieve new goals, not just new people.

    Nominations for Defense and the C.I.A., 7.1.2013,




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