Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Drones, Targeted Killings, and Nuclear Weapons

by Micah Zenko
June 29, 2012

The logo of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is shown in the lobby of the CIA headquarters in Langley (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters). The logo of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is shown in the lobby of the CIA headquarters in Langley (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

Government Accountability Office, State and DOD Face Challenges in Finalizing Support and Security Capabilities, June 28, 2012.

The Departments of State (State) and Defense (DOD) planned for a civilian-led presence in Iraq consisting of more than 16,000 personnel at 14 sites in fiscal year 2012. As of May 2012, State and DOD were reassessing the Mission Iraq presence, and State had a plan to reduce the presence to 11,500 personnel at 11 sites by the end of fiscal year 2013. Even with the reductions, Mission Iraq would remain the largest U.S. diplomatic presence in the world. State and DOD allocated an estimated $4 billion for the civilian-led presence for fiscal year 2012, 93 percent of which was for security and support costs. In addition, State requested $1.9 billion in police and military assistance and $471 million in other foreign assistance for fiscal year 2012.

AFP, “Yemeni Foreign Minister Admits U.S. Drones Used Against Militants,” Al Arabiya, June 27, 2012.

Angel Gonzalez, “Expanded Oil Drilling Helps U.S. Wean Itself From Mideast,” Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2012.

By 2020, nearly half of the crude oil America consumes will be produced at home, while 82% will come from this side of the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2035, oil shipments from the Middle East to North America “could almost be nonexistent,” the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently predicted, partly because more efficient car engines and a growing supply of renewable fuel will help curb demand.

UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Report Issued on Inter-Communal Violence in Jonglei, June 25, 2012.

Ken Dilanian, “Congress Keeps Closer Watch on CIA Drone Strikes,” Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2012.

Once a month, a group of staff members from the House and Senate intelligence committees drives across the Potomac River to CIA headquarters in Virginia, assembles in a secure room and begins the grim task of watching videos of the latest drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

The regular review of some of the most closely held video in the CIA’s possession is part of a marked increase in congressional attention paid to the agency’s targeted killing program over the last three years. The oversight, which has not previously been detailed, began largely at the instigation of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, officials said.

The lawmakers and aides with the intelligence oversight committees have a level of access shared only by President Obama, his top aides and a small number of CIA officials.

In addition to watching video, the legislative aides review intelligence that was used to justify each drone strike. They also sometimes examine telephone intercepts and after-the-fact evidence, such as the CIA’s assessment of who was hit.

Phil Stewart, “Strikes on al-Qaeda Leave Only ‘Handful’ of Top Targets,” Reuters, June 22, 2012.

The U.S. defense chief visited Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and after paying U.S. condolences over the death of the late crown prince, spoke about al Qaeda with one of his sons, Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who has run the kingdom’s operations against al Qaeda as a deputy interior minister.

“I asked him the question – as a result of the bin Laden raid, as a result of what we’ve done to their leadership, where are we with al Qaeda,” Panetta recounted, adding that al Qaeda and bin Laden “came out of Saudi Arabia.”

“Bin Nayef said, ‘For the first time, what I’m seeing is that young people are no longer attracted to al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.’”

David S. Cloud, “U.S. Weighs Plan to Send Military Aircraft to Aid Yemen,” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2012.

Stephanie Nebahay, “UN Investigator Decries U.S. Use of Killer Drones,” Reuters, June 19, 2012.

Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, urged Washington to clarify the basis under international law of the policy, in a report issued overnight to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The 47-member Geneva forum is to hold a debate later on Tuesday.

(3PA: For the long history of special rapporteurs demanding that U.S. officials answer questions about the U.S. targeted killing policy, click here.)

Brendan McGarry, “Drones Most Accident-Prone U.S. Air Force Craft: BGOV Barometer,” Bloomberg, June 18, 2012.

The BGOV Barometer shows Northrop’s Global Hawk and General Atomics’s Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles have had a combined 9.31 accidents for every 100,000 hours of flying. That’s the highest rate of any category of aircraft and more than triple the fleet-wide average of 3.03, according to military data compiled by Bloomberg.

The Air Force in a 15-year period through Sept. 30 recorded 129 accidents involving its medium- and high-altitude drones: the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper and RQ-4 Global Hawk. The figures include accidents that resulted in at least $500,000 in damage or destroyed aircraft during missions around the globe.

Nic Robertson, Paul Cruickshank, and Jomana Karadsheh, “Libyan Official: U.S. Drones Seeking Jihadists in Libya,” CNN.com, June 7, 2012.

A senior Libyan official told CNN that the U.S. is flying surveillance missions with drones over suspected jihadist training camps in eastern Libya because of concerns over rising activity by al Qaeda and like-minded groups in the region but said that to the best of his knowledge, they had not been used to fire missiles at militant training camps in the area.

Russell Rumbaugh, Resolving Ambiguity: Costing Nuclear Weapons, Stimson Center, June 5, 2012.

(3PA: The United States has spent at least $8.7 trillion on its nuclear weapons arsenal since 1940. This report estimates that the U.S. government spends $31 billion annually on nuclear weapons across the various agencies. The United States is projected to spend more than $210 billion on nuclear weapons over the next decade.)

Department of Defense Report to Congress on Future Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training, Operations, and Sustainability, April 2012.

Benjamin E. Goldsmith and Yusaku Horiuchi, “In Search of Soft Power: Does Foreign Public Opinion Matter for U.S. Foreign Policy?” World Politics, July 2012.

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