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 Cyberattacks

by Micah Zenko
October 19, 2012

U.S. President Obama speaks on the phone at the White House (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Obama speaks on the phone at the White House (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

Nassar Arrabyee, “Qaeda Leader Reported Dead in Yemen Attack,” New York Times, October 18, 2012.

A drone fired on a group of people preparing to attack Yemeni troops on Thursday, killing at least nine, including a man identified as a leader of the local branch of Al Qaeda, according to Yemeni and security officials, who said the aircraft was American-operated. The strike took place less than a mile from a Yemeni brigade’s position in the southern province of Abyan, the officials said,

(3PA: Obama administration officials have claimed that every U.S. targeted killing is against al-Qaeda leaders who pose a significant and imminent threat to the U.S. homeland. As President Obama stated last month: “Our goal has been to focus on al-Qaeda and to focus narrowly on those who would pose an imminent threat to the United States of America.” Individuals suspected of an imminent attack on Yemeni troops clearly fall well below this standard. Curious journalists might investigate how a rhetorical CIA strategy to protect the U.S. homeland has merged into one where CIA and JSOC drones serve as the counterinsurgency air force on behalf of the Hadi regime.)


Robert Naiman, “When a Drone Flies Over Waziristan, Does It Make a Sound?” Huffington Post, October 17, 2012.

In our second meeting with Ambassador Hoagland, we asked about the impact on the civilian population of Waziristan of having U.S. drones constantly flying over them, poised to strike. Leah Bolger, President of Veterans For Peace, asked: “Would you concede that the constant buzzing of drones overhead 24 hours a day, is a form of psychological warfare?”

Ambassador Hoagland responded: “You know I’ve heard those stories, I haven’t been there to hear it myself, and I will tell you what my suspicion is, that that’s not actually true, because drones fly at such a high altitude they can’t be seen or heard.”

(3PA: It’s astonishing that the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan believes this, since it is demonstrably false. Journalist David Rohde, who was held by the Taliban in Pakistan for seven months in 2008 and 2009, has described the drones as “tiny specks in the sky, the whirr of their propellers announces their arrival. They sound like single-engine Piper Cubs, circling overhead for hours at a time.” Also, my colleague Pir Zubair Shah told me last week that he called several journalists in North Waziristan to reconfirm the steady buzzing of U.S. drones above the tribal areas, which they told Pir they hear them all the time.)


Siobhan Gorman, “Iran Renews Internet Attacks on U.S. Banks,” Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2012.

U.S. officials said the attacks against banks, and others against Middle Eastern energy companies, were sponsored by the Iranian government and approved at high levels as part of a low-grade cyberwar that officials warned could lead to retaliation.

Unclear is at what point attacks on individual banks constitute an assault on the overall financial system that would call for a forceful response from the U.S. military, which has formed a “Cyber Command” to help defend government computers and critical civilian networks.

“It is a fair question,” said a senior U.S. official. “I am not sure I have the answer to it.”

(3PA: Since 2006 it has been U.S. policy that, in response to cyberattacks, “DOD will conduct kinetic missions to preserve freedom of action and strategic advantage in cyberspace. Kinetic actions can be either offensive or defensive and used in conjunction with other mission areas to achieve optimal military effects.” Six years later, U.S. officials still cannot articulate what is the threshold for using military force in response to cyberattacks against the United States.)


Hillary Rodham Clinton, Interview with Reena Ninan of ABC News, October 15, 2012.

QUESTION: If there is that solid evidence of who killed Chris Stevens—and obviously these guys aren’t coming in in handcuffs—would this Administration be willing to strike them before a U.S. election?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say this. I think there are three points that are very important to me. First, we will get to the bottom of what happened. Secondly, we will learn whatever lessons can be gleaned in order to protect our people. And third, we will track down whoever did this and hold them accountable, bring them to justice.

(3PA: It is a testament to how the media has accepted and endorsed the Obama administration’s targeted killing pathology, that this ABC News journalist finds it “obvious” that the United States would not attempt to apprehend suspected terrorists, but merely kill them.)


Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes, “Iran Blamed for Cyberattacks,” Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2012.

Iranian hackers with government ties have mounted cyberattacks against American targets in recent months, escalating a low-grade cyberwar, U.S. officials say.

The Iranian effort culminated in a series of recent attacks against U.S. banks as well as electronic assaults this year on energy companies in the Persian Gulf. The attacks bore “signatures” that allowed U.S. investigators to trace them to the Iranian government, the officials said.

The hackers appear to be a network of fewer than 100 Iranian computer-security specialists at universities and network security companies in Iran, investigators said. Iranian officials didn’t return a call seeking comment.

U.S. officials said detailed evidence linking the attacks to Tehran is classified. But Iranian hackers don’t have the resources to mount major attacks without the support and technical expertise of the government, the officials said. “These are not ordinary Iranians,” one senior U.S. official said.

(3PA: Although this information is supposedly classified, countless Obama administration officials have leaked details alleging Iran’s supposed culpability. Congressional members have yet to demand an investigation into such selective leaking of classified national security information.)


James D. Hornfischer, “Book Review: Who Killed Osama bin Laden?” Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2012.

As the book closes, Mr. Obama lectures Mark Bowden, of all people, on the useful nature of our “Special Forces” (a misnomer there; Special Forces are the Green Berets, an Army outfit; the term doesn’t include the SEALs) and the intelligence system that supports them. “I do think that just from a broader military strategy perspective, that we can’t overstate what Special Forces can do. Special Forces are well designed to deal with very specific targets in difficult terrain and oftentimes can prevent us from making the bigger strategic mistakes of sending forces in, with big footprints and so forth. And so when you’re talking about dealing with terrorist networks in failed states, or states that don’t have capacity, you can see that as actually being less intrusive, less dangerous, less problematic for the country involved.” “Ultimately,” the president muses, “none of this stuff works if we’re not partnering effectively with other countries.”


Counting Deaths from Drone Strikes, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, October 2012.

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