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.

You Might Have Missed: Drone Secrets, Noise, and Civil Liberties

by Micah Zenko Friday, March 29, 2013
A U.S. Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile stands on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport. (Massoud Hossaini/Courtesy Reuters). A U.S. Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile stands on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport. (Massoud Hossaini/Courtesy Reuters).

Jameel Jaffer, “The Drone Secrets We Should See,” Politico, March 29, 2013.

The administration owes the public a fuller account of the program. It should begin by releasing the legal memos that supposedly justify the program. In litigation, the government has acknowledged the existence of three memos; it has shown other memos to some members of Congress. Disclosure of the memos to the public — redacted, if necessary, to protect intelligence sources and methods — would help the public better understand who the government considers to be lawful targets and why the government believes the program to be consistent with domestic and international law. Read more »

Research Associate Opportunity–New York City

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The CFR’s David Rockefeller Studies Program is hiring a research associate to work in New York City, to support the work of the Douglas Dillon Fellow, which happens to be me. The position requires someone who is super motivated, curious about foreign policy issues, well-educated, and/or experienced in producing written content. This generally involves various administrative tasks, research, editing, and writing—your own stuff, and ideally some co-authored pieces. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Iraq, Yemen, and Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko Friday, March 22, 2013
The lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters). The lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters).

Government Accountability Office, “U.S. Assistance to Yemen: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Emergency Food Aid and Assess Security Assistance,” March 20, 2013.

Two DOD programs account for the vast majority of U.S. security assistance to Yemen; however, DOD has yet to evaluate their effectiveness in building Yemeni counterterrorism capacity. As noted earlier, of the $497 million in total security assistance allocated to Yemen between fiscal years 2007 and 2012, DOD allocated over 70 percent ($361 million) to its Section 1206 and 1207(n) programs…. Read more »

U.S. Public Opinion on Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko Monday, March 18, 2013
An armed drone prepares to take off in Afghanistan (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). An armed drone prepares to take off in Afghanistan (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

Although the United States has been killing suspected terrorists with drone strikes in nonbattlefield settings for over ten years, public opinion polling of the controversial tactic began only a year and a half ago. Averaged together, the polls demonstrate that 65 percent of Americans support the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, and 51 percent approve killing U.S. citizens who are suspected of terrorism. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Cybersecurity, and Iraq

by Micah Zenko Friday, March 15, 2013
The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis transits the Straits of Hormuz (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis transits the Straits of Hormuz (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

Christopher P. Cavas, “Stennis’ Long Haul,” Navy Times, March 18, 2013.

REAR ADM. MIKE SHOEMAKER: We pay very close attention to Iran. In the gulf it is almost a daily interaction with the Iranian forces. Over the time I’ve been here, they have depressurized a little, or have given us a bit more standoff room both in the straits and the [Persian] Gulf. Read more »

Worldwide Threats Briefing Highlights

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on March 12, 2013 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters). Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on March 12, 2013 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters).

Yesterday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) held its annual open hearing on “National Security Threats to the United States.” First started in 1994, the hearing is the rare instance where the leaders of the Intelligence Community (IC) provide a public overview of the trends in U.S. national security threats and answer senators’ questions. Since the question and answer section is unscripted—unlike the prepared statements for the record—there are often new or interesting wrinkles in how the IC perceives the world. I have heard from intelligence staffers and officials who warily watch this hearing, cringing whenever their bosses answer questions that verge on the realm of classified information. I actually had the opportunity to attend part of this hearing, and witnessed staffers furiously scribbling notes during discussions of highly sensitive issues like Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Threat Inflation, Transparency, and Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko Friday, March 8, 2013
U.S. Army general Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifies on February 7, 2013 (Gary Cameron/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Army general Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifies on February 7, 2013 (Gary Cameron/Courtesy Reuters).

James Kitfield, “Outsourcing the Fight Against Terrorism,” National Journal, March 7, 2013.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. officers honed the tactics they teach here (Baker did several combat tours in Iraq), Americans led the fight against terrorists and insurgents. But in Washington, policymakers are now focused on shaving budgets and bringing home troops. And, Baker says, “there are not a lot of governments who want a big U.S. military footprint in their countries.” So Pentagon strategists need a cheaper way to fight militant Islamists—many of them operating, unmolested, in Africa—who would unseat our allies or attack our homeland. Read more »

Rand Paul’s Filibuster and Targeted Killings

by Micah Zenko Thursday, March 7, 2013
U.S. senator Paul appears on a television screen in an office at the U.S. Capitol as he filibusters in opposition to the nomination of Brennan to lead the CIA on March 6, 2013 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. senator Paul appears on a television screen in an office at the U.S. Capitol as he filibusters in opposition to the nomination of Brennan to lead the CIA on March 6, 2013 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters).

Although Rand Paul will deservedly receive all the attention, yesterday’s marathon filibuster was catalyzed by the Obama administration’s general refusal to engage with Congress on the issue of targeted killings. Like any White House desiring maximum authority with minimal oversight, the Obama administration maintained that it is only required to report covert actions by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and counterterrorism operations by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to the requisite intelligence and armed services committees. While Congress is almost never satisfied with the responsiveness and openness of the executive branch, members who do not serve on the aforementioned committees are particularly upset about the lack of clarifying information on drones. In part, this is because the issue is so widely debated, but also because this administration’s practice echoes the even less responsive nature of the George W. Bush administration. Read more »

Who Is Ultimately Responsible for U.S. Drone Strikes?

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Tribesmen gather at a site of a suspected drone strike on the outskirts of Miranshah, Pakistan, near the Afghan border in October 2008 (Haji Mujtaba/Courtesy Reuters). Tribesmen gather at a site of a suspected drone strike on the outskirts of Miranshah, Pakistan, near the Afghan border in October 2008 (Haji Mujtaba/Courtesy Reuters).

An article today in the New York Times offered a new piece of evidence in the CIA’s nine-year drone strikes campaign in Pakistan. Declan Walsh reported that anonymous officials—“two senior U.S. officials” and a “third official”—claimed that airstrikes on February 6 and 8, reported by Pakistani and international media as drone strikes, were not actually conducted by the United States. According to one of the sources: “They were not ours. We haven’t had any kinetic activity since January.” An official is also quoted as assigning responsibility to the “Pakistani military…the Taliban fighting among themselves. Or it could have been simply bad reporting.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Cybersecurity, Drones, and Collateral Damage

by Micah Zenko Friday, March 1, 2013
Air Force Space Command Network Operations & Security Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado July 20, 2010 (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters). Air Force Space Command Network Operations & Security Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado July 20, 2010 (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters).

Massimo Calabresi, “The Path to War,” TIME Magazine, March 11, 2013.

The most compelling argument for Obama, the former law professor, was that a nuclear Iran would spell the end of the international regime limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. Obama had written about the regime in college and had made denuclearization his primary focus in the Senate. He made bolstering the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty a top priority in his first two years as President, and in his second term, Obama is planning to dispatch top aides to negotiate a large nuclear-warhead reduction with Russia. Read more »