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: Global Threats Hearing, China’s ADZ, Drones in Pakistan

by Micah Zenko
February 7, 2014

Hearing on Global Threats to the U.S., U.S. House Intelligence Committee, February 4, 2014.

REPRESENTATIVE JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D-IL): Director Clapper, do you have any concrete intelligence of a relationship between Snowden and the Russian government in regard to the stolen documents?

DIR. CLAPPER: That’s best discussed in a closed session, as we discussed last night.

REP. SCHAKOWSKY: OK. I want to thank you, Director Clapper, for your robust defense of transparency, which has been characterized, actually, as a potential threat to our security or dismissed as politics. And I prefer to call it democracy. I believe that the national debate on domestic surveillance has been valuable, but unfortunately, it was an NSA contract leaker who initiated it and not the government.

And the drone program is another example of a significant activity that the public is trying to discuss that has been thwarted by a lack of transparency. This year, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have conducted serious research and raised very legitimate concerns about the consequences of the drone program on (your own?) security, that the government has not responded. Director Clapper, what steps can the intelligence community take to increase transparency into the drone program and foster a responsible national debate?

DIR. CLAPPER: Well, we’re speaking of activities that are conducted covertly. So that’s one area where being transparent is one of a number of areas where we’re not going to be able to perhaps be as fully transparent as some might like. John, do you want to add to that?

DIR. BRENNAN: When I was at the White House and I was assistant to the president of the counterterrorism, I spoke repeatedly, publicly about the so-called drones, or remotely piloted aircraft that had become an instrument of war. And I spoke about that to the extent that I could. But this is something that I think has been discussed quite broadly.

REP. SCHAKOWSKY: Does the intelligence community weigh or consider how signature strikes against unnamed military-age males may increase the terrorist threat because it could generate hatred for Americans, and actually motivate you to join rather than reject terrorist groups?

DIR. BRENNAN: From an intelligence community perspective, we’re always evaluating and analyzing developments overseas to include any counterterrorism activity that we might be involved in to see what the impact is. And I think the feeling is that the counterterrorism activities that we have engaged in with our partners — we the U.S. government broadly, both from an intelligence perspective as well as from a military perspective, have greatly mitigated the threat to U.S. persons both overseas as well as in the homeland.

REP. SCHAKOWSKY: And do you believe that the signature strike model, if adopted by other countries that are developing an armed drone program, can be a threat to the United States?

DIR. CLAPPER : Well, it could be, but I would have to comment on the — to the extent that we can talk about this here — the great care that is exercised by the United States. And so I would hope — and being very precise about which targets to strike. So I would hope, as other countries acquire similar capabilities, that they follow the model that we have for the care and precision that we exercise.

REP. SCHAKOWSKY: One other question. As marked up by this committee, the FY 2014 Intelligence Authorization Bill includes an amendment that I sponsored requiring a written plan for each covert action program to prepare ahead of time for the potential leak of that program. It increases the threat to U.S. sources and methods of the intelligence community if caught flat-footed by a leak. And the reality is that any covert action can potentially be disclosed unexpectedly. Director Brennan, without disclosing classified details, does each covert action program have, or will it have a written plan, then, of action, to deal with leaks of significant activities in that program?

DIR. BRENNAN: It’s one of the issues that we take into account whenever there is a covert action program that is approved and implemented. It takes into account what the implications would be in the event of leaks. Unfortunately, there are too many disclosures and leaks about a lot of things that the United States intelligence community is involved in. And so it becomes a normal part of our business to anticipate those…

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Director Brennan, you have spoken frequently about the unmanned air vehicles and program. The president at NDU in May gave one of the more detailed accounts of the criteria that’s used in those otherwise known as drone efforts.

You’ve tried to increase transparency in the program. One way that I think would increase transparency and public accountability is if we could publish an annual report that identified how many combatants were killed through the use of unarmed — or unmanned vehicles and how many noncombatants were killed. That seems to me of very limited value in terms of information to our adversaries, but in terms of public accountability and being able to correct the record at times when there are misleading claims of civilian casualties, it might be beneficial as well.

Is that something that you could support? Would that be another effort of transparency that we can make, and would that, in your view, as in mine, be of fairly diminish value to our adversaries?

DIR. BRENNAN: I think it would be a recommendation that would have to go to the administration, and then I would be a participant in the interagency process to discuss the advantages and potential disadvantages of it. But it’s certainly a worthwhile recommendation, if you would like to make that.

REP. SCHIFF: Can you share any thoughts with us today on any of the costs of that? I mean, if it were done, say, at the end of the year, if we had categories so you could pinpoint any particular incident, is it your sense that the cost in terms of giving our adversaries any useful information would be fairly minimal?

DIR. BRENNAN: Congressman, I think this would be something again for you to be able to discuss with the administration, with policymakers, and then what we would need to do is to take a look at it analytically and determine whether or not this is something that the U.S. government feels as though would be worthwhile to do. There is a lot of debate about, you know, what is the basis for those determinations and those numbers, and so it’s something, again, I would defer to the administration on.

REP. SCHIFF: Well, thank you, Director. I’ll follow up with you on that. You know, the president in his speech in May also indicated that there is a wide disparity of view regarding those numbers, and I think more transparency and public accountability would be beneficial.

Director Clapper, moving to the — some of the privacy issues that have come up in the last six months, the tech companies are in a pretty impossible situation. They have a business model which includes a lot of international business, which has become increasingly difficult to come by. There’s a settlement recently with the Justice Department that allows some more transparency, which I think will be helpful to them.

Can we go beyond that to let them assure their international customers that the number of times they’re asked to divulge information is very limited, compared to the overall number of transactions? And are there other ways that we can help them make the international business case, because it’s very much, I think, in our interest to do so?

DIR. CLAPPER: Well, first, Congressman, thanks for citing the agreement that was recently struck with the providers on categories of disclosures that they can — they can now make and they — and they already have, which I think shows, A, that it’s part of the administration’s commitment to try to improve that situation. You know, I also think it shows in a — in the — (inaudible) — population out there how infrequently these capabilities are called upon.

One of the features of the — which was in the speech and in the presidential policy directive was to see what we could do extend privacy protections to non-U.S. citizens. Now, this was, I think, unique in the world, so we’re looking at that. And again, just like in our own domestic context, we’ll have to weigh the risk versus gain and how much that impinges on the question of valid foreign intelligence. So we’re working through that, not in a position today to say how that will come out, but clearly, wherever we can enhance transparency to the benefit of the — of our commercial partners, we certainly will.

(3PA: Notice that Brennan does not really give an answer when asked about “signature strikes.”)


Al-Qaida’s Resurgence in Iraq: A Threat to U.S. Interests,” House Foreign Affairs Committee, February 5, 2014.

REP. KINGZINGER: I’m obviously not very happy with what’s happening in Iraq, and I’ve been very clear that I thought the withdrawal from Iraq was one of the biggest mistakes, I think, historically that’ll be shown that the United States has made in modern foreign policy.

(3PA: Any consequences of the drawdown in Iraq should not be minimized.  But it was certainly the 2003 invasion that was the bigger mistake.)


Demetri Sevastopulo, “US says China ‘acting professionally’ in air defence zone,” Financial Times, February 5, 2014.

“We haven’t seen a significant change in those interactions since the reported establishment of the defence zone by the Chinese,” Adm Locklear said on Wednesday during a visit to Japan. “The good news is that military forces are acting professionally as we interact in these areas.”


Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman, and Saeed Shah, “U.S. to Curb Pakistan Drone Program,” Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2014.

The Obama administration will narrow its controversial drone program in Pakistan to target a short list of high-level terrorists, and aim to end it during the prime minister’s current term, senior U.S. officials have told their Pakistani counterparts.

The downsizing of the covert Central Intelligence Agency program reflects Pakistani objections to the strikes and logistical constraints on the spy agency at the end of this year, when U.S. troops are scheduled to pull out of neighboring Afghanistan, according to administration, intelligence and military officials.

(3PA: Drone strikes in Pakistan were always primarily for force protection of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Promising to end drone strikes in 2018, when troops are out of Afghanistan, is meaningless as the mission will no longer be needed. This isn’t a “new approach” and ignores the reality of signature strikes, implying that only people on a “kill list” are targeted with drones.)


Michael Hirsh, “John Kerry Now Holds Obama’s Legacy in His Hands,” National Journal, January 30, 2014.

“Anything labeled ‘nonproliferation’ and ‘counterterrorism’ gets the White House’s attention. The notion of Americans as peacemakers does not,” says one senior official who works for the administration.

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Kir Komrik

    “This year, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have conducted serious research and raised very legitimate concerns about the consequences of the drone program on (your own?) security, that the government has not responded …”

    This is why a prohibition on whacking government leaders was supposedly followed by USG moons ago: the fear was that this would create a kind of chaos in which nations sought to assassinate each other’s leaders. That is exactly what
    Amnesty is talking about. Perhaps the fact that this also pertains in the matter of automated assassination never occurred to USG?

    “REP. SCHAKOWSKY: And do you believe that the signature strike model, if adopted by other countries that are developing an armed drone program, can be a threat to the United States?”

    Of course it can, and once again, it invites moral hazard by encouraging other nations to employ “drones” and attack each other … personally. It’s coming. Listen to me now hear me later.

    “DIR. CLAPPER : Well, it could be, but I would have to comment on the — to the extent that we can talk about this here — the great care that is exercised by the United States. And so I would hope — and being very precise about which targets to strike. So I would hope, as other countries acquire similar capabilities, that they follow the model that we have for the care and precision that we exercise.”

    He hopes they attack with similar care and precision? Was he joking? Does he understand what he just said? Yes, they will attack with care and precision. This is called moral hazard and we’re about to drink it.

    “You’ve tried to increase transparency in the program. One way that I think would increase transparency and public accountability is if we could publish an annual report that identified how many combatants were killed through the use of unarmed — or unmanned vehicles and how many noncombatants were killed. That seems to me of very limited value in terms of information to our adversaries, but in terms of public accountability and being able to correct the record at times when there are misleading claims of civilian casualties, it might be beneficial as well.”

    The solution to transparency has been publicized right here on the CFR website by Joe Citizen and if there were any sincerity in USG’s comments they would have already done the obvious, unassailable things I recommended in that post. This isn’t rocket science … or Oz. Not anymore.

    “The Obama administration will narrow its controversial drone program in Pakistan to target a short list of high-level terrorists, and aim to end it during the prime minister’s current term, senior U.S. officials have told their Pakistani counterparts.”

    And he will reduce the proliferation of moral hazard by so doing; a danger far greater than the weapons USG is so worried about proliferating. When USG uses drones it encourages corrupt behavior on the part of other governments, gives them faux affirmation of agency, and assuages their conscience inflamed from a sense of common moral and ethical beliefs held worldwide.

    It’s not bad enough that we lack a global rule of law, but now we want to add to the global anarchy cornucopia of nuclear weapons, hijacked technology, biological warfare, loss of petroleum and war generally. I will say it here for the first time. I don’t think humanity is going to survive; and our demise is coming sooner than later. And I think we all know who future observers will hold to account when this house of cards comes down, if only there were anyone left to do so. Abandon in place, I say. And believe it or not there is a way to do just that. But it will take a couple of weeks to finish that tome.

    - kk

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