Damning Leak of Drones Documents

From the November-December 2015 PNL #847

By Carol Baum

In an astonishing act of civil courage, one American just shattered an unspeakable lie….There’s never been a major leak of documents relating to the US drone program. Until now.  
– Tweeted by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden on the release of The Drone Papers (https://theintercept.com/drone-papers).

We’re allowing this to happen. And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it.
– Stated by “the source,” who provided the documents to The Intercept.

On October 15, the news website The Intercept, which is “dedicated to producing fearless, adversarial journalism,” published The Drone Papers. This eight-part series is based on leaked documents on the Pentagon’s assassination-by-drone program in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen from 2011-2013. While some of the information was previously known, the level of detail and new data make it clear that the US is regularly and knowingly violating human rights with its drone program. The value of The Drone Papers comes not just in publishing the documents themselves, but in decoding and analyzing technical military information. It’s clear that drone assassination has become integral to the US “war on terror,” which is now a US war of terror.  
Two Pentagon studies and a computer screen shot were leaked:
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Support to Small Footprint Counterterrorism OperationsSomalia/Yemen (a “footprint” is the area which is feasible for surveillance and targeting). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the intelligence and technology behind the drone campaigns in Yemen and Somalia—countries outside declared war zones—with an eye to planning future campaigns. It provided the first clear documentation of the steps in the chain of command to approve a drone strike and its timing (note: the CIA has a different process, unknown to the public). There was also a case study of a British-Lebanese citizen who was surveilled for at least five years (during which time he could have been easily arrested), then stripped of his British citizenship and eventually killed in a drone attack.
Operation Haymaker. This study evaluated a special operations campaign intended to destroy the Taliban and al Qaeda in northeastern Afghanistan. Although there were hopes the campaign would be a model for future US warfare, it was basically a failure. During a five-month period, nearly 90% of those killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets, and some of the targets were not members of the Taliban or al Qaeda. By the campaign’s end, there were more than 200 EKIAs (anyone killed of a certain age and look is seen as an “enemy killed in action,” masking the true number of civilians killed) and about 35 “jackpots” (deaths of specifically targeted people). Al Qaeda and the Taliban were undeterred.
The geolocation watchlist is a screen shot of lines of code on a computer terminal used by personnel involved in drone operations. These codes are associated with cell phone SIM cards, which are linked to specific individuals in order to locate them. The military relies heavily on signal intelligence (electronic communications) to identify targets, and much of it comes from foreign governments. Even though the documents state that this is an unreliable way to find and kill people, it is the primary way the US tracks targets in Yemen and Somalia.
In May 2013, President Obama stated that the only people who would be targeted by weaponized drones were those posing a “continuing, imminent threat to the American people,” and who could not be captured. He also said strikes would occur only if there was “near certainty” that no civilians would be killed or injured. The evidence has shown all parts of Obama’s statement to be false.
Although the mainstream media is largely ignoring The Drone Papers, the word is getting out. Amnesty International has called for a congressional investigation into “why the Obama administration has kept this vital information secret, including the real identities of all those killed in this global killing programme.” The American Civil Liberties Union has pressed ahead with their lawsuit to force the CIA to release data from their drone strikes, stating, “These revelations are further damning evidence that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush-era project of treating the world as a global battlefield while evading public accountability.”


The Drone Papers released a never-before-seen level of detail about whose okay is needed to go ahead with a drone strike. Source : The Intercept


What can we do?
Learn more. For a summary of The Drone Papers revelations, read part one, “The Assassination Complex” (https://theintercept.com/drone-papers/the-assassination-complex).
Urge local media to report on the revelations.
Support Amnesty International and the ACLU in their efforts.
Contact the Peace Council to participate in our anti-drone organizing.


Carol is an SPC staff organizer who has been working against drones since 2009.