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Drones for "Regime Protection"
The CIA's insurance plan for Karzai and Maliki---and what it means for Syria
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Media reports of CIA preparations to use drones to target al-Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria, should the post-Assad situation warrant such an intervention, are only party correct. The plan to use drones under certain circumstances is in reality part of the much larger CIA program in Iraq that parallels the program being set up in Afghanistan. CIA initiatives in both countries are related to what is being mandated by the National Security Council as a policy of “regime survival” to help keep in place governments that are at least nominally friendly to Washington and that will be dependent on American technology and intelligence resources for the foreseeable future to maintain their own security. The CIA will bear the brunt of the two operations, as it can do so without a highly visible military footprint. In Iraq it includes, among other elements, the continued training of something akin to an elite counter-terrorism Praetorian Guard to protect senior officials while also advancing efforts against a growing Salafist presence in the country, linked to resurgent Sunni terrorism that is attempting to weaken the government of Nouri al-Maliki. The Obama administration is hoping to develop a level of cooperation with the Iraqi government that will enable the identification of extremist elements, some of which are taking the opportunity to transit into Syria. They are a threat to what are perceived to be the long-term interests of America and Iraq’s Shia government. Those who are identified as al-Qaeda-linked militants could become drone targets in Syria, if the situation in that country deteriorates.

The program would be similar to one adopted in Afghanistan that has reportedly led to a majority of the adult male population being recorded using biometric identifiers, enabling the U.S. military and CIA to track and identify suspected militants through technologies that are still top secret. The U.S. concern is that western Iraq and Syria, which are now both part of a linked insurgency, could easily become a center of jihadi activity, so an intensive effort is underway first to identify and then separate the hard-core elements from the less radicalized spear-carriers before the situation metastasizes after the expected fall of Assad. As is often the case in volatile situations, the CIA does not have a good handle on who the players are and what their motivations might be, in spite of having had a large presence in Iraq since 2003. It is having trouble identifying the “friendlies.” The Agency particularly lacks good connections in the Sunni region and is largely reliant on technical collection of information rather than spies who could provide context for the intelligence coming in. The numbers being suggested in Washington regarding the size of the cross-border insurgency alleged to be affiliated with either al-Qaeda or its Iraqi affiliate al-Nusra are unreliable, as they tend to come from liaison with Iraqi intelligence and can include anyone who is adult, male, and Sunni and is regarded as resisting the Shia government of al-Awlaki. This is not unlike the questionable estimates made of Taliban strength in Afghanistan.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Drones 
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  1. Well, I guess one question is whether or not governments that require twenty four seven military protection to stay in power are a government by the people. Such was one of the causes for the war efforts as well as the much maligned ‘quota protocols’ used to ensure such governance as we are now protecting.

    Second question, is rather obvious: is it possible to provide such protection using drones? The drone experiments being engaged in Iraq and Afgahnistan will most likely fail, if the forces arrayed against the current governmants decide they desire change and the vote is juts not the way to get it.

    Third, I was intrigued and concerned about th observation of targeting. Are we secretly inserting some satellite chip into suspected terrorists or a violent opposition? Some chemical dye in the food system? Other yhan that biometrics in the dusty plains, sands and mountains of either country of men cloaked from head to toe in all manner of dress, impossible to tell apart from a distance seems an exercise in futility — even with close up enhanced photos. To extend the use of biometircs at thos level is intriguing, but ethically and politically riskiy.

    I think the article does a fair indictment of the process. Am I unpatriotic or has the country in the process in taking an unrecoverable turn?

  2. The hidden issue is just how much of this experiement is being prepped for use in the US.

  3. Caveat: I am in support of not abandoning the mess, if that is appropriate, we created in either country.

  4. Can you imagine the reaction here if a foreign military force and foreign spies started registering every American man in the country here with their own INS, fingerprints, iris scans, blood samples?

    Yeah, we’re bringing “democracy” all right. Not.

    Not abandon the mess “we” (what do you mean, “we,” Kemo-sabe?) created over there? The stench of what “we” have done is so sickening, the best “we” could do for everyone is simply leave. That’s not going to happen, because “our” elites who profit so mightily, aren’t wanting to give up what for them is a continuing revenue stream.

  5. And they say there is no ’empire’ — Augustus would be proud!

    Thank you Phil, for reaching below the headlines. Great analysis, as always.


  6. All for nought: Washington proposes, reality disposes.

    I would give my eye teeth to spend a morning or afternoon touring around the Green Zone. Perhaps some day we will see it exploited as some kind of theme park.

    As to the biometric surveillance – a razor edge short of sheer voodoo. Infinite data is useless in real time. The practical utility of surveillance comes after the suspect has been identified; difficult to get right when you have about no one who speaks the language and none who speak it well and you rely on the tyrant to point out the bad apples.

    The wonder is that there is so little wonder about the efficacy of all this exotica weighed against the cultural antipathy likely being generated by the collection .

  7. “Not abandon the mess “we” (what do you mean, “we,” Kemo-sabe?) created over there? The stench of what “we” have done is so sickening, the best “we” could do for everyone is simply leave. That’s not going to happen, because “our” elites who profit so mightily, aren’t wanting to give up what for them is a continuing revenue stream.”

    I opposed the action, and while I would like to say — it’s not my fault, “It wasn’t me,” so says the song. I have to in end admit that I am a US citizen and the glories of my country men and women as well as its errors are mine as well.

    My arguments did not prevail. I have no small guilt about that.

    “Kemo-sabe,” wonder what that sounds like in a whisper.

    I understand Fran Macadam, but I am part of a whole.

  8. Tim D. says:

    I admit I was a bit puzzled the other idea when I spoke with an acquaintance on whether the USA is an ’empire’ or not. He said it wasn’t because he thought republic != empire. But I noted he had a quaint reaction when I mentioned how Obama has been using the drones. The vast bulk of casualties have little to not ties with Al-Qaeda.

    Most people find it baffling why foreigners despise the US. They don’t despise us because of our ‘freedom’, they dislike us because of our meddling foreign policy like supporting dictatorships in the Middle East for several generations in exchange for natural resources like oil. Needless to say, the populace carries these memories, such as Iran.

    Obama’s drone policies are opening a can of worms that have global ramifications. What is even more chilling is that Obama practically gives the CIA a free-reign using drones. They need reigned in ASAP, and I doubt their effectiveness in the long-term. Israel, for example, has been using targeted assassinations for years, and the results are mixed. Unless you nip the terrorist weed at its roots, it’s a short-term gain that increases long-term dangers.

    On a side note, these days I cannot help but think policymakers are not only shortsighted, but also clueless about the blowbacks of the actions they take.

  9. Typo: al-Maliki, not al-Awlaki, who is no longer a problem.

  10. I hate it when reality starts turning into a Shia LaBoeuf movie (although I guess if it has to happen, Eagle Eye is a better option than the Transformers movies).

  11. cdugga says:

    Yeah, think I saw that mentioned in one of the newer issues of al-Qeada Today or Lifestyles of the Future Islamic Martyrs . “Do not leave a trail of urination and defecation for the infidels to follow, and if you masturbate may god strike you dead anyway.” Satellite guided drops of food staples, arabic hot rod magazine, and regular copies of Guess the Celebrity Guest Behind the Burka along with cd’s of the latest Arabic Idol would probably be at least as effective as satellite guided munitions and would have the added benefit of disconnecting sudden family death by Uncle Sam appearing in local obituaries. Course, who would make money off that. Wait a minute, no, nevermind. But really, I thought we already tried that whole umbrella for oil friendly regimes thing.

  12. Ken Hoop says:

    The US failed, in eight years of fighting, to extingish even the Saddam/Baathist fraction of the various insurgencies in Iraq. Now, if I read Giraldi right, the US proposes to do a balancing act, funding and training certain wings of the anti-Assad insurgencies, eradicating others and protecting a pro-Assad, pro-Iranian Maliki, while conducting an effective economic war with Iran which will force it to the table on US terms.

    You are kidding me?

  13. “The program would be similar to one adopted in Afghanistan that has reportedly led to a majority of the adult male population being recorded using biometric identifiers, enabling the U.S. military and CIA to track and identify suspected militants through technologies that are still top secret.”

    That’s about the most unnerving tidbit I’ve heard this young month. If it happens there, if most men can be electronically profiled in Afghanistan, what’s to keep them from being biometrically sketched onto a bulls-eye… anywhere. But couldn’t this be pacifier for a public becoming more uncertain about firing a missile into an apartment building and killing 30 innocent to nail one guilty? Seems far-fetched to an imperial layman like me.

  14. a spencer says:

    Thank you for your service.

    >> using biometric identifiers, enabling the U.S. military and CIA to track and identify suspected militants<<

    You are simply describing the latest video game, correct? Is it available on PS3?

  15. Just wait a bit, in the future, drones will be operated by algorythms, so nobody is truely responsible for who they kill!

    Trust the CIA programmers! They know how to keep us safe and secure, and we could be more secure if we would trust them more!

  16. Duglarri says:

    So let me understand this: the CIA is going to conduct drone strikes against the Syrian opposition, while at the same time arming and supporting the Syrian opposition. Makes perfect sense.

  17. The spirit will always beat the machine. (See Vietnam)

  18. Charles Caruso “The spirit will always beat the machine. (See Vietnam)
    Try running that past the Japanese as well….Oh wait. And of course there are always the Sioux, Apaches, etc.

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