The Drone Papers Give Terrifying Glimpse Into US Assassination Program

The Intercept has revealed newly leaked government documents that give a terrifying glimpse into the secret U.S. drone assassination program.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a new appeal Monday against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), just a few days after The Intercept released an eight-part expose on the secret assassination program run by the United States government.

As The Intercept thoughtfully frames it, this move by the ACLU highlights a growing problem with the US's accountability:

In the absence of verifiable facts and documentary evidence regarding the agency’s operations, the task of mapping and understanding a central component of modern American warfare has fallen on journalists and legal organizations.

This is just the latest move in a five-year legal battle between the ACLU and the CIA. While the Drone Papers have enraged many people and humanitarian organizations across the globe, this program has received consistent support from Capitol Hill, with many telling the CIA that the program in necessary and efficient. 

“Government officials frequently complain of whistleblowers’ purported failure to use ‘official channels’ for disclosure,” Jaffer wrote in a post for the website Just Security Monday night. “But perhaps the complaint would be marginally more sympathetic if the government were complying with the FOIA. Whistleblowers would surely be less inclined to disclose information through unofficial channels if the government were complying with its legal obligation to disclose information through official ones.”

The Intercept has revealed newly leaked government documents, referred to as "The Drone Papers," that give a terrifying glimpse into the secret U.S. drone assassination program.

In the eight-part expose by Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept, the Pentagon's understanding of the loopholes surrounding the legality of assassinations is exposed. Not only is it potently obvious that government officials ignore the fact that assassinations by U.S. personnel have been banned by executive order ever since Gerald Ford's presidency, but Congress' inability to strictly define "assassination" has allowed government officials to use every legal loophole to their advantage.

Scahill spoke with Democracy Now about his eight-part look into the leaked papers:

"But the fact that this is the first time that primary source documents have been published that detail the chain of command for assassinating people around the globe. The banality of the bureaucracy of assassination is so clear in these documents—the cold corporate words that they use to describe killing people. The 'basics of manhunting' is one of the terms that they use. The 'tyranny of distance' is another term that they use. 'Arab features,' you know, to describe people that they’re looking at from thousands of feet above. The corporate coldness of the way that these documents reflect what is actually a process of systematically hunting down and assassinating human beings should send chills through the spine of people who care about democracy in this society."

The unnamed U.S. source that leaked the documents to The Intercept spoke about the documents, as well. 

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"It's stunning the number of instances when I’ve come across intelligence that was faulty, when sources of information used to finish targets were misattributed to people. And it isn’t until several months or years later that you realize that the entire time you thought you were going after this target, it was his mother’s phone the whole time. Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association—it’s a phenomenal gamble," the source said.

protest against drones

The International Business Times reports that, among the many disturbing things in the documents, it is clear that “90 percent of those killed by the U.S. drones in Afghanistan over a five-month period were not the intended targets.” In the documents, the Pentagon even admitted back in 2013 that “the drone strikes are often carried out based on faulty intelligence.”

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IBT adds that, “The Obama administration has consistently declined to discuss drone operations publicly other than to tell the public that each strike is the targeted killing of a person who constituted an imminent threat to U.S. national security.”

How could a program with such horrible accuracy be such a defining way the U.S. wages war?

“The military is easily capable of adapting to change, but they don’t like to stop anything they feel is making their lives easier, or is to their benefit. And this certainly is, in their eyes, a very quick, clean way of doing things,” the source told The Intercept. “It’s a very slick, efficient way to conduct the war, without having to have the massive ground invasion mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan. But at this point, they have become so addicted to this machine, to this way of doing business, that it seems like it’s going to become harder and harder to pull them away from it the longer they’re allowed to continue operating in this way.”

Check out the full expose by The Intercept here.

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Banner credit: US Navy, Wikipedia

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