Pakistan News : When missiles fired by CIA drones slammed into Yemen and Pakistan last week, the attacks ended a period of relative quiet for the Obama administration’s lethal counterterrorism program. They also served as a reminder that the CIA is not ready to relinquish its role in the drone war.
Six months after President Obama signaled his desire to shift the campaign to the Defense Department, the CIA’s drone operations center in Langley, Va., is still behind the vast majority of strikes, said a report published in Washington Post.
And although senior CIA and Pentagon officials have held meetings in recent months aimed at finding a way for the military’s elite U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to take over the job, U.S. officials said the White House vision is a distant goal.
The emerging plan is likely to allow the CIA to maintain its drone fleet and stay deeply involved in targeted killing operations, even if the final step in any strike sequence is eventually handled by someone wearing a U.S. military uniform, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
U.S. officials said the discussions between the CIA and the Pentagon have involved CIA Director John Brennan; his deputy, Avril Haines; and Michael G. Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, who previously worked at the CIA.
The talks are focused on finding a way to merge key aspects of the CIA’s drone operations with those of JSOC, so that both sides are deeply and simultaneously involved in nearly every strike, officials said.
“The goal is a find, fix and finish process that features seamless cooperation and robust integration between CIA and DOD,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said, using terminology that has become nearly ubiquitous between CIA and U.S. military operatives for the three-step sequence of lethal strikes.
Even if JSOC takes over sole responsibility for the “finish,” the intelligence official said, “Brennan has said from the very beginning that the agency contributes important tools to the nation’s counterterrorism capacity the so-called find and fix.”
The technical snags beset the effort. Despite their overlapping “orbits” in Yemen, the CIA and JSOC employ different surveillance equipment on their drone fleets. They also rely on separate and sometimes incompatible communications networks to transmit video feeds and assemble intelligence from multiple streams in the moments before a strike.
Brennan met twice with senior officials at the Pentagon this month “to better integrate CIA and DOD counterterrorism efforts,” the intelligence official said.
The push to get the CIA out of large-scale lethal operations “is a goal broadly shared within the administration” but “proving difficult to accomplish,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Even when it happens, he said, “it isn’t going to mean that either the intelligence community or the Department of Defense make a clean break.”
That prospect could undermine a main rationale for the switch: the conviction among many senior administration officials that the CIA should return its focus to its mission of intelligence gathering. Agencies