The Central Intelligence Agency is described as being a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government responsible for providing national security intelligence to senior United States policymakers. The National Security Act of 1947 established the CIA with “no police or law enforcement functions, either at home or abroad”. This brief sounds reasonably civilised to those who – unlike the writer – believe that espionage is a necessary evil. However the CIA greatly extended its original brief and has engaged in illegal and violent activities.
In 2007 the United States Central Intelligence Agency declassified secret records detailing operations including illegal domestic surveillance, assassination plots and kidnapping, undertaken from the 1950s to the early 1970s, at the height of the Cold War and the Vietnam conflict.
Assertion that bombing civilians is legitimate self-defense
Civilisation 3000’s current concern is about the CIA’s use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen with presidential authorisation. According to the New America Foundation, President Obama has been authorising drone strikes at a higher rate than President Bush. The U.S. government describes the strikes, which have caused many civilian deaths, as legitimate acts of self-defense.
UN report says this is illegal
This stance is now being challenged at several levels. A United Nations report, obtained by Channel 4 News, says that a covert CIA programme to assassinate al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan using drone aircraft is “illegal” and should be halted. The report, written by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston, was formally submitted to the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva. He says the use of drones to target militants “violates straightforward legal rules . . . There are no clear rules of engagement . . . no accountability after the fact”.
There was a Congressional hearing at which Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, a former Navy surface warfare officer, told a panel that the pilots operating the drones from afar could — in theory — be prosecuted in the countries where the attacks occur, because they aren’t combatants in a legal sense.
Mary Ellen O’Connell, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, a private Catholic research university in Indiana, USA, was more explicit in her statement. “Combat drones are battlefield weapons,” she told the panel: “They fire missiles or drop bombs capable of inflicting very serious damage. Drones are not lawful for use outside combat zones. Outside such zones, police are the proper law enforcement agents, and police are generally required to warn before using lethal force.”
There are reports of deep divisions about the use of drones within the CIA
Vicki Divoll, worked for several years as a CIA lawyer. Based on “what we believe to be happening,” she reveals deep divisions within the CIA about the use of drones. Using drones to kill people has been “extremely controversial” at the agency, she says. “When the controls are manned by someone in a suburb of Washington rather than by someone in the field you become so detached that there’s no cost, there’s no limitation on you.” The implications of the robotic revolution are profound. The US is already recruiting drone pilots from among young men skilled at computer games. Instead of flying into danger they may never need to leave the security of a cabin full of computer screens on home soil.
It was reported that in June there was to be an international conference in Dubai – UAV’10 – bringing together experts from many fields who would discuss the future use of these unmanned aerial vehicles. No report of its proceedings has yet been found and the conference note seems to indicate that the discussion was to be confined to technological problems.
This year, more drones were ordered by the Pentagon than regular aircraft, and thousands of pilots are being trained each year. A recently leaked document revealed that US Central Command had given authorisation for drones to be deployed across the Middle East, from Iran to Yemen and Somalia.
Will this process continue, changing attitudes towards killing and making governments feel war is less costly or risky, as the former CIA lawyer implies?