The Central Intelligence Agency continues to rapidly expand its global extrajudicial assassination program under the Obama administration, secretly murdering people with drones from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Somalia and Yemen. Even American citizens are fair game, according to the President.
The dramatic evolution of the agency’s priorities and operations has become so extreme that a former senior intelligence official told the Washington Post the CIA had been turned into “one hell of a killing machine.” The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the paramilitary transformation was “nothing short of a wonderment.”
But the dramatic metamorphosis, detailed in a recent exposé by the Post entitled “CIA shifts focus to killing targets,” is hardly without critics. Some experts have even warned Congress that the illegal killings may constitute war crimes.
Thousands of suspected “militants” and civilians have been executed in drone strikes so far. At least 168 children were killed by such attacks just in Pakistan over a seven year period, according to a study released last month by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The real figure is probably even higher.
But few of the targeted suspects, if any, were formally charged with committing a crime before being blown apart – often with their entire families. Even fewer had been convicted in a court of law.
And though American authorities publicly claim the assassination programs only target high-level terror suspects, the former intelligence official cited by the Post said that is not necessarily the case. “It wasn’t always high-value targets,” he said, speaking about the intended victims of the agency’s teams on the ground. “They were trying to pursue and kill sometimes lower-hanging fruit.”
Along with its death squads, the CIA has also reportedly recruited a vast network of spies in the nations where its Predator drones are dropping bombs. The agency’s “Special Activities Division” even trains and operates own proxy militias in countries such as Afghanistan, which are apparently responsible for much of the dirty work.
According to experts, the ongoing changes in the CIA’s focus and operations have led to boundaries between the agency, the military and U.S. war contractors becoming increasingly blurred. Even Congress is often kept out of the loop under the guise of “national security.”
But critics charge that the agency’s expanding role as an independent war-making apparatus should be cause for concern. “We’re seeing the CIA turn into more of a paramilitary organization without the oversight and accountability that we traditionally expect of the military,” National Security Project director Hina Shamsi with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told the Post.
The myriad assassination programs are particularly troubling to critics. In the U.S. Congress, for example, representatives on both sides of the aisle have blasted the “illegal” murders.
“Think of the use of drone air strikes as summary executions, extra-judicial killings justified by faceless bureaucrats using who-knows-what ‘intelligence,’ with no oversight whatsoever and you get the idea that we have slipped into spooky new world where joystick gods manipulating robots deal death from the skies,” noted Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D–Ohio) in an editorial.