CIA Air Strike in Pakistan

The January 13th airstrike by the CIA against a village in Pakistan is old news now. The target was al-Quaida second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, but it is still unclear if he was among the 17 people killed in the attack. According to published reports, the Hellfire missile attack was launched from one of three CIA operated Predator UAV‘s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) seen in the area of the strike. The attack was said to have been ordered a Deputy Director of the CIA, although naturally that can’t be confirmed. The story has been overshadowed by recent events, but there is one crucial question which was never asked– since when does the Central Intelligence Agency carry out combat operations?

Predator in USAF colors
The CIA is primarily an intelligence gathering and analysis organization, and it reports almost directly to the President, through the new Director of National Intelligence. .

Here’s the CIA’s offical mission statement, from its own

We are the eyes and ears of the nation and at times its hidden hand. We accomplish this mission by:

* Collecting intelligence that matters.

* Providing relevant, timely, and objective all-source analysis.

* Conducting covert action at the direction of the President to preempt threats or achieve United States policy objectives.

An airstrike is hardly a “covert action,” it’s hard to think of a way it could possibly be more overt. An airstrike is a military combat action involving military forces and materiel (the Predator vehicle and its weapons are “owned,” maintained and supported by the US Air Force). Where is the authority for the Air Force to put advanced weapon systems into the hands of civilians? Where is the authority for the CIA to conduct military operations? That authority can certainly be claimed by the President, under the heading of “We’re at war, Congress authorized me to do whatever I need to do,” but consider the implications: if previous presidents believed that they had the same authority, they would certainly have ordered the assassination (by remote airstrike) of Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, and the Ayatollah Khomeni, to name three.

There are reasons for having a strong military, and equipping it with technologically advanced weapons systems. There are reasons for ensuring that such weapons systems can be used only by the military, which has elaborate systems for command and control. Yes, the CIA can and should carry out reconnaisance missions using whatever technology is available. And having identified a target, national command authority (derived from the President) could certainly be used to order the Air Force to conduct the strike. Is that just a technicality?

We don’t want to sound alarmist, but somebody has to say this out loud: the Hellfire missile can carry a nuclear warhead. The legitimate military forces have an incredibly complex set of rules and procedures to control what they euphemistically refer to as “special weapons.” What level of control can we expect within the CIA?


What do you think? Please enter a comment below.

One Response to “CIA Air Strike in Pakistan”

  1. Phiafly Says:

    The CIA have been doing this sort of thing for many decades. They are America’s assassins. Israel uses Mossad in the same manner. I don’t see a problem with this sort of tactic in a time of war. When these powers are used in peace time, it’s illegality is without question and an obvious breach of sovereignty. In answser to the question you posed about this being a covert operation, I think one can gleam from the last point in the CIA charter you listed, that this was “covert” in the sense that it was an invisable and secret attack.

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