When David Petraeus walks into the Central Intelligence Agency
Tuesday, he will be taking over an organization whose mission
has changed in recent years from gathering and analyzing
intelligence to waging military campaigns through drone
strikes in Pakistan, as well as in Yemen and Somalia.
But the transformation of the CIA did not simply follow the expansion
of the drone war in Pakistan to its present level. CIA Director
Michael Hayden lobbied hard for that expansion at a time when drone
strikes seemed like a failed experiment.
The reason Hayden pushed for a much bigger drone war, it now appears,
is that it had already created a whole bureaucracy in the
anticipation of such a war.
During 2010, the CIA "drone war" in Pakistan killed as many as 1,000
people a year, compared with the roughly 2,000 a year officially
estimated to have been killed by the SOF "night raids" in
Afghanistan, according to a report in the Sep. 1 Washington
A CIA official was quoted by the Post as saying that the CIA had
become "one hell of a killing machine," before quickly revising the
phrase to "one hell of an operational tool."
The shift in the CIA mission's has been reflected in the spectacular
growth of its Counter-terrorism Center (CTC) from 300 employees in
September 2001 to about 2,000 people today -- 10 percent of the
agency's entire workforce, according to the Post report.
The agency's analytical branch, which had been previously devoted
entirely to providing intelligence assessments for policymakers, has
been profoundly affected.
More than one-third of the personnel in the agency's analytical
branch are now engaged wholly or primarily in providing support to
CIA operations, according to senior agency officials cited by the
Post. And nearly two-thirds of those are analyzing data used by the
CTC drone war staff to make decisions on targeting.
Some of that shift of internal staffing to support of the drone has
followed the rise in the number of drone strikes in Pakistan since
mid-2008, but the CIA began to lay the institutional basis for a
bigger drone campaign well before that.
Crucial to understanding the role of internal dynamics in CIA
decisions on the issue is the fact that the drone campaign in
Pakistan started off very badly. During the four years from 2004
through 2007, the CIA carried out a total of only 12 drone strikes in
Pakistan, all supposedly aimed at identifiable high-value targets of
Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
The George W. Bush administration's policy on use of drones was
cautious in large part because the President of Pakistan, Gen. Pervez
Musharraf, was considered such a reliable ally that the
administration was reluctant to take actions that would risk destabilizing his regime.
Thus relatively tight constraints were imposed on the CIA in choosing
targets for drone strikes. They were only to be used against known
"high-value" officials of Al-Qaeda and their affiliates in Pakistan,
and the CIA had to have evidence that no civilians would be killed as
a result of the strike.
Those first 12 strikes killed only three identifiable Al-Qaeda or
Pakistani Taliban figures. But despite the prohibition against
strikes that would incur "collateral damage," the same strikes killed
a total of 121 civilians, as revealed by a thorough analysis of news
A single strike against a madrassa on Oct. 26, 2006 that killed 80
local students accounted for two-thirds of the total of civilian
Despite that disastrous start, however, the CIA had quickly become
deeply committed internally to building a major program around the
drone war. In 2005, the agency had created a career track in
targeting for the drone program for analysts in the intelligence
directorate, the Sep. 2 Post article revealed.