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Drone Doubts at the CIA

There was considerable pushback at the Central Intelligence Agency following the resignation of David Petraeus. Former military officers are generally disliked at CIA, but Petraeus made all the right moves by arriving at Langley without a staff and with a professed willingness to learn. Then he went ahead and pulled together a team that favored military-style responses to international terrorism. Petraeus’s proposal to obtain new drones to expand CIA’s reach in Africa and elsewhere meant sharp cuts to the clandestine service and analysts: drones are cheap to buy but expensive to operate. CIA case officers argue that the Agency should revert to traditional spying, and that the unmanned-vehicle response to terrorist groups has run its course owing to difficulties in collecting actionable intelligence and a paucity of identifiable targets. Some blamed poor intelligence in Benghazi on the lack of case officers on the ground, most having been replaced by paramilitary contractors. The Agency’s temporary director, Michael Morell, a former analyst, is reported to be supportive of a gradual shift away from drones, and John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to be the next director, is also disinclined to expand the program. Brennan has privately criticized drone operations, stating that they do more harm than good given Pakistan’s instability and the much-reduced condition of al-Qaeda.

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Western intelligence agencies operating in Turkey and Jordan are alarmed at the massive security problem presented by the flood of refugees from Syria. Nearly 400,000 refugees are in camps in Turkey and Jordan. The camps are ideal launching pads for terrorist groups: the Turkish intelligence service MIT has already identified instances in which members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) have used refugee camps as bases to stage lethal attacks on Turkish soldiers and policemen. The CIA has intelligence suggesting that a number of jihadis who entered Syria to fight Bashar al-Assad have since assumed the identities of dead Syrians to enter Jordan and Turkey, where they have established cadres. The U.S. is supplying the Turks and Jordanians with advanced biometric registration equipment to enable the camps to issue tamper-proof identification. But biometric identifiers have been of limited effectiveness in tracking alleged militants in Afghanistan, where nearly every adult male in areas controlled by the government has been photographed and registered.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

about the author

Phil Giraldi is a former CIA Case Officer and Army Intelligence Officer who spent twenty years overseas in Europe and the Middle East working terrorism cases. He holds a BA with honors from the University of Chicago and an MA and PhD in Modern History from the University of London. In addition to TAC, where he has been a contributing editor for nine years, he writes regularly for Antiwar.com. He is currently Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest and resides with his wife of 32 years in Virginia horse country close to his daughters and grandchildren. He has begun talking far too much to his English bulldog Dudley of late, thinks of himself as a gourmet cook, and will not drink Chardonnay under any circumstances. He does not tweet, and avoids all social media.

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