The US Drone Program, Terrorism & the Debt Ceiling Talks
Former US intelligence chief Dennis Blair, at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado, suggested that it may be time for the US to stop employing drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. In the midst of ongoing political theater in Washington that is slowly but surely producing an agreement to address the budget & debt ceiling, Blair also addressed the cost of the “war on terrorism.”
“I think it’s time to take a look at it not because there’s a pressure on the overall federal budget but it is a right thing,” said Blair. He claimed that if one makes a generous estimate there might be around 4,000 al Qaeda that we continue to fight. And, he claimed the US spends roughly $80 billion a year, which means $20 billion on each thousand al Qaeda. [Blair excluded military expenditures in Pakistan and Afghanistan from his figure.]
Blair’s statements directly drew attention to the exorbitant amount of funds and resources being appropriated for going after al Qaeda and pointed out that since the September 11th attacks only seventeen people inside the US have died from terrorism.
“[Fourteen] were killed in the Ft. Hood massacre, while car accidents and daily crime combined have killed some 1.5 million people during the same 10 years,” noted Blair.
These statements are important. Since they are coming from a former intelligence chief, one might find it especially important for Americans to hear and read. If military, security and intelligence agencies could cut back on the funding and resources they use, one might imagine poor, working poor and middle class Americans it may be harder for those in power to justify cuts to the social safety net in a debt agreement (although libertarians, the right wing and corporate interests would still be pushing for those cuts).
Yet, it appears that Kimberly Dozier & the Associated Press had the above mentioned details scrubbed. The story has gone from this:
To this headline, which entirely flips the story from being constructively critical to being militant and gung-ho on drone strikes and wholly supportive of the way funding and resources for the “war on terror” are currently appropriated. (Note: The timestamp and date remains unchanged.):
The thrust of Dozier’s article shifts entirely. The first few paragraphs go from being about stopping a drone campaign and reconsidering spending on terrorism:
To quoting an entirely different person who has no qualms about US counterterrorist actions in Pakistan:
Lute participated in “The Wars Abroad and the Threat at Home” panel on Day Two of the forum. Blair participated in the “Threat vs. Response” panel on the first full day of the forum. And, interestingly, Dozier moderated the panel, which featured Lute.
At the very least, Dozier and the Associated Press are being lazy by going back and revising this story instead of writing the stories as two separate stories that could each stand on their own. But, since this ACLU post, “Is the Debt Ceiling a Civil Liberties Issue?” links to the story and quotes the article (“with $80 billion devoted to finding an estimated 4,000 terrorists worldwide“), which has been altered, it is quite clearly deceitful journalism in the service of power.
Budgets and debt agreements are testaments to the moral character of a nation. In addition to the fact that there are profound legal and moral questions raised by the use of drones because they essentially make targeted extrajudicial killing of a specific individual easier, stopping a drone campaign that costs millions of dollars would allow a government to direct funding and resources to addressing other problems in society. And, as the redacted and edited version omits, Blair rightfully pointed out, “We’re not the best country in terms of dealing with murders, rapes and traffic accidents in the world.” Add to that deaths from America’s for-profit healthcare system and the abject poverty that many Americans now face as a result of the expanding wealth gap in America and it is clear that if the US government wants to save lives, investigating in a “war on terror” is entirely misguided. And, it erhaps makes the government negligent.
This blatant adjustment also removed Blair’s suggestion that the US could cut the cost of hunting “terrorists” by relying more on local forces. Here is the paragraph that was entirely removed:
The retired admiral also suggested cutting the cost of hunting terrorists by relying more on local forces in places like Yemen and Somalia. The U.S. is already working with indigenous forces in both countries, but also sustains a large and expensive offshore presence aboard a ship off the Yemeni coast, as well as flying armed and observation drones from Djibouti and other sites in the region.
A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report published on March 29 of this year reports total war funding by operation is as follows: $806 billion for Iraq; $444 billion for Afghanistan; $29 billion for enhanced security; and $6 billion unallocated. This data adds up to a cost of at least $1.2 trillion for operations in the “war on terror.” This is likely a conservative estimate. But, still, think of what this data says about a country that is now in political crisis because of its debt problem.
According to the Top Secret America project, produced and published by the Washington Post in 2010, the publicly announced cost of maintaining the US intelligence system for the “war on terror” is $75 billion, which is two and a half times more than it was on September 10, 2001. This figure leaves out many military activities and domestic counterterrorism figures.
The White House recently struck a debt agreement that reportedly aims to establish a select committee (“Super Congress”) to cut $1.5 trillion. A good portion of those cuts could come from scaling back the “war on terror,” which has been a pretext for rolling back civil liberties, granting former Bush administration officials impunity and letting certain lawlessness continue (for example, renditions, targeted killings, etc).
Unfortunately, the US has journalists like Dozier, who effectively obstruct discussion on the cost and morality of the country’s investment in the “war on terror.” Despite how topical and timely Blair’s remarks on US spending to fight terrorism were, she was lazy and went back to add in Lute’s remarks to her article and just so happened to take out all the details dealing with the cost of the “war on terror.” Or she chose to deceptively rework her article and make it more “balanced” and “objective” so that readers would focus more on whether it was good to support delivering a “knockout punch” to al Qaeda and less on cutting back on drones, a war toy Lute likely enjoys seeing the US employ, even if it means costing the lives of innocent civilians and radicalizing more and more people who then become terrorists.
I sent this story out on Twitter from my account and moments after former Homeland Security Advisor to former President George W. Bush Frances Townsend, who is now a regular CNN contributor, sent this message:
Frances Townsend, the same Frances Townsend who Glenn Greenwald destroyed in a debate on WikiLeaks on CNN last December, suggests Blair has an agenda? He might have an “agenda,” but who doesn’t? “Agenda” is just a code word for harassing someone with a point of view that you don’t like. And, like Townsend should criticize people for having “agendas.” She clearly is, like most former Bush administration officials, dedicated to preserving the Bush legacy by defending all aspects of the “war on terror” to the nth degree. That includes programs that were barely visible when Bush left office but are now incredibly apparent under Obama, like the drone program which she praised at the Aspen Security Forum:
How about this question: Did Fran have anything to do with the AP adjusting the story to focus more on Lute instead of Blair? I don’t know the answer. I am just posing this question.
Here’s video of Blair at the Aspen Security Forum: