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CIA Has Congressional Staffers Watch Videos of People Being Blown Up to Preserve Support for Drones

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who opposed CIA torture but champions CIA drone warfare

Monthly trips by congressional intelligence committee staff members to the CIA reportedly take place so that staff members can watch footage of drone strikes in Pakistan or other countries. The CIA has the staff members “watch videos of people being blown up,” according to the New York Times, and this “macabre ritual” then makes it possible for the government to claim the program is subject to rigorous oversight.

It has long been known that there was a secrecy game being played with Congress, where certain people were invited by President Barack Obama’s administration to enter padded rooms to look at legal documents related to the targeted assassination program. Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield has said they can “look at this one document, but, oh, not this other document, and you’re not allowed to bring in a utensil to write with, and you can’t ever tell anyone what saw.”

To ensure support of Congress is maintained, the Times story shows the CIA is essentially propagandizing congressional intelligence committee staffers. The agency plays videos and shares a “sampling of the intelligence buttressing each strike.” The process not only makes it seem like the CIA is keeping Congress informed so the legislative branch can provide oversight but also it has the power to effectively desensitize Congress to extrajudicial killings, which may amount to war crimes.

The CIA reportedly does not show the staff members “internal CIA cables discussing the attacks and their aftermath.” The staff only see the images and intelligence the CIA wants them to see. The result is a covert assassination program that Congress members are willing to defend in public and fund for just about any dollar amount proposed.

This ritual between the CIA and Congress does not promote scrutiny but rather indoctrination. According to the Times, lawmakers have used briefings to “ask questions about why specific terrorism suspects have not yet been killed and to express their dismay that the CIA is not being aggressive enough in its killing operations.”

“One such instance was in 2013, when senior Republicans on the House and Senate intelligence committees were furious after they heard that the CIA had not yet killed Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, an American citizen who had become a top Qaeda operations officer and was hiding in Pakistan,” according to the Times.

Republican Senator Richard M. Burr and Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan urged the CIA to hunt and kill Farekh, who was captured by United States forces and brought to the US to be put on trial.

Additionally, this ritual of inviting congressional staffers to watch war porn once a month seems to have enabled the CIA to promote officials previously involved in the torture program to positions in power, where they preside over drone operations.

The Times named the officer who had been the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Michael D’Andrea, over the objections of the CIA. He was involved in overseeing the interrogations and torture of Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He was described in the Senate intelligence committee’s report on the torture program. But he was able to move to a position as someone in command of drone operations (although recently he was moved to another position in the agency).

D’Andrea has apparently experienced the wrath of Congress before but for something other than the drone program:

In 2009, for example, when it became public that the agency had once hired the private security firm Blackwater to hunt and kill suspected terrorists, a member of Congress called Mr. D’Andrea a “murderer” during a private briefing, even though the Blackwater program had never carried out any lethal operations. Mr. D’Andrea was furious about his treatment, a former colleague recalled.

During President George W. Bush’s administration, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pushed for clandestine military operations because the military was not legally obligated to disclose “specific actions of an operation,” Scahill wrote in Dirty Wars. Cheney and Rumsfeld sought to rely more on Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces because they could “operate in the crevice separating US military and intelligence law.”

“The congressional intelligence committees viewed this logic as a workaround to oversight and reporting laws, charging that the Defense Department wanted to liberally deploy its increasingly formidable intelligence capabilities abroad under the pretense of operational planning for future military hostilities, without granting the intelligence committees their due oversight,” Scahill described.

This fueled a competition between the CIA and Pentagon over covert operations. Currently, the CIA is winning the competition, having effectively stymied the Obama administration’s efforts to shift control of drone operations entirely into the hands of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). They have done this by claiming their strikes are “more precise” than JSOC’s strikes.

For what it’s worth, Congress seems content with keeping the CIA in control of assassination operations. They collectively seem to believe just about everything the agency tells them about the efficacy and strengths of the program.

Congress members who sharply criticized the torture program have absolutely no problem with the killing being done by the CIA.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein was “asked in a meeting with reporters in 2013 why she was so sure she was getting the truth about the drone program while she accused the CIA of lying to her about torture,” according to the Times. Feinstein seemingly had never thought about this before. “That’s a good question, actually,” Feinstein said.

About two years later, it is apparently not a good enough question because Feinstein has not become more skeptical of the CIA’s drone program. If anything, she’s become a more ardent and passionate defender.

In fact, Feinstein desires more transparency not because she wants Americans to be able to debate whether the government should be able to target and assassinate individuals in countries around the world but because she believes it will convince more people criticism of the drone program is wrong.

At CIA Director John Brennan’s confirmation hearing in early 2013, Feinstein stated:

I have been calling and others have been calling — the vice chairman and I — on the use of — for increased transparency on the use of targeted force for over a year, including the circumstances in which such force is directed against U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike.

I’ve also been attempting to speak publicly about the very low number of civilian casualties that result from such strikes. I have been limited in my ability to do so. But for the past several years, this committee has done significant oversight of the government’s conduct of targeted strikes, and the figures we have obtained from the executive branch, which we have done our utmost to verify, confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits. When I asked to give out the actual numbers, I’m told, you can’t. And I say, why not? Because it’s classified. It’s a covert program. For the public, it doesn’t exist.

Well, I think that rationale, Mr. Brennan, is long gone. And I’m going to talk to you in my questions a little bit about that because I think it’s very important that we share this data with people. [emphasis added]

Of course, civilian casualties have not “typically been in the single digits.” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s data shows at least 423 civilians have been killed in Pakistan since 2004. One hundred and thirty-three civilians have been killed in drone strikes and other covert operations in Yemen since 2002.

Feinstein also gave Anwar al-Awlaki the trial he never received before the Obama administration decided to target and kill him in Yemen in September 2011. This, too, took place during Brennan’s confirmation hearing, in order to suggest questions about due process and the Constitution were invalid because Awlaki was an evil terrorist.

Overall, what this shows is how easy it is to win Congress’ approval for programs that significantly and dangerously expand executive power, including the power of the government to decide who kills and who dies. As long as the CIA makes them a part of the process and the grisly footage shown matches up with the story the CIA tells them, Congress members have no questions or doubts about the program. Congress members just want to know who the CIA will kill next, why it is taking so long to kill that person and whether they will get to watch video of the killing next month.

CommunityThe Dissenter

CIA Has Congressional Staffers Watch Videos of People Being Blown Up to Preserve Support for Drones

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who opposed CIA torture but champions CIA drone warfare

Monthly trips by congressional intelligence committee staff members to the CIA reportedly take place so that staff members can watch footage of drone strikes in Pakistan or other countries. The CIA has the staff members “watch videos of people being blown up,” according to the New York Times, and this “macabre ritual” then makes it possible for the government to claim the program is subject to rigorous oversight.

It has long been known that there was a secrecy game being played with Congress, where certain people were invited by President Barack Obama’s administration to enter padded rooms to look at legal documents related to the targeted assassination program. Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield has said they can “look at this one document, but, oh, not this other document, and you’re not allowed to bring in a utensil to write with, and you can’t ever tell anyone what saw.”

To ensure support of Congress is maintained, the Times story shows the CIA is essentially propagandizing congressional intelligence committee staffers. The agency plays videos and shares a “sampling of the intelligence buttressing each strike.” The process not only makes it seem like the CIA is keeping Congress informed so the legislative branch can provide oversight but also it has the power to effectively desensitize Congress to extrajudicial killings, which may amount to war crimes.

The CIA reportedly does not show the staff members “internal CIA cables discussing the attacks and their aftermath.” The staff only see the images and intelligence the CIA wants them to see. The result is a covert assassination program that Congress members are willing to defend in public and fund for just about any dollar amount proposed.

This ritual between the CIA and Congress does not promote scrutiny but rather indoctrination. According to the Times, lawmakers have used briefings to “ask questions about why specific terrorism suspects have not yet been killed and to express their dismay that the CIA is not being aggressive enough in its killing operations.”

“One such instance was in 2013, when senior Republicans on the House and Senate intelligence committees were furious after they heard that the CIA had not yet killed Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, an American citizen who had become a top Qaeda operations officer and was hiding in Pakistan,” according to the Times.

Republican Senator Richard M. Burr and Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan urged the CIA to hunt and kill Farekh, who was captured by United States forces and brought to the US to be put on trial.

Additionally, this ritual of inviting congressional staffers to watch war porn once a month seems to have enabled the CIA to promote officials previously involved in the torture program to positions in power, where they preside over drone operations.

The Times named the officer who had been the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Michael D’Andrea, over the objections of the CIA. He was involved in overseeing the interrogations and torture of Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He was described in the Senate intelligence committee’s report on the torture program. But he was able to move to a position as someone in command of drone operations (although recently he was moved to another position in the agency). (more…)

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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