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CIA's Petraeus Tells White House: 'We Want More Drones'

Spy agency requests highlights a focus on expanding, not curtailing, controversial US programs

Common Dreams staff

CIA Director David H. Petraeus, center, urged in a proposal that the White House approve a significant expansion of the CIA’s fleet of armed drones, a move that would accelerate the spy service’s transformation into a paramilitary force, U.S. officials said. (Heidi Vogt/AP)

Not content with the size of the current fleet and tired of asking to "borrow" from the Pentagon, CIA chief and former US Army General David Petraeus has requested more armed Predator drones in order to broaden the spy agency's targeted killing program that now operates in several countries across the world.

This, according to a report by the Washington Post, which says Petraeus wants at least 10 more drones for the CIA, an increase of 30 percent, and says that fulfillment of that request, would have "broad implications for counterterrorism policy and whether the CIA gradually returns to being an organization focused mainly on gathering intelligence, or remains a central player in the targeted killing of terrorism suspects abroad."

The report indicates that the CIA is already planning for expanded operations in North Africa and one official was quoted by the paper as saying, “We’re actually looking forward a little bit,” when talking about future contingencies and likely destinations for US drones.

Critics of the CIA drone program—which continues to be veiled in secrecy despite an ongoing battle with the ACLU and other groups over the agency's refusal to provide details on its "targeted assassination" program in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere—contend that the rise of armed drones by the US government is fraught with dangers, questions of morality, and international law.

A recent study by the Columbia University Law School’s Human Rights Clinic said that the government's refusal to release details about its drone program masks the ‘true impact or humanitarian costs’ of the campaign and their study found that the number of innocent people killed by US drones is likely vastly underestimated.

Another recent study by researchers at the Stanford and NYU schools of law says that the program itself is "terrorizing" and that its overall impact is "counterproductive" when it comes to addressing international law, security, and human rights.

Officials interviewed for the Washington Post story say that the Petraeus request for more drones "would have to be evaluated by a group led by President Obama’s counter­terrorism adviser, John O. Brennan."

The report added:

The U.S. military’s fleet dwarfs that of the CIA. A Pentagon report issued this year counted 246 Predators, Reapers and Global Hawks in the Air Force inventory alone, with hundreds of other remotely piloted aircraft distributed among the Army, the Navy and the Marines.

Petraeus, who had control of large portions of those fleets while serving as U.S. commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, has had to adjust to a different resource scale at the CIA, officials said. The agency’s budget has begun to tighten, after double-digit increases over much of the past decade.

“He’s not used to the small budget over there,” a U.S. congressional official said.

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