The New York Times has posted a lengthy and very interesting article by reporter Mark Mazzetti entitled “Rise of the Predators: A Secret Deal on Drones, Sealed in Blood,” which will appear on tomorrow’s front page. The piece is an excerpt from Mazzetti’s forthcoming book, The Way of the Knife: The C.I.A., a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth. In the piece, Mazzetti argues that the U.S. secured access to Pakistani air space for drone attacks by agreeing to kill Pakistani Taliban leader Nek Muhammad in a 2004 CIA-conducted Predator strike:
A Pakistani military spokesman was quick to claim responsibility for the attack, saying that Pakistani forces had fired at the compound.
That was a lie.
Mr. Muhammad and his followers had been killed by the C.I.A. the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a “targeted killing.” The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies.
Mazzetti argues that the incident “paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization”:
Today, even some of the people who were present at the creation of the drone program think the agency should have long given up targeted killings.
Ross Newland, who was a senior official at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Va., when the agency was given the authority to kill Qaeda operatives, says he thinks that the agency had grown too comfortable with remote-control killing, and that drones have turned the C.I.A. into the villain in countries like Pakistan, where it should be nurturing relationships in order to gather intelligence.
As he puts it, “This is just not an intelligence mission.”