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Fun With Drones

“A review of classified US intelligence records has revealed that the CIA could not confirm the identity of about a quarter of the people killed by drone strikes in Pakistan during a period spanning from 2010 to 2011.

According to a purportedly exclusive report by NBC News that mirrors findings of an April analysis by McClatchy, between September 3, 2010 and October 30, 2011 the agency’s drone program over Pakistan routinely designated those killed as “other militants,” a label used when the CIA could not determine affiliation, if any.

The review by NBC News paints both a confusing and troubling picture of the CIA’s reported drone strike success, which three former Obama administration officials feared could have missed or simply ignored mistakes.

Of the 14 months worth of classified documents reviewed, 26 out of 114 attacks designate fatalities as“other militants,” while in four other attacks those killed are only described as “foreign fighters.”

Even more irregular are the cases when entry records conflict on the number of those killed, with one such example indicating a drone attack had killed seven to 10 combatants, and another estimating 20 to 22 fatalities.

By comparison, McClatchy’s April review of drone strikes revealed that at least 265 of up to 482 people that the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al-Qaeda leaders, but were instead “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and “unknown extremists.” Corroborating media accounts show that US drones killed only six top al-Qaeda leaders during the same period.

One key term in analyzing drone strike records are what are known as “signature” strikes, when drones kill suspects based on behavior patterns but without positive identification, versus “personality” strike, which is when drone targets are known terrorist affiliates whose identities are verified.

According to an anonymous senior intelligence official who spoke to NBC, at the peak of drone operations in Pakistan in 2009 and 2010 as many as half of all kills were classified as “signature” strikes. ….”

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