President Obama has come under scrutiny for his aggressive use of drone aircraft to carry out attacks abroad. Scott Shane in the New York Times looks to the historical perspective in CIA Counterterroism expert Henry Crumpton’s The Art of Intelligence:
“In the just-war tradition, there’s the notion that you only wage war as a last resort,” said Daniel R. Brunstetter, a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine who fears that drones are becoming “a default strategy to be used almost anywhere.”
With hundreds of terrorist suspects killed under President Obama and just one taken into custody overseas, some question whether drones have become not a more precise alternative to bombing but a convenient substitute for capture. If so, drones may actually be encouraging unnecessary killing.
Few imagined such debates in 2000, when American security officials first began to think about arming the Predator surveillance drone, with which they had spotted Osama bin Laden at his Afghanistan base, said Henry A. Crumpton, then deputy chief of the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center, who tells the story in his recent memoir, “The Art of Intelligence.”
“We never said, ‘Let’s build a more humane weapon,’ ” Mr. Crumpton said. “We said, ‘Let’s be as precise as possible, because that’s our mission — to kill Bin Laden and the people right around him.’ ”
Since then, Mr. Crumpton said, the drone war has prompted an intense focus on civilian casualties, which in a YouTube world have become harder to hide. He argues that technological change is producing a growing intolerance for the routine slaughter of earlier wars.
“Look at the firebombing of Dresden, and compare what we’re doing today,” Mr. Crumpton said. “The public’s expectations have been raised dramatically around the world, and that’s good news.”
- What skills do you need to recruit counterintelligence sources abroad?
- How do you negotiate with tribal leaders in Afghanistan to give up valuable information on the Taliban?
- Why are there more spies in the U.S. now than during the Cold War?
Legendary CIA spy Henry A. Crumpton will answer your questions this Friday at 1:30pm EST. …As long as the information’s declassified.
If you can’t join us then, feel free to post your questions/comments here and we’ll publish his responses Friday afternoon.
(In the meantime we recommend this “60 Minutes" feature highlighting Ambassador Crumpton’s work and where he thinks the Clandestine Service is headed in 2012.)
We asked Ambassador Crumpton a few questions to get started.
After 9/11, why did the CIA have the lead role in Afghanistan? You had no military experience. Why were you selected to run this campaign? How did the U.S. overthrow the Taliban and cripple al Qaeda in just 90 days, with fewer than 500 Americans on the ground?
Henry Crumpton: The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) first established an office working exclusively against al Qaeda in 1996 and, after I joined CTC in 1999, we deployed CIA teams into Afghanistan to work with our Afghan allies against this terrorist target. The CIA knew far more about this enemy and Afghanistan than any U.S. government entity. During the summer of 2001, the CIA repeatedly warned the White House about an imminent al Qaeda attack against the U.S. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack, President Bush asked his national security team for a plan. CIA Director George Tenet and CTC Chief Cofer Black immediately responded with a clear and compelling argument for CIA leadership. The Department of Defense had no plan. President Bush, therefore, assigned unprecedented authorities to the CIA.
Cofer Black selected me to lead the CIA campaign because for the previous two years, while serving as his Deputy in charge of all CIA global counterterrorist operations, I had advocated for a stronger role in Afghanistan. Moreover, I had run many high risk operations in many harsh environments, demonstrated strategic thought and planning capabilities, and exercised strong leadership skills.
The quick defeat of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan was a result of the CIA’s robust intelligence networks and Afghan alliances built over the previous two years, reinforced by unique technical collection platforms such as the UAV Predator and superb precision bombing. This intelligence based strategy, executed by an extraordinary network of CIA team leaders on the ground, placed covert action and U.S. special operations in the forefront – and ultimately rallied Afghan tribes to our side against the Taliban and their foreign interloper allies, al Qaeda.
What are the key military lessons learned during and after the successful 2001-02 Afghanistan campaign? Why, more than 10 years later, are we still fighting in Afghanistan?
Henry Crumpton: The campaign underscored the value of intelligence, integration of multiple U.S. government entities, empathetic understanding and support to local partners, application of technology driven by specific needs (not vice-versa), a bias to the field, flat and networked organizations, speed and precision in force projection, and leadership.
The United States, distracted with Iraq, and international community failed to secure the 01-02 Afghanistan victory with non-military power and did not address the growing enemy safe haven in Pakistan. Moreover, the U.S. struggles with accepting the changing nature of war, wherever it might be.