Pakistan Anger Rises as CIA Hires Mercenaries to Arm Killer Drones
August 31, 2009
The Irish Sun & The New York Times
“You should know that we hate all Americans,” Pakistani journalist Ansar Abbasi, told Judith A. McHale, the new US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, “From the bottom of our souls, we hate you.” From a secret division at its North Carolina headquarters, the company formerly known as Blackwater has assumed a role in Washington’s most important counterterrorism program: the use of remotely piloted drones that have killed scores of civilians on the ground in Pakistan.
US Official Tastes Pakistanis' Anger at America
The Irish Sun
(August 21, 2009) — President Barack Obama's efforts to convince Pakistanis that the US is their friend are not running smooth though America doles out billions of dollars for the country's infrastructure development, trade, energy, schools and jobs.
Judith A. McHale, the Obama administration's new under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, learnt how difficult the job is after she tasted the Pakistani anger during her meeting with Ansar Abbasi, a Pakistani journalist known for his harsh criticism of American foreign policy. “She got that, and a little bit more,” a New York Times report said Thursday.
After McHale gave her initial polite presentation Monday about building bridges between America and the Muslim world, Abbasi thanked her politely for meeting him. But then he told her what he felt for her country.
“You should know that we hate all Americans,” McHale said Abbasi told her. “From the bottom of our souls, we hate you,” she recalled Abbasi's statement.
Beyond the continuation of the battle against militants along the Pakistani-Afghan border, a big part of Obama's strategy for the region involves trying to broaden America's involvement in the country, to invest in non-military areas like infrastructure development, trade, energy, schools and jobs.
This all is aimed at convincing the Pakistani people that the US is their friend. But as McHale and other American officials discovered this week during a visit by Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, making that case was not going to be easy, said the Times report.
“We have made a major turn with our relationship with Pakistan under President Obama,” Holbrooke told reporters in Karachi Wednesday. Time and again, he tried to delineate the differences between the Obama administration and the Bush era.
He said his very presence in Karachi demonstrated that drone attacks and the hunt for Al Qaeda were not the only American foreign policy activities in the country. But Abbasi's reaction, which apparently reflects the feelings of about 25 percent of the population according to a recent poll, demonstrated just how tough the job is.
For all the administration's efforts to call attention to the non-military ties that would bind the two countries, America is still being judged by many Pakistanis as an uncaring behemoth whose sole concern is finding Osama bin Laden, no matter the cost in civilian Pakistani lives.
McHale Wednesday recounted the conversation with Abbasi: 'He told me that we were no longer human beings because our goal was to eliminate other humans. He spoke English very well, and he said that thousands of innocent people have been killed because we are trying to find Osama bin Laden.'
McHale said she argued her points with Abbasi, points that would appear logical to many Americans, but that often fail to impress over in Pakistan: Al Qaeda and bin Laden attacked the US Sep 11, 2001; the war in Afghanistan, unlike the war in Iraq, is blessed by the United Nations, and is a multinational effort; and America will always do whatever it takes to defend itself.
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CIA Said to Use Outsiders to Put Bombs on Drones
James Risen & Mark Mazzeti / The New York Times
WASHINGTON (August 21, 2009) — From a secret division at its North Carolina headquarters, the company formerly known as Blackwater has assumed a role in Washington’s most important counterterrorism program: the use of remotely piloted drones to kill Al Qaeda’s leaders, according to government officials and current and former employees.
The division’s operations are carried out at hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company’s contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft, work previously performed by employees of the Central Intelligence Agency. They also provide security at the covert bases, the officials said.
The role of the company in the Predator program highlights the degree to which the CIA now depends on outside contractors to perform some of the agency’s most important assignments. And it illustrates the resilience of Blackwater, now known as Xe (pronounced Zee) Services, though most people in and outside the company still refer to it as Blackwater. It has grown through government work, even as it attracted criticism and allegations of brutality in Iraq.
A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment for this article.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the agency hired Blackwater in 2004 as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top Qaeda operatives.
In interviews on Thursday, current and former government officials provided new details about Blackwater’s association with the assassination program, which began in 2004 not long after Porter J. Goss took over at the CIA The officials said that the spy agency did not dispatch the Blackwater executives with a “license to kill.” Instead, it ordered the contractors to begin collecting information on the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s leaders, carry out surveillance and train for possible missions.
“The actual pulling of a trigger in some ways is the easiest part, and the part that requires the least expertise,” said one government official familiar with the canceled CIA program. “It’s everything that leads up to it that’s the meat of the issue.”
Any operation to capture or kill militants would have had to have been approved by the CIA director and presented to the White House before it was carried out, the officials said. The agency’s current director, Leon E. Panetta, canceled the program and notified Congress of its existence in an emergency meeting in June.
The extent of Blackwater’s business dealings with the CIA has largely been hidden, but its public contract with the State Department to provide private security to American diplomats in Iraq has generated intense scrutiny and controversy.
The company lost the job in Iraq this year, after Blackwater guards were involved in shootings in 2007 that left 17 Iraqis dead. It still has other, less prominent State Department work.
Five former Blackwater guards have been indicted in federal court on charges related to the 2007 episode. A spokeswoman for Xe did not respond to a request for comment.
For its intelligence work, the company’s sprawling headquarters in North Carolina has a special division, known as Blackwater Select. The company’s first major arrangement with the CIA was signed in 2002, with a contract to provide security for the agency’s new station in Kabul, Afghanistan. Blackwater employees assigned to the Predator bases receive training at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to learn how to load Hellfire missiles and laser-guided smart bombs on the drones, according to current and former employees, who asked not to be identified for fear of upsetting the company.
The CIA has for several years operated Predator drones out of a remote base in Shamsi, Pakistan, but has secretly added a second site at an air base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, several current and former government and company officials said. The existence of the Predator base in Jalalabad has not previously been reported.
Officials said the CIA now conducted most of its Predator missile and bomb strikes on targets in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region from the Jalalabad base, with drones landing or taking off almost hourly. The base in Pakistan is still in use. But officials said that the United States decided to open the Afghanistan operation in part because of the possibility that the Pakistani government, facing growing anti-American sentiment at home, might force the CIA to close the one in Pakistan.
Blackwater is not involved in selecting targets or actual strikes. The targets are selected by the CIA, and employees at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., pull the trigger remotely. Only a handful of the agency’s employees actually work at the Predator bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the current and former employees said.
They said that Blackwater’s direct role in these operations had sometimes led to disputes with the CIA Sometimes when a Predator misses a target, agency employees accuse Blackwater of poor bomb assembly, they said. In one instance last year recounted by the employees, a 500-pound bomb dropped off a Predator before it hit the target, leading to a frantic search for the unexploded bomb in the remote Afghan-Pakistani border region. It was eventually found about 100 yards from the original target.
The role of contractors in intelligence work expanded after the Sept. 11 attacks, as spy agencies were forced to fill gaps created when their work forces were reduced during the 1990s, after the end of the cold war.
More than a quarter of the intelligence community’s current work force is made up of contractors, carrying out missions like intelligence collection and analysis and, until recently, interrogation of terrorist suspects.
“There are skills we don’t have in government that we may have an immediate requirement for,” Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who ran the CIA from 2006 until early this year, said during a panel discussion on Thursday on the privatization of intelligence.
General Hayden, who succeeded Mr. Goss at the agency, acknowledged that the CIA program continued under his watch, though it was not a priority. He said the program was never prominent during his time at the CIA, which was one reason he did not believe that he had to notify Congress. He said it did not involve outside contractors by the time he came in.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who presides over the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the agency should have notified Congress in any event. “Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress,” she said. “If they are not, that is a violation of the law.”
Mark Landler contributed reporting.
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