Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? This literally translates to “Who will guard the guards themselves? Or more commonly “Who watches the watchmen?” it is an important question for any democratic government. Force of arms is generally reserved to the State, to a greater or lesser degree, and it is the responsibility of the State as a whole to maintain control of its various armed forces.
One of the things that differentiate a democracy from a dictatorship is the civilian control of its intelligence and armed forces. Anytime these forces become a power onto themselves there is a danger to the idea of democracy.
Which is why today’s article in the Washington Post about the growing Counter Terrorism Center at the CIA is so troubling. Since the 9/11 attacks the CTC has increased 7 fold, from 300 in 2001 to over 2000 today.
If this new “agency within an agency” was merely performing the traditional intelligence gathering of the CIA in a counter terrorism role, it would not be so troubling. However this group is in charge the CIA’s drone program as well as working very closely with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
Last year the CIA was in command of 118 drone strikes on suspected terrorist targets. Or at least that is the number we think as the CIA never officially acknowledges its drone program, consisting of 30 or so Predator and Reaper drones. Whatever the number of strikes and drones this is a major change in mission for the CIA which is an agency that was created for intelligence gathering rather than operations.
The functions of intelligence analysts have begun to change at the CIA. Now there is a new career path there called “targeters”. While they are still intelligence analysts at the core their primary job is to develop information that allows the CIA to recruit weak links, find meeting places and, of course, find and target so called High Value targets for drone strikes.
While there will be many who don’t have a problem with “killing the bad guys” this is a very troubling development to me. Leaving aside for a moment the legality of assassinating people in other countries who have not been convicted of a crime, even American citizens, the issue for me is one of control.
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