CIA’s Drone Wars in Pakistan Inspire Lethal Countermeasures by al-Qaeda

CIA Snitches Are Pakistan Drone-Spotters

By Spencer Ackerman|Wired

How the CIA managed to expand its drone war so far and so fast has been a bit of a mystery. Now we have part of the answer: a network of Pashtun snitches, operating out of eastern Afghanistan, that infiltrate militant networks across the border. The information they collect helps direct the drones. Sometimes the targets are U.S. citizens.

Those Afghans aren’t the same as the ones who comprise its paramilitary Counterterrorist Pursuit Teams, the fighting units that Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book Obama’s Wars first disclosed. “These are really two separate efforts,” a U.S. official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss ongoing intelligence operations, tells Danger Room. “If information from one helps feed the other, all the better. But one is primarily focused on security and stability in Afghanistan while the other is directed at terrorists across the border.”

Since 2001, the CIA has cultivated and managed a large web of Afghan proxy forces, Pakistan-focused informants and allies of convenience, as a richly-detailed Washington Post piece reports today. Some of the CIA’s Afghans are more brutal and incompetent than the agency portrays, according to people with direct experience with them. And some are the missing piece behind America’s unacknowledged war in Pakistan, a CIA-driven effort that the agency considers one its proudest achievements.

While the end result of the drone strikes is visible for anyone to see — the New America Foundation keeps a running tally of the missile attacks — their origins are far more opaque. The only possible explanation for how the drones have so far launched 71 strikes in 2010 compared to 34 in 2008 is that the intelligence network supporting them in the Pakistani tribal areas has grown more robust. After all, someone needs to provide usable intelligence about militant activity for the drones to target. But while CIA Director Leon Panetta has bragged that the drone program is “the most aggressive operation that CIA has been involved in in our history,” he and other agency officials have (understandably) said practically nothing about the informant network upon which the drones depend.