CIA drone war in Pakistan in sharp decline
March 27th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

CIA drone war in Pakistan in sharp decline

Editor's note: Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst, is a director at the New America Foundation. His book "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden; From 9/11 to Abbottabad" will be published on May 1. Jennifer Rowland is a program associate at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank which seeks innovative solutions across the ideological spectrum.

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst, and Jennifer Rowland, Special to CNN

The past year has seen the number of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan plummet. In the first three months of 2012, there were 11, compared with 21 in the first three months of 2011 and a record 28 in the first quarter of 2010.

On Monday, Pakistan's parliament started to debate whether the United States should be made to stop CIA drone strikes altogether in the Pakistani border regions with Afghanistan and also whether the U.S. should apologize for NATO airstrikes that killed some two dozen Pakistani soldiers late last year.

Given the high level of hostility to the United States in Pakistan, the results of the parliamentary debate are pretty much a foregone conclusion. The parliament will almost certainly vote against the allowing the continuation of the drone strikes and will also demand an American apology for the deaths of its soldiers.

Read on here.

The Obama Administration and targeted killings: “Trust us”
Attorney General Eric Holder.
March 7th, 2012
01:15 PM ET

The Obama Administration and targeted killings: “Trust us”

Editor's Note: Micah Zenko is a fellow for conflict prevention at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he blogs. You can also follow him on TwitterThe following is reprinted with the permission of

By Micah

Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to speak with a number of dedicated and thoughtful officials in the executive branch about U.S. targeted killing policies. Due to the highly-classified nature of these policies and operations that involve intelligence collection and analysis, these officials are appropriately limited in what they can reveal about the rationale, process, and scope of who the U.S. government can kill.

Nevertheless, over the course of these informal discussions and interviews, two common threads emerged. First, “There are terrorists plotting to kill Americans, and those threats must be dealt with.” Second, “I can’t get into anything operational, but I can assure you that there is a careful and deliberate process by which individuals are deemed to be threats based on strict criteria.” Without a security clearance to corroborate and verify these statements, the defense of U.S. targeted killing policies boils down to “trust me.” FULL POST

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Topics: Covert Operations • Law • President Obama
Evaluating Holder's speech on targeted killing
March 5th, 2012
05:00 PM ET

Evaluating Holder's speech on targeted killing

Editor’s Note: Matthew Waxman is Associate Professor at Columbia Law School, and he is also a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law.

By Matthew Waxman – Special to CNN

On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a long-anticipated address providing the Obama Administration’s legal rationale for targeted killings of certain al Qaeda suspects - even U.S. citizens.  Ever since last fall when the it reportedly killed American-born Anwar al-Awlaki - an al Qaeda terrorist plotter and propagandist - with a drone strike in Yemen, the Obama Administration has faced strong pressure to explain its legal basis for such actions.

Holder’s remarks are unlikely to satisfy either the most vocal civil libertarians or security-hawks, but they reflect this administration’s pragmatic approach toward national security law issues.

Read on Security Clearance Blog: Not 'assassination' to target Americans in terror hunt

Holder’s remarks, which also reasserted the administration’s need for flexible discretion to use both military and civilian courts to prosecute some al Qaeda suspects, is the latest in a series of public speeches from senior Obama Administration legal and counterterrorism officials (including Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, and State Department legal adviser Harold Koh).  A common theme of these presentations is that the United States remains at war with al Qaeda and its allies - a war authorized by Congress in 2001 - but that U.S. war-waging powers such as lethal force, detention, military commissions, and interrogation are bounded by both international and domestic law.  FULL POST

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Topics: Covert Operations • Law • Military
Kayyem: Iran scientist assassinations serve no end
Iranians take part in the funeral of assassinated nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, holding his portraits and a poster bearing US President Barak Obama with the Star of David on his forehead, in Tehran on January 13, 2012, two days after he was killed when men on a motorbike slapped a magnetic bomb on his car while it was stuck in Tehran traffic. (Getty Images)
January 17th, 2012
11:00 AM ET

Kayyem: Iran scientist assassinations serve no end

Editor's Note: Juliette Kayyem is a former Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government and a foreign policy columnist for the Boston Globe. She tweets @JulietteKayyem.

By Juliette Kayyem

The killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan was just another salvo in more aggressive covert war heating up between Iran and the West.  There should be little doubt the U.S. had nothing to do with it; we have condemned the killings, and rightfully so.  Of all the efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program, killing scientists is not only the least productive, it may actually backfire.

“It is difficult to imagine a country having a scientific infrastructure large enough to support a nuclear weapons program, but too small to sustain a viable effort after the loss of even several individuals,’’ William Tobey, a former nuclear expert who has served in senior positions in the U.S. government, recently wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Even allowing for the fact that atomic scientists have a vested interest in minimizing the significance of atomic scientists to deter assassinations, a few deaths here or there isn’t going to change history. FULL POST

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Topics: Covert Operations • Iran
January 12th, 2012
08:00 PM ET

Zenko: Iranian scientists and U.S. targeted killings

Editor's Note: Micah Zenko is a fellow for conflict prevention at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he blogs. You can also follow him on TwitterThe following is reprinted with the permission of

By Micah Zenko,

Driving in rush hour traffic yesterday morning in Tehran, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, chemical engineer and department supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, was killed. Reportedly, two men on a motorcycle attached a “sticky bomb” to Ahmadi Roshan’s Peugeot, killing the scientist and his bodyguard.Although estimates vary, Ahmadi Roshan is the fifth Iranian official or scientist connected to the country’s nuclear or ballistic missile program who has been violently killed since 2007. Another scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi, narrowly escaped a similar “sticky bomb” assassination attempt in November 2010—he now leads Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. FULL POST
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Topics: Covert Operations • Iran • Military
May 8th, 2011
02:43 PM ET

This week on GPS: The death of Osama bin Laden

Nearly 10 years after 9/11, a U.S. Special Forces team killed Osama bin Laden. Notably, bin Laden was found and shot in Pakistan, not in the remote mountains of neighboring Afghanistan. What does this mean for the battle against violent extremism? What about for U.S.-Pakistani relations? GPS breaks it down for you with an all-star show, including two guests who helped spearhead the hunt for bin Laden over the last decade.

Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, sits down with Fareed to talk about her administration’s efforts to capture the 9/11 mastermind and just what bin Laden's death means to her personally. FULL POST

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Topics: Afghanistan • CIA • Covert Operations • Egypt • Elections • GPS Episodes • GPS Show • Intelligence • Iran • Islam • Middle East • Military • Osama bin Laden • Pakistan • President Obama • Revolution • Security • Strategy • Taliban • Terrorism • United States
May 5th, 2011
11:21 AM ET

The killing of bin Laden: Was it legal?

Was the killing of Osama bin Laden legal under international law?

The administration says yes, absolutely. Experts are unsure.

Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the U.S. raid on bin Laden's compound was lawful "as an act of national self-defense."

Bin Laden "was the head of al Qaeda, an organization that had conducted the attacks of September the 11th," Holder said. "It's lawful to target an enemy commander in the field." FULL POST

Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel on bin Laden death, Pakistan-U.S. ties and the Afghan war
May 4th, 2011
04:50 PM ET

Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel on bin Laden death, Pakistan-U.S. ties and the Afghan war

To get better perspective on the significance of Osama bin Laden’s death for al Qaeda, Pakistan-U.S. relations and the war in Afghanistan, I talked to Bruce Riedel. Riedel spent nearly 30 years as a CIA officer focusing on terrorism; he served as senior advisor to three U.S. presidents on Middle East and South Asian issues; and he chaired President Obama’s first interagency review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Amar C. Bakshi: Can al Qaeda survive the death of Osama bin Laden in any meaningful sense?

Bruce Riedel:  The death of Bin Laden is a very severe blow for al Qaeda. And it comes at a particularly bad time for al Qaeda. The organization has already been under severe pressure from the drone strikes and it has looked out of touch with the revolutions in the Arab world. It’s an open question whether it will be able to adapt to this new environment.

Its strength is that it still is deeply enmeshed in the jihadist culture of Pakistan. The fact that bin Laden was hiding in the heartland of the Pakistani nation and that he’s being eulogized by senior members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and other jihadist groups shows how much al Qaeda is entangled in the Pakistani jihadist establishment. That’s its greatest strength today - it’s not alone but rather part of a syndicate of terrorists. It will continue to pose a threat as long as it has these Pakistani allies. FULL POST

May 2nd, 2011
09:29 PM ET

What did Pakistan know?

Editor’s Note: This is the third of three posts from Fareed Zakaria on the death of Osama bin Laden. The other posts are Al Qaeda is dead and Vindication of Obama's strategy.  You can follow Fareed on Facebook and Twitter for timely analysis of global events.

Osama bin Laden was not killed in a remote cave in Waziristan.  He was living in a large compound near Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, in the city of Abbottabad, which houses a prestigious Pakistani military academy.

It is beyond belief that there could be a compound like bin Laden’s in that location without some elements of the Pakistani military knowing about it.

The house was eight times the size of the surrounding houses. It was newly constructed. And according to a senior Obama administration official, even though the compound was valued at about $1 million, no telephone lines ran to it.

All of this should have attracted the attention of the Pakistani authorities in some way or another. The fact that it didn’t makes it very difficult to believe that there was not some Pakistani knowledge of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.


Vindication of Obama's strategy
President Obama and his administrative and national security officials receive updates about the attack on Osama bin Laden.
May 2nd, 2011
09:24 PM ET

Vindication of Obama's strategy

Editor’s Note: This is the second of three posts from Fareed Zakaria on the death of Osama bin Laden. The other two are Al Qaeda is dead and What did Pakistan know?You can follow Fareed on Facebook and Twitter for timely analysis of global events.

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

The killing of Osama bin Laden is a powerful argument for emphasizing counterterrorism over nation building in the war on terror.

It would be too generous to say that Osama bin Laden’s death directly has to do with Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. Some of this is just serendipitous.  Some of this is the result of years of hard work.

But you can credit Obama with this: He focused much more relentlessly on the counterterrorism part of his strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He drastically increased the number of drone attacks, for example. That’s just one metric. There has also been a massive expansion of other counterterrorism efforts, including intelligence gathering and live operations.  The killing of Osama bin Laden is the fruit of that much larger investment in counterterrorism. FULL POST

April 3rd, 2011
06:36 PM ET

Do you think the U.S. should arm the Libyan rebels?

We've had lots of discussion on this site about whether or not to arm the Libyan rebels. I weighed in early, along with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Doug Feith, Angel Rabasa and many others.

What do you think is best?

UK special forces flounder in Libya
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague (Getty images)
March 7th, 2011
03:29 PM ET

UK special forces flounder in Libya

As the UN's Security Council meets to draft a text on whether, when, and how to establish a no-fly zone over Libya, spare a thought for the scenes unfolding at London's House of Commons.

According to the Guardian;

William Hague, the [UK]  foreign secretary, approved the botched plan to send a team of armed diplomats and SAS [Special Air Service] soldiers into eastern Libya in an effort to build diplomatic contacts with anti-Gaddafi rebels.

The eight M16 officers and SAS soldiers were arrested then deported after only two days in the country.

The prime minister's official spokesman was reluctant to reveal details, partly due to the involvement of special forces, but told a briefing Hague had approved the operation "in the normal way".


Topics: Covert Operations • Libya • United Kingdom