Source: Washington Post
The CIA is urging the White House to approve a significant expansion of the agency’s fleet of armed drones, a move that would extend the spy service’s decade-long transformation into a paramilitary force, U.S. officials said.
The proposal by CIA Director David H. Petraeus would bolster the agency’s ability to sustain its campaigns of lethal strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and enable it, if directed, to shift aircraft to emerging al-Qaeda threats in North Africa or other trouble spots, officials said.
If approved, the CIA could add as many as 10 drones, the officials said, to an inventory that has ranged between 30 and 35 over the past few years.
The outcome has broad implications for counterterrorism policy and whether the CIA gradually returns to being an organization focused mainly on gathering intelligence, or remains a central player in the targeted killing of terrorism suspects abroad.
In the past, officials from the Pentagon and other departments have raised concerns about the CIA’s expanding arsenal and involvement in lethal operations, but a senior Defense official said that the Pentagon had not opposed the agency’s current plan.
Officials from the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon declined to comment on the proposal. Officials who discussed it did so on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitive nature of the subject.
One U.S. official said the request reflects a concern that political turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa has created new openings for al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
“With what happened in Libya, we’re realizing that these places are going to heat up,” the official said, referring to the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. No decisions have been made about moving armed CIA drones into these regions, but officials have begun to map out contingencies. “I think we’re actually looking forward a little bit,” the official said.
White House officials are particularly concerned about the emergence of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa, which has gained weapons and territory following the collapse of the governments in Libya and Mali. Seeking to bolster surveillance in the region, the United States has been forced to rely on small, unarmed turboprop aircraft disguised as private planes.
The CIA also maintains a separate, smaller fleet of stealth surveillance aircraft. Stealth drones were used to monitor bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Their use in surveillance flights over Iran’s nuclear facilities was exposed when one crashed in that country last year.
Read More: Washington Post