'US shifting to clean, surgical action to root out terror'
The US has under President Barack Obama shifted from its policy of invading countries to root out terrorism to a "clean, surgical" action to take out terrorists, thus transforming the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from an espionage organisation to a paramilitary force for lethal targeting of terror masterminds, says American author Mark Mazzetti, who chronicles the shift in his new book.
"The Obama administration sought to contrast its policy from the George W. Bush regime's hammer method - as shown in invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq - to that of the scalpel, thus implying a clean and surgical strike to take out terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, and Africa. But I chose to represent it with a knife since knife-fights are bloodier and messier," said Mazzetti, a journalist and writer of "The Way of the Knife", at a session of the Jaipur Literature Festival here Saturday.
"In the process, the CIA was transformed from an espionage and intelligence-gathering outfit to a paramilitary force for lethal targeting of terrorists," he said, adding that after the 9/11 attacks, it had slowly taken back the role of violent intervention it had played in the 1960s and early 1970s before a Congressional investigation curbed such activities.
Mazzetti also contended that the new role of the CIA in the war against terror came after the revelations of torture methods such as "waterboarding", till "one point when CIA saw killing of terrorists better than interrogating them over the legal complications of torture".
"There is far less legal controversy over killing terrorists than torturing them," he said.
The phenomenon had also blurred the clearly demarcated lines between the soldiers and spies, with both taking on the roles normally performed by each other, he said.
Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert who has served as an advisor to the US government and had been tasked with negotiating with the Taliban, said the policy had created problems for him.
"How do you achieve deconfliction when you kill the person you want to talk to?" he asked.
However, both Mazzetti and Rubin stressed that this policy served the political interests of the administration with military action showing results in shorter time in place of diplomatic and political efforts which take longer, and where progress is more intangible.
Rubin, however, cautioned that while the policy may work with the first kind of terrorists - a small, conspiratorial group like the Al Qaeda when it plotted the 9/11 attacks but not with the second kind - a political or military force using terror as a tactic or strategy.
"But as Obama said the capabilities have captured the strategy," he said, referring to the advanced drones and other tracking technology used by the US in pursuit of the policy.
Mazzetti also said the policy had affected the CIA too, with director John O. Brennan noting the focus on "man-killing" had left to the agency's basic skills getting atrophied and stressing the need to correct this tendency.
"When this becomes the agency's primary mission, it sucks up all the time, and there is a whole generation of CIA men after 9/11 who are engaged in this ... internally also, it has been seen as a way to advancement in the agency," he said.
He noted that the agency's Counter-Terrorism Centre, the hub of all these activities, had grown immensely after 9/11 to the extent it has "consumed the agency".
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )
(Posted on 18-01-2014)