Washington: Is the CIA turning more like a
paramilitary organisation, carrying out drone attacks in
countries like Pakistan to take out dreaded militants, losing
its traditional espionage mission and undermining its ability
to predict global developments such as the Arab Spring?
While the critics say yes, officials from the American
spy agency argue that CIA`s attention to other subjects has
When retired Gen David Petraeus takes over as Director
of CIA next week, he would be heading the agency which has
undergone a fundamental transformation in the aftermath of the
9/11 attacks, The Washington Post reported.
"The shift has been gradual enough that its magnitude can
be difficult to grasp. Drone strikes that once seemed
impossibly futuristic are so routine that they rarely attract
public attention unless a high-ranking al Qaeda figure is
killed," it noted ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11
In the decade since the September 11, 2001, the agency
has undergone a fundamental transformation.
Although the CIA continues to gather intelligence and
furnish analysis on a vast array of subjects, its focus and
resources are increasingly centred on the cold counter-
terrorism objective of finding targets to capture or kill, the
It said that CIA-run drone programme has killed more
than 2,000 militants and civilians since 2001, a staggering
figure for an agency that has a long history of supporting
proxy forces in bloody conflicts but rarely pulled the trigger
on its own.
With about 2,000 staff, the Counter-terrorism
Centre accounts for 10 per cent of the agency`s workforce, has
designated officers in almost every significant overseas post
and controls the CIA`s expanding fleet of drones.
Critics, including some in the US intelligence community,
contend that the CIA`s embrace of "kinetic" operations, as
they are known, has diverted the agency from its traditional
espionage mission and undermined its ability to make sense of
global developments such as the Arab Spring.
Human rights groups say the CIA now functions as a
military force beyond the accountability that the United
States has historically demanded of its armed services.
"We`re seeing the CIA turn into more of a paramilitary
organisation without the oversight and accountability that we
traditionally expect of the military," said Hina Shamsi, the
Director of the National Security Project of the American
Civil Liberties Union.
But CIA officials, quoted by the Post, defend all
aspects of the agency`s counter-terrorism efforts and argue
that its attention to other subjects has not diminished.
Fran Moore, head of the CIA`s analytic branch, said
intelligence work on a vast range of issues, including weapons
proliferation and energy resources, has been expanded and
Counter-terrorism "is clearly a significant, growing and
vibrant part of our mission. But it`s not the defining
mission," Moore said.
Nevertheless, those directly involved in building the
agency`s lethal capacity say the changes to the CIA since 9/11
are so profound that they sometimes marvel at the result. One
former senior US intelligence official described the CIA`s
paramilitary transformation as "nothing short of a wonderment."
"You`ve taken an agency that was chugging along and
turned it into one hell of a killing machine," said the former
official who did not want to be identified.
At the CIA headquarters` Pakistan-Afghanistan Department
(PAD) in Langley, analysts work on possible high-value al-
Qaeda targets in the two countries.
The CIA has about 30 Predator and Reaper drones, all
flown by Air Force pilots from a US military base in a state
which the paper did not disclose.
The intelligence that guides their "orbits" flows in
from a constellation of CIA bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said, "While we don`t
discuss the details of our counter-terrorism operations, the
fact that they are a top priority and effective is precisely
what the American people expect."