Since taking office, the Obama administration has greatly increased the number and accuracy of U.S. drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan. But unless the program becomes more transparent and is transferred from CIA to military control, drones won't help the United States win the larger war.
Yemenis look for a drone aircraft in the town of Wadi Abida. (Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi / Courtesy Reuters)
Recent revelations that the White House keeps a secret terrorist kill list, which it uses to target al Qaeda leaders, have spurred a debate over drone warfare. Progressive pundits excoriate the Obama administration for expanding the power of the executive branch. Senate Republicans, in turn, have demanded the appointment of a special counsel to probe the alleged leaks of classified information that brought the kill list to light. As the political drama unfolds in Washington, however, the United States is intensifying its drone campaign in the arid mountains and remote plateaus of Yemen.
With al Qaeda's center of gravity shifting from Pakistan to Yemen, the Central Intelligence Agency recently sought authority to conduct "signature strikes," in which drone pilots engage targets based on behavioral profiles rather than on positive identifications. The move marks a significant increase in the intensity and extensity of the drone campaign -- in the first six months of 2012, the Obama administration conducted approximately 43 drone strikes in Yemen, nearly twice the total from the three preceding years...