The CIA's use of Predator drones to kill suspected terrorists in Pakistan, which has significantly increased under the Obama administration, is recognized for its success in taking out intended targets. There are concerns, however, the program could also be helping Taliban leaders with their propaganda, as noted by Jane Mayer's recent expose in the New Yorker.
In an appearance Thursday on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, Mayer explained that as amazing as the remote control technology behind the drones may be, "It is based always on human intelligence telling you which target to go after."
"They've gotten some tremendous success in killing al Qaeda leaders," Mayer noted, "but at the same time, since 2006, they've killed between 750 and 1000 people. The number of al Qaeda is a small fraction of all the people that they've killed. There's a lot of so-called collateral damage."
Because of this, Mayer suggests, "It's a program that people fear is going to have unintended consequences. ... It's going to become a propaganda tool for the Taliban and it's going to create retaliation against the United States and maybe against Pakistan's government, which we're trying to prop up."
According to New York Times reporter David Rohde, for example, "The drones killed many senior commanders and hindered their operations. Yet the Taliban were able to garner recruits in their aftermath by exaggerating the number of civilian casualties."
There is also an "accountability" issue, according to Mayer, because the U.S. military is using the drones in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Pakistan, where the US is not officially at war, the drones are operated by the CIA in a supposedly "secret program."
"So there's no chain of command," Mayer told Maddow. "... It's been described as an accountability void, basically, where people are dying but there's no kind of public acknowledgment. So what happens if there's a mistake? Who do you hold responsible?"
Mayer also said the program raises broader questions about what will happen if Russia or China starts using the same tactics -- and even whether the Americans who operate the drones by remote control from the United States could be considered battlefield combatants and targeted in retaliation. "It really is kind of a scary frontier," Mayer concluded.
This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Oct. 22, 2009.