The debate over the CIA's use of Predator drones to carry out targeting killings took a new turn this week with the revelation that the attempted Times Square car bomb may have been in retaliation for such attacks.
Having admitted that he was responsible for the failed bombing, Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen allegedly provided details regarding his motives. He claims to have trained in Waziristan—an area rich in Taliban and al Qaida militants—and may have witnessed the American campaign against terrorists via targeted killings first-hand.
We have previously reported on the CIA's use of drones and the Obama Administration's legal justification for it. They have become an incredibly effective tool for U.S. counter-terrorism officials. And considering the alternatives, there is little chance of the government stepping back those efforts.
At an event sponsored by the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Law and National Security, the former Acting General Counsel for the Central Intelligence Agency, John Rizzo, gave some context to the controversy.
Recognizing the potential for loss of innocent life with the use of drones, Rizzo explained, "the better way would probably be 'hit squads."' But as many will remember, when it was revealed last year that that the CIA had plans to dispatch small teams overseas to kill senior al Qaida terrorists, the public outcry was overwhelming.
That program was:
"designed as a more 'surgical' solution to eliminating terrorists than missile strikes with armed Predator drones, which cannot be used in cities and have occasionally resulted in dozens of civilian casualties."
Despite a strong possibility that such a program would work, and without the collateral damage associated with drones, it was scrapped by Panetta early in the Obama administration.
It is doubtful that decision will be revisited based on this one episode. But if the same targets can be taken out with fewer collateral casualties, perhaps it should.