And despite their counterterrorism accomplishments, these not-so-covert drone operations are proving detrimental to the CIA. In the last ten years, drone strikes have attracted far too much public scrutiny to an organization that prides itself on operating in the shadows and have transformed America’s leading spy agency into what one intelligence officer characterized as “one hell of a killing machine.”
As of September 2011, about 20 percent of the CIA’s analysts worked as “targeters” whose primary function was to scan data to identify targets for drone strikes. Critics in the intelligence community have argued that this focus on lethal operations has diverted the CIA’s attention away from other threats, such as cyber attacks, nuclear proliferation, and the emergence of China as a potential rival in the Pacific.
Drone strikes may at times be a necessary evil, but the scale on which the US is utilizing them has become counterproductive. Although drone technology is capable of being proportionate and discriminate, the decisionmakers who use drones do not always exhibit these same traits. The CIA’s war of attrition against low-level militants in Pakistan has caused many civilian deaths and inflamed anti-US sentiments. Research by the New America Foundation suggests that drone strikes in Pakistan have killed as many as 368 civilians and recent public opinion polls reveal that 97 percent of Pakistanis oppose CIA drone strikes, and 80 percent have unfavorable views of the US.