In some cases, the pursuit teams used more indiscriminate means, including land mines, to disrupt insurgent networks, the former official said. Two current U.S. military officials said one of the CIA’s pursuit teams was disbanded after a botched assault in which it killed the wrong target.
A U.S. intelligence official disputed that account, and said none of the teams were ever shut down. The official acknowledged that Pashtun-dominated militias have been used by the CIA to gather intelligence inside Pakistan. Any need to use them to pursue targets has been diminished by the expanding lethal reach of the drones.
Given the scope of the CIA’s paramilitary activities, human rights groups say the death toll over the past decade from CIA-
directed operations undoubtedly exceeds the casualty count associated with strikes from drones.
U.S. intelligence and congressional officials insist that the number of people killed in CIA operations outside the drone campaign is negligible, but say they have never seen an agency-produced casualty count that includes other categories of operations.
“That’s a very small number — I’m struggling to come up with a single example,” said a U.S. official involved in overseeing CIA operations since 2004.
The demands of the counterterror mission have affected the organization in more subtle but pervasive ways. A U.S. official who worked closely with former CIA director Leon E. Panetta said the then-chief spent at least 30 percent of his time on counterterrorism matters.
Panetta’s predecessor, Michael V. Hayden, answered questions about his priorities with a jumble of letters, “CTCPROW,” meaning counterterrorism, counterproliferation and, finally, rest of the world.
CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said, “While we don’t discuss the details of our counterterrorism operations, the fact that they are a top priority and effective is precisely what the American people expect.”
Yet officials describe a distortion effect in collecting intelligence. Dependence on counterterrorism cooperation from a country such as Egypt makes it more risky to engage in activities that might jeopardize that relationship, such as gathering intelligence on corruption in the government or its fragile hold on power.
Senior officials also voice concern about changes in the agency’s analytic branch, where 35 percent are now in jobs where their main function is to support operators and 10 percent are deployed abroad.
“We were originally set up with a more singular focus on policymakers,” said Moore, the head of the CIA’s analytic branch. But for a growing number of analysts, “it’s not just about writing for the president. It’s about gaining leads.”