Distrust amid cooperation
The files serve as a detailed timeline of the CIA drone program, tracing its evolution from a campaign aimed at a relatively short list of senior al-Qaeda operatives into a broader aerial assault against militant groups with no connection to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The records also expose the distrust and dysfunction that has afflicted U.S.-Pakistani relations even amid the undeclared collaboration on drone strikes.
Some files describe tense meetings in which senior U.S. officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, confront their Pakistani counterparts with U.S. intelligence purporting to show Pakistan’s ties to militant groups involved in attacks on American forces, a charge that Islamabad has consistently denied.
In one case, Clinton cited “cell phones and written material from dead bodies that point all fingers” at a militant group based in Pakistan, according to a Pakistani diplomatic cable dated Sept. 20, 2011. “The U.S. had intelligence proving ISI was involved with these groups,” she is cited as saying, referring to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
In a measure of the antagonism between the two sides, a 2010 memo sent by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to its embassy in Washington outlined a plan to undermine the CIA.
“Kindly find enclosed a list of 36 U.S. citizens who are [believed] to be CIA special agents and would be visiting Pakistan for some special task,” said the memo, signed by an official listed as the country’s director general for the Americas. “Kindly do not repeat not issue visas to the same.”
The earliest of the files describes 15 strikes from December 2007 through September 2008. All but two of the entries identify specific al-Qaeda figures as targets.
The campaign has since killed as many as 3,000 people, including thousands of militants and hundreds of civilians, according to independent estimates.
There have been 23 strikes in Pakistan this year, far below the peak in 2010, when 117 attacks were recorded. The latest strike occurred Sept. 29, when three alleged fighters with ties to the militant Haqqani network were killed in North Waziristan, according to news media reports.
Several documents refer to a direct Pakistani role in the selection of targets. A 2010 entry, for example, describes hitting a location “at the request of your government.” Another from that year refers to a “network of locations associated with a joint CIA-ISI targeting effort.”
The files also contain fragments of code words — including SYL-MAG, an abbreviation of Sylvan Magnolia — that correspond to covert drone operations. The code word was later changed to Arbor-Hawthorn.