Here’s what we still don’t know about Drones

A guide to what's changed - and what hasn't - since the president laid out a plan for transparency and tighter guidelines on targeted killings

November 6
: This story has been updated to reflect new developments.

Nearly six months ago, President Obama promised more transparency and tighter policies around targeted killings. In a speech, Obama vowed that the U.S. would only use force against a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people.” It would fire only when there was “near-certainty” civilians would not be killed or injured, and when capture was not feasible.

The number of drone strikes has dropped this year, but they’ve continued to make headlines. On Friday, a U.S. drone killed the head of the Pakistani Taliban. A few days earlier came the first drone strike in Somalia in nearly two years. How much has changed since the president’s speech?

We don’t know the U.S. count of civilian deaths

The administration says that it has a count of civilian deaths, and that there is a “wide gap” between U.S. and independent figures. But the administration won’t release its own figures.

Outside estimates of total civilian deaths since 2002 range from just over 200 to more than 1,000. The Pakistani government has given three different numbers: 400, 147, and 67.

McClatchy and the Washington Post obtained intelligence documents showing that for long stretches of time, the CIA estimated few or no civilian deaths. The documents also confirmed the use of signature strikes, in which the U.S. targets people without knowing their identity. The CIA categorized many of those killed as simply “other militants” or “foreign fighters.” The Post wrote that the agency sometimes designated “militants” with what seemed like circumstantial or vague evidence, such as “men who were ‘probably’ involved in cross-border attacks” in Afghanistan.

The administration reportedly curtailed signature strikes this year, though the new guidelines don’t necessarily preclude them. A White House factsheet released around Obama’s speech said that “it is not the case that all military-aged males in the vicinity of a target are deemed to be combatants.” It did not say that people must be identified. (In any case, the U.S. has not officially acknowledged the policy of signature strikes.)

Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed only that four Americans have been killed by drone strikes since 2009: Anwar al Awlaki and his sixteen-year-old son, Abdulrahman, Samir Khan, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. Holder said that only the elder Awlaki was “specifically targeted,” but did not explain how the others came to be killed.

Although Obama said that this disclosure was intended to “facilitate transparency and debate,” since then, the administration has not commented on specific allegations of civilian deaths.

We don’t know exactly who can be targeted

The list of groups that the military considers “associated forces” of Al Qaeda is classified. The administration has declared that it targets members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and “elements of Al Shabaab, but there are still questions about how the U.S. determines that an individual belonging to those groups is in fact a “continuing and imminent threat.” (After the terror alarm that led to the closing of U.S. embassies this summer, officials told the New York Times they had “expanded the scope of people [they] could go after” in Yemen.)

This ties into the debate over civilian casualties: The government would seem to consider some people legitimate targets that others don’t.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch conducted in-depth studies of particular strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, respectively. They include eyewitness reports of civilian deaths. (Most of the deaths investigated happened before the Obama administration’s new policies were announced, although the administration has not said when those guidelines went into effect.) The reports also raised questions of the legality of specific strikes, questioning whether the deaths were all unavoidable casualties of legitimate attacks.

It does not appear that the U.S. plans to expand strikes against Al Qaeda to other countries – officials have reportedly told Iraq, for example, it won’t send drones there. But the U.S. has established a surveillance drone base in Niger, and fed information from drones to French forces fighting in Mali.

We don’t know if the U.S. compensates civilian casualties

CIA director John Brennan suggested during his confirmation hearing that the U.S. made condolence payments to harmed families. But there is little evidence of it happening. U.S. Central Command told ProPublica that it had 33 pages related to condolence payments – but wouldn’t release any of them to us.

We don’t always know which strikes are American

While unnamed officials sometimes confirm that strikes came from U.S. drones, other attacks may be from Pakistani, Yemeni, or even Saudi planes.

(It’s also worth noting that the U.S. has also used cruise missiles and Special Forces raids. But the bulk of U.S. counterterrorism actions outside Afghanistan in recent years appear to rely on drones.)

We don’t know the precise legal rationale behind the strikes

Some members of Congress have seen the legal memos behind targeted killing of U.S. citizens. But lawmakers were not granted access to all memos on the program. Legislation pending in the Senate would require the administration to give the Intelligence Committees a list of such legal opinions.

Other congressmen have introduced bills with more reporting requirements for targeted killings. (Proposals for a “drone court” for oversight have not gotten very far.)

It’s far from clear that any of that additional oversight would lead to public disclosure.

The government and the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times are still locked in court battles over requests for drone documents. While a judge has ruled the CIA can no longer assert the “fiction that it can’t reveal if it has any interest in drones, the agency hasn’t been compelled to release any information yet. The government has also so far fought off disclosure of legal memos underpinning targeted killings.

And here are some things we’ve learned through leaks and independent reporting:

How the U.S. tracks targets: Documents provided by Edward Snowden to the Washington Post detailed the NSA’s “extensive involvement.” Lawyers in a terrorism-related case also uncovered reports that government surveillance of their client may have led to a drone strike in Somalia. The Atlantic published a detailed account of Yemen using a child to plant a tracking chip on a man who was killed in a U.S. strike.

What people in the countries affected think: The Pakistani government’s cooperation with at least some U.S. drone strikes – long an open secret – has now been well-documented. Public sentiment in the country is vividly anti-drone, even when violent Taliban commanders are killed, and politicians continue to denounce them as American interference. Limited polling in the region most affected by drones is contradictory, with some saying that at the very least, they prefer drones to the Pakistani military campaigns. Life in those areas is between a drone and a hard place: Residents told Amnesty International of the psychological toll from drones, and they also face reprisals from militants who accuse them of spying.

Yemen’s president continues to openly embrace U.S. strikes, though the public generally opposes them – particularly those strikes that hit lower-level fighters, or those whose affiliations with Al Qaeda aren’t clear. Foreign Policy recently detailed the aftermath of an August strike where two teenagers died. Their family disputes they had any link to terrorism.

The physical infrastructure: More of the network of drone bases across the world has been revealed – from the unmasking of a secret base in Saudi Arabia to the fact that drones had to be moved off the U.S. base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, after crashes and fear of collision with passenger planes.

The CIA’s role: The administration had reportedly planned to scale back the CIA’s role in targeted killing, moving control of much of the drone program to the military. But the CIA reportedly still handles strikes in Pakistan and has a role in Yemen as well. Officials told Foreign Policy yesterday that the transition won't happen anytime soon.

The history of the programs: Revelations continue to change our understanding of the contours of the drone war, but two books published this year offer comprehensive accounts – The Way of the Knife, by Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, and Dirty Wars, by Jeremy Scahill.




shadi katyal

3 years ago

Why this sudden talk of civilian deaths when figures are not even correct. When in the 2nd WW such city bombing was done no questions were raised.
USA should ignore and continue to use drones to save lives of terrorist.
Would India not use if had such drone against the terrorist in Kashmir etc.
Do we know how many such attacks have kept the terrorist in hold. One should keep in mind that nations cannot be ground for training and arming terrorist and not attacked.

SEBI cracks whip on 37 entities including SMS Techsoft, promoters, directors and Ranka group

SEBI's found various SMSs circulating in the market mentioning buy recommendation for SMS Techsoft were used by its promoters and directors to offload the company shares

Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has barred 37 entities including Rajesh Mangilal Ranka, SMS Techsoft (India) Ltd, the company’s three promoters, V Jagdish, Akash Jagdish Vital and Anitha V Jagdish as well as three independent directors, Dashrathkumar Khatri, Dilipbhai Gajjar and Devraj Pera Naidu from accessing securities market.


SEBI said it had, suo moto, carried out an examination in the scrip of SMS Techsoft in view of various SMSs circulating in the market during February-March 2013 mentioning therein buy recommendation for the scrip of SMS Techsoft. The probe found that the promoters and directors of SMS Techsoft were acting in concert with one Rajesh Ranka by issuing new equity shares of the company through preferential allotment to certain connected entities without receipt of full consideration. These entities had offloaded the shares through a fraudulent manner.


During the examination, SEBI said it found SMS Techsoft issued 3 crore shares to 31 entities, including three promoters, who are related to Rajesh Mangilal Ranka, that too when Ranka in 2010 was barred by the market regulator for two years.


"The sequence of events and pattern of transactions in this case prima facie indicate that the company, its promoters/directors along with the Ranka Group, by falsely portraying the transactions as a genuine preferential allotment and by creating artificial volume the company, adopted fraudulent device and artifice to defraud the genuine shareholders of the company," SEBI said in the order.


Earlier in August, SEBI had passed an order in a separate case where action was taken against persons luring investors through SMSes with promise of daily returns of up to Rs75,000 through mobile messages.


While in the earlier case the investors were being lured for unauthorised investment products, the present case pertains to promoters of a listed company being involved as well with the spread of SMSes.


SEBI bars Samruddha Jeevan Foods, directors from collecting money from investors

Samruddha Jeevan Foods and its directors are barred from raising money from investor under any of its schemes. SEBI also asked them not to dispose of any assets or divert funds raised from public

Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has asked Samruddha Jeevan Foods India Ltd and its directors Mahesh Kisan Motewar, Vaishali Mahesh Motewar and Ghanshyam Jashbhai Patel not to collect money from investor.


In an order, S Raman, whole time member of SEBI directed the company and its directors "not to collect any more money from investors including under the existing schemes, not to launch any new schemes, not to dispose of any of the properties or alienate any of the assets of the schemes and not to divert any funds raised from public at large which are kept in bank account(s) and/or in the custody of the company."


SEBI said Samruddha Jeevan Foods was prima facie found to be engaged in fund mobilising activity from public by floating 'collective investment schemes' (CIS) as defined in Section 11AA of the SEBI Act.



Nishmitha Poojari

2 years ago

give give sallarry to staff and agents. samruddha jeevan totaly cheating.


2 years ago

now they opened a new society with name M/S Samruddha Jeevan Multi State, Multipurpose Cooperative Society Limited for collecting money.

Govt only react after fraud or scam...

just we know its doing fraud but we cant do anything peoples who invest are low income or labour class who dont know about this scams...


2 years ago

List of companies issued by Ministry of Corporate Affairs doing fraud in Public so be aware of these companies and don't invest in these companies as govt will not help if invest money in this listed companies.

spread awareness


2 years ago

List of companies issued by Ministry of Corporate Affairs doing fraud in Public so be aware of these companies and don't invest in these companies as govt will not help if invest money in this listed companies.

spread awareness

Surender Bhadana

3 years ago

Samruddha jeevan is the one of the best companies in the market which provides the employment to unemployed people and motivates peoples to save money today for Tomorrow.

Surender Bhadana


Kamlesh Bhatt

In Reply to Surender Bhadana 5 months ago

Plz give your latest number. It says the no.given above doesnot exist.

gopal rastogi

3 years ago

samruddha jeevan funds collection still continue in all the states and also new offices also opend in the diffrent tehsil hq,and ditrict level, sebi have any control over it.?.

lalit kumar

3 years ago

ye company aaj bhi market se paisa utha rhi hai . agar SEBI ne ise roka hai to phir ye deposet kaise le sakti hai . aur aisi kai company aur bhi hai jaise PINCON GROUP , GREENAGE FOOD PROCTS LTD . ye bhi market me kafi mota interest rate ke sath paisa utha rhi hai kya ye leagel hai. plz tell me


3 years ago

How can we get now our deposit from them ... Pl. reply


3 years ago

But still they are collecting money through there offices.


md khaleed

In Reply to Yuvraj 2 years ago

They will give a certificate named as sale registration letter and after completing the given period the customer can go to the branch office and submit all original documents which was provided by the company and as well as his id proof photo copy the the branch will send to head office pune it will take 15 days time and the cheque will release that s it,,,,,,,,,,


3 years ago

I had written to Moneylife regarding the scam a few months back. I was expecting a public awareness articles from Moneylife. Now finally the SEBI order has arrived. This is a starting point of fall of the 'Samruddha Jeevan Empire' as they cant pay the high interest from their so called business activity. On top of it people will demand their deposit back which will mean that the business will go bust.

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