Moral Outrage
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The U.S. shadow war: contractors, commando teams and robotic drones

The Obama administration’s shadow war against Al Qaeda and its allies is fought in roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife. The United States has significantly increased intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drone missile campaigns and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.

Such wars come with many risks: the potential for botched operations that fuel anti-American rage; a blurring of the lines between soldiers and spies that could put troops at risk of being denied Geneva Convention protections; a weakening of the Congressional oversight system put in place to prevent abuses by America’s secret operatives; and a reliance on authoritarian foreign leaders and surrogates with sometimes murky loyalties.

For its part, the Pentagon is becoming more like the C.I.A. Across the Middle East and elsewhere, Special Operations troops under secret “Execute Orders” have conducted spying missions that were once the preserve of civilian intelligence agencies. Such programs typically operate with even less transparency and Congressional oversight than traditional covert actions by the C.I.A.

And, as American counterterrorism operations spread beyond war zones into territory hostile to the military, private contractors have taken on a prominent role, raising concerns that the United States has outsourced some of its most important missions to a sometimes unaccountable private army.

[New York Times]

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