How CIA staffers determine whether to target someone for lethal operations is a relatively straightforward, and yet largely unknown, story. The president does not review the individual names of people; Rizzo explains that he was the one who signed off. People in Washington talk about a “target list,” as former undersecretary of state Richard Armitage described the process at a recent event in Washington. In truth, there is probably no official CIA roster of those who are slated to die. “I never saw a list,” says a State Department official who has been involved in discussions about lethal operations, speaking without attribution because of the nature of the subject. Officials at the CIA select targets for “neutralization,” he explains. “There were individuals we were searching for, and we thought, it’s better now to neutralize that threat,” he says.
Under another Bush order, signed several years later, a variety of people who worked in terrorist camps could be targeted, and not just named terrorism suspects; at that point, the pool of potential candidates reviewed by CIA lawyers became much larger. Despite the secrecy surrounding these orders, their scope has become clear. “The authority given in these presidential findings is surely the most sweeping and most lethal since the founding of the CIA,” William C. Banks, director of Syracuse University’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, told a House committee.
The hub of activity for the targeted killings is
the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, where lawyers—there are roughly 10 of
them, says Rizzo—write a cable asserting that an individual poses a
grave threat to the United States. The CIA cables are legalistic and
carefully argued, often running up to five pages.
Rizzo says he saw about one cable each month, and at any given time there were roughly 30 individuals who were targeted.
Rizzo found himself at the center of controversy. He was, as he puts it, “up to my eyeballs” in President Bush’s program of enhanced interrogations in the so-called black sites, or secret prisons, located in Afghanistan and in other countries.
Filed under: Extrajudicial killing