Karas 1 Rachel Karas Wicked Problems in National Security Prof.

Miklaucic 3/3/13 Much Ado about Counterterrorism: Wicked Implications of the U.S. Drone Program War, in simplest terms, presents an easy opportunity for achieving military goals: send in troops, fight, win, leave. So it may have seemed on the eve of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, when American officials debated the best possible strategy for exacting revenge on al-Qaeda, formulating and retooling and finalizing the plans that would plunge the U.S. into more than a decade of ultimately futile combat. The global War on Terror was and continues to be an unprecedented combination of military, intelligence and diplomacy problems; yet its complications going forward in 2013 may now present a different, more volatile mix in a world possibly more fragile than before. It quickly became clear that technology‘s role in the War on Terror would expedite the job by hunting the enemy without sacrificing American lives. Thus began the rise to prominence of the Central Intelligence Agency drone program. The program is highly secretive though vocal – and hotly contested – in regards to its successes. But the practice of using unmanned aerial vehicles for targeted killing is seen as a necessary evil by many, willing to enter gray areas of legality and intensify anti-American sentiment abroad in order to lessen direct risks to national security. Though they have only recently become the administration‘s method of choice for killing enemy militants throughout the Middle East and North Africa, drones were originally used to hunt down al-Qaeda members in retaliation for 9/11. The first reported drone attack occurred in Yemen in 2002, killing six suspected terrorists with a Hellfire missile.1 In the first decade of the drone program, approximately 411 drone strikes in three countries have killed around 3,430 people. About 13 percent, or 450 people, of those killed were civilians, though the various compilers of the data note the flaws and unknowns inherent in their work.2 Strikes occur primarily in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, though drones have also been used in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.3 However, these estimates differ significantly from those of the U.S. government, particularly during the Obama administration – which often contradicts itself as well. Various officials have made claims ranging from ―zero‖ to ―single digits,‖ ―about 20,‖ ―30,‖ ―fewer than 50‖ and other figures in regards to the number of civilian deaths. Some also claim that only 50 or 60 civilians were killed from 2004 to 2011, which includes the nine strikes during the Bush administration – even though more than 300 strikes had occurred from 2008 to the time of the report in 2012.4 According to a Foreign Policy survey of 71 top military thinkers, 38 believe the United States relies too heavily on drone warfare; 29 said it does not. An overwhelming majority said
1 2

"Sources: U.S. Kills Cole Suspect." CNN.com. Cable News Network, 04 Nov. 2002. Web. 06 Mar. 2013. Zenko, Micah. Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies. Rep. no. 65. New York: Center on Foreign Relations, 2013. Print. 3 Woods, Chris, and Alice K. Ross. "Revealed: US and Britain Launched 1,200 Drone Strikes in Recent Wars." Covert Drone War. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 4 Dec. 2012. Web. 06 Mar. 2013. 4 Elliott, Justin, Cora Currier, and Lena Groeger. "Interactive: How Obama Drone Death Claims Stack Up." The Drone War. ProPublica, 18 June 2012. Web. 06 Mar. 2013.


Karas 2 the Obama administration‘s use of drones is legal: 41 are in favor, with 10 calling it illegal and 15 responding as unclear. Yemen and Pakistan, the two countries where drone strikes are most often carried out, are ranked as the top locations where al-Qaeda poses the biggest threat. Similarly, though 44 respondents said al-Qaeda is mostly getting weaker, one said, ―Al Qaeda the organization is getting weaker. Al Qaeda the franchise is getting stronger and is spreading across countries.‖5 The perceived need for a U.S. drone program falls soundly into the category of what Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber classify as a ―wicked problem.‖ These are the catch-22s of national security, long-term planning and societal issues that are ill-defined, reactive and unique. Given the social, moral, legal, economic and security implications of cultivating a drone campaign as the core of U.S. counterterrorism strategy, the machines have become the popular wicked problem du jour and will define U.S. policy and perception for decades to come. According to Rittel and Webber, wicked problems have ten characteristics that distinguish them from ―tame problems.‖ First, ―there is no definite formulation of a wicked problem … the information needed to understand the problem depends upon one‘s idea for solving it.‖ Wicked problems have no stopping rules – the person attempting to solve such a problem is only truly finished at their own discretion, rather than because something is ―fixed.‖ Solutions to wicked problems are not true or false, but good or bad, or better or worse. Similarly, there is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem: there are no rules for determining the correctness of a solution. Every solution to a wicked problem is a ―one-shot operation,‖ and because there is no opportunity for trial and error, every attempt is significant.6 In analyzing a wicked problem, there is neither a well-described set of solutions nor ways to go about implementing those solutions – largely leaving all wicked problems in national security to the further complications of government bureaucracy. Every wicked problem is unique despite many inevitable similarities to other complex issues. Each problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem, often becoming a game of chicken and egg. How the solver chooses to describe the problem determines how it is solved. This is the inverse of the first rule, but nonetheless important in recognizing a wicked problem. Finally, the people solving a problem have no right to be wrong in their solution.7 To fully understand the first tenet of the wicked problem theory – ―there is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem‖ – it is necessary to ―develop an exhaustive inventory of all conceivable solutions ahead of time.‖8 Yet to understand the possible solutions, the underlying causes of an issue must first be defined as well – as Rittel and Webber wrote, ―One cannot understand the problem without knowing about its context; one cannot meaningfully search for information without the orientation of a solution concept; one cannot first understand, then solve.‖9 The criticisms of CIA drones are many: they terrify foreign citizens, creating paranoia and fostering high levels of antipathy toward the U.S.; the technology is advanced but still imprecise, often hitting miles from the target and potentially costing more lives; it disrupts traditional practices such as funeral processions, for fear that another attack will happen on other

Groll, Elias, and Margaret Slattery. "The FP Survey: The Future of War." Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy Magazine, Mar.-Apr. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. 6 Rittel, Horst W. J., and Melvin M. Webber. "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning."Policy Sciences 4.2 (1973): 155-69. Print. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid.


Karas 3 targets gathering in one place; the program worsens the issue of government secrecy and questions legality of killing foreigners on their soil without an explicit declaration of war. Conversely, supporters of the program tout its ability to eliminate national security threats more cost effectively and less invasively than military intervention, saving money and American lives while achieving U.S. counterterrorism objectives. Bearing these criticisms and praises in mind, there are at least four conceivable ways to address the drones‘ implementation: escalate their use, sustain their use at the current level, decrease their use or end the program altogether. Traditional and soft diplomatic solutions can change negative perception of drones in order to make their use socially acceptable – transforming reaction rather than the action itself. Avoiding making targets of significant social functions and alleged ―double-tap‖ strikes – targeting rescue workers – may lessen the cultural impact of drones. Increased transparency could decrease the objections to government secrecy but may also bolster antipathy. The lack of a ―stopping rule‖ is particularly salient in defining drone use as a wicked problem. This manifests itself in two ways: no stopping rule exists for deciding that a drone program has run its course, and no stopping rule exists for the problem of terrorism itself. Senior Obama administration officials believe that because of the networked capability of al-Qaeda to regenerate members, the drone strike program is likely to last at least another decade and has no clear end in sight. The U.S. is at a pivotal point in the global War on Terror: former CIA director David Petraeus has called for an expansion of the armed drone fleet, while CIA director nominee and former White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan looks to codify the method of creating capture-and-kill lists. ―Kill lists‖ were once thought of as finite emergency measures, but are now an integral part of national security policy – ―the rosters expand and contract with the pace of drone strikes but never go to zero,‖ The Washington Post wrote in October 2012.10 ―We can‘t possibly kill everyone who wants to harm us … we‘re not going to wind up in 10 years in a world of everybody holding hands and saying, ‗We love America,‘‖ one senior administration official told the Post. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Obama counterterrorism adviser agreed: ―‗The problem with the drone is it‘s like your lawn mower . . . you‘ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.‘‖11 So when does it end? Drone strikes are a wicked problem because as long as those who seek to harm U.S. interests exist, the question of a finish line will remain unanswered. It depends in part on the longevity of terrorists themselves: the fragility and tumult of post-Arab Spring states like Egypt and Libya, and particularly of those with weak or transitional governments and porous borders like Yemen, gives terrorist networks an exponentially greater amount of resources and ability to organize. Likewise, as groups evolve and new threats form, the U.S. feels the need to shift its focus to encompass these other entities as well – evidenced by the lesser campaign against al-Qaeda and greater effort against the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Former CIA director Leon Panetta told Pakistani Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that the U.S. would ―wind down the drone campaign‖ after killing the remaining ―handful of targets.‖ However, officials have said that debates on the duration of the drone campaign only reach dead

Miller, Greg. "Plan for Hunting Terrorists Signals U.S. Intends to Keep Adding Names to Kill Lists." The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 23 Oct. 2012. Web. 07 Mar. 2013. 11 Ibid.


Karas 4 ends.12 This simply perpetuates the wicked problem, since the longer the strikes occur, the greater the impact of their negative implications. This lack of a stopping rule is inherently tied to the third characteristic of a wicked problem – solutions can only be better or worse, not true or false. The national security environment of the U.S. can be more or less safe relative to the past; attitudes toward America can be more or less friendly; and the number of terrorists in the world can be higher or lower. Increasing or sustaining drone use arguably makes the U.S. more secure, but not unequivocally so; conversely, decreasing or ending drone use may make the U.S. less secure. The inverse can be argued as well. More transparency about the program could help improve public opinion, or the truth could make people less inclined to support it. One path may be preferable over another without negating the total validity of another solution. There are more beneficial answers, but no absolutely correct answers. The ―better or worse‖ mindset also allows leeway in terms of legality. If a practice is not black and white enough to be explained in yes-or-no terms, it is also too ambiguous to be defined as strictly legal or illegal – just more or less so. This encompasses not only the issue of killing foreign citizens abroad, but also American citizens on soil both foreign and domestic as well. According to ProPublica, ―The White House argues that Congress‘ 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force as well as international law on nations‘ right to self-defense provides sound legal basis for targeting individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda or ‗associated forces,‘ even outside Afghanistan. That can include U.S. citizens. ‗‗Due process,‘‘ said Attorney General Eric Holder in a speech last March, ‗‗takes into account the realities of combat.‘‘‖13 The AUMF and international right to self-defense make the issue legal enough, its proponents say. But the administration still has not officially acknowledged the alleged drone war, and opponents contend that it violates principles of sovereignty enumerated in the U.N. Charter and international humanitarian and human rights law. Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter prohibits the threat or use of force by one state against another, but two caveats allow the article to be contested: when the use of force is carried out with the consent of the host state, and when using force comes in self-defense in response to an armed attack or imminent threat, particularly when the host state is unwilling or unable to appropriately address the problem. State consent is debatable, especially in the case of Pakistan where official opinions of the drone program seem to have changed; the self-defense argument loses credibility when argued as a response to 9/11 more than a decade later.14 ―In the context of a non-international armed conflict (insofar as a ‗conflict‘ exists in Pakistan between the US and others, it is a non-international conflict because it involves nonstate actors), factors such as whether the violence reaches a minimum level of intensity and duration, and involves a sufficiently identifiable and organized non-state group, are relevant,‖ according to the Stanford/NYU ―Living Under Drones‖ project. International human rights law specifies that intentional lethal force may be used ―only when necessary to protect against a threat to life and then there are ‗no other means … of preventing that threat.‘‖ Multiple tactics are thought to violate this provision: individual strikes where many civilians are present;

Miller, Greg. "Plan for Hunting Terrorists Signals U.S. Intends to Keep Adding Names to Kill Lists." The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 23 Oct. 2012. Web. 07 Mar. 2013. 13 Currier, Cora. "Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes." ProPublica.org. ProPublica, 5 Feb. 2013. Web. 07 Mar. 2013. 14 Stanford International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic. "Legal Analysis." Living Under Drones. Stanford Law School, 2012. Web. 6 Mar. 2013.


Karas 5 ―signature strikes,‖ a strike against someone believed to be a militant but whose identity has not been confirmed, and is based on ―pattern of life analyses‖; strikes on rescuers and first responders; as well as issues of proportionality and necessity.1516 A number of statutes under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights may also be violated, as well as U.S. domestic law prohibiting assassinations and guaranteeing due process for American citizens targeted abroad (as in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki and his son) despite the powers granted by the AUMF.17 Until an international court produces a ruling on the drone program, therefore ending ambiguity, the problem can only be seen as either increasingly or decreasingly legal. The next tenets of a wicked problem go hand in hand: solutions are ―one-shot operations‖ with neither the capability for trial and error nor an immediate or ultimate test of correctness. A change in drone operations will not produce an instantaneous effect: ending the program would not cause an immediate attack on the U.S. or proliferation of terrorists, while other solutions would have gradual effects on public opinion as well. The effects cannot be reversed, and each consequence can only be built upon as a stepping stone from the last. Just as there is no stopping point, each step must be dealt with separately until the overall rather than individual process of trial and error is thought to be sufficiently exhausted with the best possible results. The slowness inherent in a system that must wait for all ―waves of repercussion‖ to run their course also leads to adaptation of the very thing the program wishes to address. In 2011, alQaeda leaders in Mali released a list of 22 ways to deceive and defeat drones, including frequency interception and scrambling devices, placing reflective glass or grass mats on cars and roofs, using snipers, fitting a well with a copper pole to jam electronic communication, moving headquarters, hiding in shadows or under thick trees, refraining from using wireless devices and vehicles, using underground shelters rather than gathering in open areas and using dolls and statues as decoys.18 Terrorism is evolving, and with our one-shot solutions, the U.S. is not keeping pace. We are simply playing whack-a-mole. The sixth tenet of wicked problems, lack of an exhaustively describable set of solutions or permissible operations, evolves daily. ―A new generation of al-Qaeda offshoots is forcing the Obama administration to examine whether the legal basis for its targeted killing program can be extended to militant groups with little or no connection to the organization responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,‖ The Washington Post reported March 7.19 As the program expands to include ―associated forces‖ and possibly even ―associates of associates‖ like the al-Nusra Front in Syria and Ansar al-Sharia in North Africa, it requires the administration to redefine its criteria for targets as well as overall objectives. The list of those who may be targeted has been expanded from specific individuals to ―signature drone strikes‖ against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan and Yemen, effectively defining ―all military-age males in a strike zone as

Stanford International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic. "Legal Analysis." Living Under Drones. Stanford Law School, 2012. Web. 6 Mar. 2013. 16 Currier, Cora. "Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes." ProPublica.org. ProPublica, 5 Feb. 2013. Web. 07 Mar. 2013. 17 Stanford International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic. "Legal Analysis." Living Under Drones. Stanford Law School, 2012. Web. 6 Mar. 2013. 18 Bin Mohammed, Abdullah. "In Support of Ibyan Province (Yemen) Military Research Workshop." Letter to Members of Al-Qaeda in Mali. 17 June 2011. The Al-Qaida Papers - Drones. The Associated Press, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 6 Mar. 2013. 19 Miller, Greg, and Karen DeYoung. "Administration Debates Stretching 9/11 Law to Go after New Al-Qaeda Offshoots." WashingtonPost.com. The Washington Post, 07 Mar. 2013. Web. 07 Mar. 2013.


Karas 6 combatants.‖20 A Justice Department memo in June detailed more of the administration‘s legal case for targeted killing by enumerating some criteria for making a person targetable. According to the memo, a U.S. citizen who is a ―senior operational leader of al-Qaida or an associated force‖ can be targeted even if not actively plotting against the U.S.21 As the number of permissible operations increase, the solutions become even more numerous. There may be no solution to the problems caused by the drone program, according to this tenet. ―Officials defended the arrangement even while acknowledging an erosion in the caliber of operatives placed in the drones‘ cross hairs,‖ The Post reported in October. ―‗Is the person currently Number 4 as good as the Number 4 seven years ago? Probably not,‘ said a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official involved in the process until earlier this year. ‗But it doesn‘t mean he‘s not dangerous.‘‖22 And so the cycle continues. Drones pose one of the most unique problems to national security, complicating further the decisions on how to proceed with the program. UAVs are largely responsible for the transformation of the CIA into a paramilitary, unprecedented in the intelligence community. It can be compared to other forms of war, but represent a major, irreversible shift away from conventional warfare – ―since 9/11, over 95 percent of all nonbattlefield targeted killings have been conducted by drones – the remaining attacks were JSOC raids and AC-130 gunships and offshore sea- or air-launched cruise missiles,‖ the Council on Foreign Relations noted.23 As Zenko points out, the two unique advantages over manned aircraft, distant missile strikes and special operations raids are ―sustained persistence over potential targets,‖ able to remain aloft and loaded for more than 14 hours, and ―providing a near-instantaneous responsiveness‖ to hunt, attack and kill in a matter of moments rather than hours.24 The deleterious effect on U.S. public opinion abroad and negative societal impact is similar to a physical ground invasion, but drones cause a different psychological response of paranoia and uncertainty. By no means should the U.S. drone campaign on foreign soil be deemed exactly the same as any previous method of war. The eighth and ninth characteristics also work in tandem with each other: each can be considered as a symptom of another problem, but the problem‘s explanation is based on the problem solver‘s worldview and determines the nature of its resolution. As previously touched upon, the perceived need for and complications of drone strikes are symptomatic of an alsoperceived increased terrorist threat, prior terrorist attacks, advances in military technology, evolution of counterterrorism measures, transformations in the terrorist networks themselves, varying opinions abroad of the U.S., of foreign governments and of those being targeted, et cetera. The terrorist problem itself is symptomatic of the American way of life and military operations, to name only two. Drones may be seen as an organic, natural technological move to unmanned weaponry, or perpetuated solely by government desire for stealthier operations and fewer human casualties. Whichever view is taken of what causes the need for drones and what issues the drones cause depends on a person‘s background: a government official will feel quite


Zenko, Micah. Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies. Rep. no. 65. New York: Center on Foreign Relations, 2013. Print. 21 Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Organizational Leader of Al-Qa'ida or an Associated Force. White Paper. Washington, D.C.: Department of Justice, 2012. Print. 22 Miller, Greg. "Plan for Hunting Terrorists Signals U.S. Intends to Keep Adding Names to Kill Lists." The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 23 Oct. 2012. Web. 07 Mar. 2013. 23 Zenko, Micah. Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies. Rep. no. 65. New York: Center on Foreign Relations, 2013. Print. 24 Ibid.


Karas 7 differently from the average American citizen, a citizen of Pakistan or an enemy combatant themselves. Yet this leads to the last tenet of wicked problems. Decision-makers have no right to be wrong regardless of their viewpoint or the action taken. Lives are affected and the world changed in an instant – the nature of the national security beast. Those in charge are liable for the consequences of drone strikes, consequences increasingly found to be permanently damaging. ―The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates,‖ Gen. Stanley McChrystal told Reuters. ―They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one.‖25 For those who have seen the effects, the stories are often haunting. A sampling of testimonies gathered by the Living Under Drones project:  ―I have two younger brothers, who are both unemployed, and I don‘t have a father and I am disabled. I have been completely ruined,‖ said Sadaullah Wazir, a teenage former student from North Waziristan. He was severely injured in a September 2009 drone strike on his grandfather‘s home. ―[My brothers] can‘t go to school, because I can‘t afford to support them, buying their books, and paying their fees. They are home most of the day and they are very conscious of the fact that drones are hovering over them. [The presence of drones] intimidates them.‖  ―I have been affected. The love that I had for studies—that has finished. My determination to study—that is also gone,‖ Khairullah Jan said after his brother was killed in a drone attack. ―If, for instance, there is a drone strike and four or five of your villagers die and you feel sad for them and you feel like throwing everything away, because you feel death is near— [death is] so close, so why do you want to study?‖  ―We did not know that America existed. We did not know what its geographical location was, how its government operated, what its government was like, until America invaded Iraq and Afghanistan,‖ elder Khalid Raheem said. ―We do know that Americans supported the Taliban in our area, North Waziristan, to fight off the Soviets. But [now with] the Soviets divided and broken . . . we have become victims of Americans. We don‘t know how they treat their citizens or anything about them. All we know is that they used to support us, and now they don‘t. . . . [W]e didn‘t know how they treated a common man. Now we know how they treat a common man, what they‘re doing to us.‖26 From the first Predator and Reaper strikes to Sen. Rand Paul‘s filibuster of Brennan‘s nomination and expansion of the program, drones will continue to be a wicked problem in U.S. national security into the unforeseeable future. Their implications are varied and infinite, the legality increasingly gray and the usefulness forever debated. As the Post reported in October: ―‗We didn‘t want to get into the business of limitless lists,‘ said a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official who spent years overseeing the lists. ‗There is this apparatus created to


Currier, Cora. "Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes." ProPublica.org. ProPublica, 5 Feb. 2013. Web. 07 Mar. 2013. 26 Stanford International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic. "Victim Stories." Living Under Drones. Stanford Law School, 2012. Web. 6 Mar. 2013.


Karas 8 deal with counterterrorism. It‘s still useful. The question is: When will it stop being useful? I don‘t know.‘‖27


Miller, Greg. "Plan for Hunting Terrorists Signals U.S. Intends to Keep Adding Names to Kill Lists." The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 23 Oct. 2012. Web. 07 Mar. 2013.


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