Biden’s pick for US spy chief played a central role in Obama’s secretive drone war that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths

President-elect Joe Biden has received applause across the political spectrum over his picks for top foreign policy and national security roles in his incoming administration. But human rights groups and progressives have expressed concern about his choice for director of national intelligence (DNI), Avril Haines. 

Haines, a former deputy CIA director who would be the first woman to serve as the top US spy chief if confirmed, played a central role in crafting the legal framework surrounding the Obama administration’s controversial, secretive drone war.

As a widely-cited 2013 Newsweek profile put it: “Haines was sometimes summoned in the middle of the night to weigh in on whether a suspected terrorist could be lawfully incinerated by a drone strike.”

“My concerns about her are more my concerns about the Obama administration,” Andrea J. Prasow, the deputy Washington director of Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times. “With these cabinet picks, we are returning to the previous administration instead of making bold and forward-leaning picks.”

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Shocking New Figures Show How Just Much the US is Fueling the Violence in Yemen

Despite presenting itself as a force for good and peace in the Middle East, the United States sells at least five times as much weaponry to Saudi Arabia than aid it donates to Yemen. The State Department constantly portrays itself as a humanitarian superpower with the welfare of the Yemeni people as its highest priority, yet figures released from the United Nations and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show that since the war in Yemen began, the U.S. government has given $2.56 billion in aid to the country, but sold over $13 billion in high-tech weapons to Saudi Arabia, the leader of the coalition prosecuting a relentless onslaught against the country.

Figures like these are always debatable. What constitutes legitimate “aid” is a question everyone would answer differently. Furthermore, the $13 billion figure does not include the enormous weapons deal Saudi Arabia signed with Donald Trump in 2017, which will reportedly see the Kingdom purchase $350 billion over ten years.

SIPRI is skeptical of the size of these numbers, but if they prove to be correct, once the orders begin arriving, they will make the paltry aid donations seem like small change by comparison. Sales include all manner of military equipment, from radar and transport systems to F-15 fighter jets, TOW missiles, Abrams tanks, and Paladin howitzers.

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CIA Partners with Google, Amazon and IBM in Latest Big Tech Procurement Drive

The vaunted “17 intelligence agencies” that comprise the U.S. intel community will be sharing a network of private-sector cloud computing service providers which includes Microsoft, Google, Oracle, IBM, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) as part of a 15-year contract said to be worth tens of billions of dollars.

AWS currently holds the sole contract to provide cloud computing services to a number of intelligence agencies, including the FBI and the NSA. That contract is set to expire in 2023 and this new award – managed by the CIA – will further weaken Amazon’s once privileged position in the federal money sweepstakes, which had already taken a hard hit when Microsoft was unexpectedly chosen over Bezos’ company for the Department of Defense’s own cloud services contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program.

The Central Intelligence Agency will take full advantage of its access to money without oversight to disburse the government funds at the agency’s discretion. Although speculated to rise into the tens of billions, the CIA has no plans to disclose the real value of the C2E contracts. The Commercial Cloud Enterprise (C2E) procurement program was unveiled in February by the premier U.S. spy agency in a bid to establish a cloud computing service platform for the country’s intelligence agencies separate from JEDI, which remains enmeshed in a protracted legal contest with AWS and is two years behind implementation.

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Outgoing Syria Envoy Admits Hiding US Troop Numbers; Praises Trump’s Mideast Record

Four years after signing the now-infamous “Never Trump” letter condemning then-presidential candidate Donald Trump as a danger to America, retiring diplomat Jim Jeffrey is recommending that the incoming Biden administration stick with Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

But even as he praises the president’s support of what he describes as a successful “realpolitik” approach to the region, he acknowledges that his teamroutinely misled senior leaders about troop levels in Syria. 

“We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” Jeffrey said in an interview. The actual number of troops in northeast Syria is “a lot more than” the roughly two hundred troops Trump initially agreed to leave there in 2019. 

Trump’s abruptly-announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria remains perhaps the single-most controversial foreign policy move during his first years in office, and for Jeffrey, “the most controversial thing in my fifty years in government.” The order, first handed down in December 2018, led to the resignation of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It catapulted Jeffrey, then Trump’s special envoy for Syria, into the role of special envoy in the counter-ISIS fight when it sparked the protest resignation of his predecessor, Brett McGurk.

For Jeffrey, the incident was far less cut-and-dry — but it is ultimately a success story that ended with U.S. troops still operating in Syria, denying Russian and Syrian territorial gains and preventing ISIS remnants from reconstituting. 

In 2018 and again in October of 2019, when Trump repeated the withdrawal order, the president boasted that ISIS was “defeated.” But each time, the president was convinced to leave a residual force in Syria and the fight continued. 

“What Syria withdrawal? There was never a Syria withdrawal,” Jeffrey said. “When the situation in northeast Syria had been fairly stable after we defeated ISIS, [Trump] was inclined to pull out. In each case, we then decided to come up with five better arguments for why we needed to stay. And we succeeded both times. That’s the story.”

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US Marines Activate Space Unit As Race To Secure Low Earth Orbit Intensifies

On Friday, the Marine Corps activated a new, specialized unit called the Marine Corps Forces Space Command (MARFORSPACE) as a subordinate organization to US Space Command, which will “provide space operational support to the Fleet Marine Force while building a convergence capability to increase warfighter lethality,” read a US Space Command press release

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