Air Base In Saudi Arabia Is Latest Drone Secret To Be Revealed

The Obama administration says lethal air strikes, delivered stealthily by drones, have been a major success in its counter-terrorism efforts. But the administration has been much less successful in keeping secret the details of the often controversial drone program.

Last May, Foreign Policy published this story providing details on 12 U.S. drone bases spread across three continents, from the Seychelles to the Philippines.

And in the latest revelation, The New York Times reported Tuesday that a clandestine U.S. drone base was built in Saudi Arabia primarily to carry out strikes in neighboring Yemen, a stronghold for an al-Qaida affiliate, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Times and other news organizations say they knew about the base for some time. But the organizations had not revealed its existence at the request of U.S. officials, who wanted to keep it under wraps.

The managing editor of The Times, Dean Baquet, said the paper decided to reveal its existence now because of role played by John Brennan, the nominee to become CIA chief.

“It was central to the story because the architect of the base and drone program [Brennan] is nominated to head the C.I.A.,” Baquet told The Times’ public editor.

Brennan goes before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday for his confirmation hearing.

Karen DeYoung, who covers national security for The Washington Post, told All Things Considered that the Saudi base was built in 2010 “specifically for the CIA to launch drones both for surveillance and for targeted killing strikes against [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula].”

She said the Obama administration wanted to keep the base secret “because of sensitivities in Saudi Arabia itself. Because of their internal politics and because of what they see as their position in the Islamic world, they didn’t want it published that they were allowing the CIA to actually occupy real estate inside Saudi Arabia.”

And speaking of Brennan, who has played a highly influential role as counterterrorism adviser to President Obama, DeYoung said:

“It was really Brennan who put this all together and made a strategy out of [various counterterrorism tactics] for the future that the administration hopes it can use when we’re not going to have big armies on the ground.”

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