CIA Director: 'We're Trying to Be As Careful As a Surgeon's Scalpel' in Taking Out Terrorists

Susan Jones | September 12, 2016 | 7:44am EDT
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The wreckage of the drone-destroyed vehicle in which Mullah Akhtar Mansour was allegedly traveling in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, near Afghanistan border. (AP Photo)

( - The Obama administration is "very mindful" that it must consider the consequences of the actions it takes overseas, CIA Director John Brennan told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

"We're trying to be as careful as a surgeon's scalpel in terms of taking out the cancer of these terrorist organizations. We have to make sure, though, that we're not going to damage the surrounding tissue," he said.

"And whether or not we're operating in the Middle East or South Asia or other areas in parts of the world, we have to work, first of all, very closely with the governments, the ones that we're able to work with, but to ensure that it's being done in a careful manner, that we're able to arrest and detain individuals as we can, that we're able to take advantage of whatever material we're able to seize. And this has to be done, I think, in a very deliberate way."

Host John Dickerson asked Brennan if the use of drones "help or hurt in that effort to be surgical, because some people say that the drones are a recruitment tool for terrorists?"

Brennan said drones are "tremendously capable" of conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and they are also "exceptionally precise as far as putting ordnance on targets when that is called for."

Dickerson tried again: "But in terms of that collateral issue and creating more terrorists, do you believe -- what role do you believe it plays as a recruitment tool for new terrorists?"

"Oh, I think, frequently, our adversaries will point to it as a recruitment tool, but the facts are that that is an exceptionally powerful and capable means of taking kinetic action against terrorists when that is called for.

"So, I think there's a lot of misrepresentation and mischaracterization that a lot of the propaganda skews in terms of how those drones are used."

Instead of sending America's enemies to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which he is trying to close, President Obama has expanded the use of remotely piloted drones to kill America's enemies on the battlefield.

In May 2013, Obama noted that "this new technology raises profound questions," including "who is targeted and why; about civilian casualties and the risk of creating new enemies; about the legality of such strikes under U.S. and international law; about accountability and morality."

In that speech, Obama argued that his actions "are effective," legal, and an alternative to boots on the ground.

At a news conference in April, a reporter told Obama, "In the past several weeks, your administration has killed well over 200 people in airstrikes in Somalia, Libya, and Yemen, according to the Department of Defense.  How can you be certain that all the people killed posed an imminent threat to the United States?  And why is the United States now killing scores of people at a time, rather than eliminating individuals in very targeted strikes?"

Obama said most "kinetic action" is directed at high-value targets" who are plotting against the United States.

"But what we have been very cautious about is making sure that we are not taking strikes in situations where, for example, we think there is the presence of women or children, or if it is in a normally populated area.

"And recently we laid out the criteria by which we're making these decisions.  We declassified many elements of this.  We are going to be putting forward and trying to institutionalize on a regular basis how we make these evaluations and these analyses."

Obama admitted that there has been "legitimate criticism" about the use of drone strikes that caused collateral damage.

"In situations of war, we have to take responsibility when we're not acting appropriately, or where we've just made mistakes, even with the best of intentions.  And that's what we're going to continue to try to do.  And what I can say with great confidence is that our operating procedures are as rigorous as they have ever been and that there is a constant evaluation of precisely what we do."

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