CIA runs combat drone base in Saudi Arabia

Feb. 6, 2013 at 1:12 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Deadly CIA drone strikes against al-Qaida militants in Yemen, including U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, originated in Saudi Arabia, The Washington Post reported.

The secret base's location, also disclosed by several other U.S. news organizations Tuesday, had been withheld by the organizations for more than a year at the request of senior Obama administration officials, the news organizations said.

But they reported the location after The New York Times reported online the CIA quietly established a drone base in Saudi Arabia two years ago to carry out strikes in Yemen.

That report effectively ended the arrangement among the news organizations, many of which had been aware of the location for more than a year.

The Post said it had cooperated with the administration because the officials said exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaida affiliate regarded as the militant Islamic organization's most powerful and influential anti-U.S. threat.

The administration had also said reporting the location might damage counter-terrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia, the Post said.

The administration had no comment on the release of the Saudi location.

The affiliate is al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, primarily active in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi base from which drones killed Awlaki Sept. 30, 2011, also launched the drones that killed deputy al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula leader Said Ali al-Shihri Jan. 22, the Times said.

Shihri was suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana, in September 2009 as well as the kidnappings and murders of foreigners in Yemen.

Shihri was one of the first detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, arriving Jan. 21, 2002. He was released to Saudi custody Nov. 9, 2007, the U.S. Defense Department said.

In Saudi Arabia he went through a rehabilitation and reintegration program and was released in 2008. He resurfaced with al-Qaida in Yemen in January 2009.

The disclosure of the CIA's Saudi drone base came as the architect of the drone strikes program, John Brennan, prepared to face the Senate Thursday for a confirmation hearing to become CIA director.

Brennan has been the principal coordinator of a "kill list" of al-Qaida operatives marked for death. He also has advised President Barack Obama on which strikes he should approve, the Times said.

Individual strikes by Predator and Reaper drones are almost never discussed publicly by Obama administration officials.

The secrecy surrounding the kill list and drone strikes, including those killing Americans, was punctured Monday with the disclosure of a 16-page U.S. Justice Department "white paper" that spells out the administration's case for killing Americans accused of being al-Qaida operatives.

The white paper, first reported by NBC News, says Washington can lawfully kill one of its own citizens overseas if "an informed, high-level official" determines the person is a "senior, operational leader" of al-Qaida or one of its affiliates and poses "an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States," provided his capture was not feasible.

The memo can be found at tinyurl.com/justicedeptmemo.

Administration officials Tuesday sought to play down the disclosure's significance, with White House spokesman Jay Carney saying the administration previously spoke about the principles outlined in the unclassified document in speeches, including one by Brennan.

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