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ZR Rifle / License to Kill

On 30 August 2010 the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a lawsuit challenging the government's asserted authority to carry out "targeted killings" of U.S. citizens located far from any armed conflict zone. They stated that "The authority contemplated by the Obama administration is far broader than what the Constitution and international law allow, the groups charge. Outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and international law prohibit targeted killing except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific, and imminent threats of death or serious physical injury. An extrajudicial killing policy under which names are added to CIA and military "kill lists" through a secret executive process and stay there for months at a time is plainly not limited to imminent threats."

The word "assassination" invites memories of the tragic murders of U.S. presidents and other great Americans, images of world leaders and heads of state being gunned down without legal justification, and covert operations where snipers take out foreign leaders that are deemed a nuisance to the United States. But the distinction between "legal" or "permissible" killing and "assassination" is not clear.

President John F. Kennedy was a great fan of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels; in fact, Kennedy's comment at a news conference about his love of Fleming's thrillers did much to move the Bond novels to the top of bestseller lists. One influence of the James Bond genre was the acceptance that intelligence officers had a "license to kill," the defining attribute of Bond's designation as 007. In the argot of the 1960's intelligence officer this became known as "termination with extreme prejudice." In Ian Fleming's novel, after receiving a license to kill, British Secret Service agent James Bond leads to Madagascar, where he uncovers a link to Le Chiffre, a man who finances terrorist organizations. Learning that Le Chiffre plans to raise money in a high-stakes poker game, MI6 sends Bond to play against him, gambling that their newest "00" operative will topple the man's organization.

The operations of the CIA from 1953 through 1960 were considered small potatoes by the President, entrusted in their operational details to Allen Dulles, but always with the clear understanding that the boss had to be brought in if things got serious. As invariably happens with covert operations, such was not always the case. Ike's hidden-hand approach led some subordinates to plan everything so as to assure a case for plausible deniability at the top. One result was the agency-inspired assassination plotting against Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba, with which CIA Director Dulles can be connected but regarding which Ike's knowledge or role cannot be shown.

Eisenhower loyalists insist it is inconceivable that he could have ordered up murder plots; Dulles loyalists counter that their man would never have dared move in such matters unless cleared by the president. One suspects that this jury will remain out just as long as the one still trying to decide Henry II's exact role in Thomas Becket's murder in the cathedral at Canterbury on December 29, 1170.

CIA conducted research on executive action, a euphemism that evaluated means by which foreign political leaders might be overthrown, including assassination. Richard M. Bissell, who was involved in the project, later testified before the Church Committee and indicated that executive action covered a "wide spectrum of actions" to "eliminate the effectiveness" of foreign leaders, with assassination as the "most extreme" action in the spectrum.

ZR Rifle was an executive action (assassination of foreign leader) program unrelated to the Oswald case. Former CIA Director Helms testified that the assassination aspect of ZR Rifle was never implemented and, in fact, was discontinued as soon as it was brought to his attention. The agency initiated ZR/RIFLE, a project that involved assessing the problems and requirements of assassination and developed a stand-by assassination capability. More specifically, it involved "spotting" potential agents and researching assassination techniques that might be used. Bissell characterized ZR/RIFLE as "internal and purely preparatory."

Richard M. Bissell, a CIA operations officer, approached CIA Office of Security's Colonel Sheffield Edwards in August 1960 to determine if the office had any assets who might conduct "gangster-type action" to target Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Robert A. Maheu, a CIA asset, approached Johnny Roselli, a reputed syndicate member, claiming he represented clients who "suffered heavy financial loss" when the Castro regime took over syndicate operations in Cuba. Roselli introduced Maheu to Sam Gold, who suggested that it might be possible to poison Castro's food or drink. Gold also suggested a potential assassin: Juan Orta, a Cuban official with access to Castro. CIA produced six highly lethal pills that were delivered to Orta. After several weeks of attempts, however, Orta backed out of the assignment, suggesting a replacement. The replacement also made several attempts without success. CIA identified Dr. Anthony Verona, a former officer in the Cuban Exile Junta, as another potential assassin. Verona was never used because the Kennedy administration cancelled anti-Castro operations in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs.

The Church Committee was originally established to look into allegations of domestic abuses by the Agency. But within weeks of its creation, an off-the-record remark that President Ford had made to journalists and publishers became public and caused it to shift its original focus. "President Ford has reportedly warned associates," CBS News reported on 28 February 1975, "that if the current investigations go too far they could uncover several assassinations of foreign officials involving the CIA."

Assassination plots had been mentioned several times in the "Family Jewels," to which the committee already had access, but the uproar that ensued once these charges became public dictated they be addressed as a matter of priority. In the spring and summer of 1975, the committee held 60 days of closed hearings involving 75 witnesses. Of perhaps greater long-term significance for the Agency, the committee made assassination the first issue to examine when it held its first public hearing on 16 September 1975.

By this point, Senator Church had already compared the Agency to a "rogue elephant rampaging out of control," and by making the Agency's efforts to develop exotic weapons to carry out political assassinations the first issue put before the public, the committee appeared intent on making the charge stick. Indeed,the sight of members passing among themselves an electronic pistol designed by the Agency to deliver poison darts created a lasting impression in the minds of the public. Colby attempted to make clear the pistol had never been used, but his message was lost in the blinding flash of press photography that accompanied the pistol's display.

The committee's investigation of the assassinations issue lasted six months. In December 1975, the committee issued an "interim report" containing its findings. Even though the Ford administration objected to the release of the report on security grounds, the committee - after presenting the issue to asecret session of the full Senate and noting an "absence of disapproval" - went ahead with its publication. It was the first time in the history of executive-legislative relations that a committee of the Congress, with the putative support of its parent body, asserted the right to release a report a president contended was classified.

The committee found that US officials had initiated plots to assassinate Fidel Castro in Cuba and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. The efforts against Castro had gone on for some time and involved bizarre techniques (putting an exploding seashell where he went snorkeling, recruiting a mistress to put poison into his drinks) as well as questionable means of implementing them (use of the Mafia). But none of these plans came to fruition.

Lumumba had been overthrown in a coup in September 1960, involving people with whom the Agency had been working, who later handed him over to a group that murdered him on 17 January 1961. The committee found no evidence directly linking CIA with the coup or the subsequent murder, however. The report also found that US officials had encouraged, or were privy to, coup plots that had resulted in the deaths of certain foreign officials - Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, BG Rene Schneider in Chile, and Ngo Dihn Diem in South Vietnam - but the committee found no evidence the Agency had been directly involved in any of these deaths.

On the issue of presidential responsibility, although the committee found no "paper trail" indicating Presidents Eisenhower or Kennedy had specifically authorized the assassination of any foreign official, it found that CIA understood itself to be acting in response to the wishes of "the highest levels of the US government."

In addition to its findings with respect to plots involving particular foreign officials, the report found that the CIA had instituted a project in the early 1960s to create a standby capability to incapacitate, eliminate the effectiveness of, and, if necessary, perform assassinations of foreign officials. The project involved researching various techniques for accomplishing these objectives (the poison dart gun, for example) but according to the committee, none of the devices or techniques was actually ever used.

By the time the committee issued its report, the Ford administration had already promulgated an executive order prohibiting the assassination of foreign officials or the planning of such activities. The committee, for its part, recommended that these prohibitions be made a matter of federal criminal law.

The Church Committee at the time, found only some evidence of planning for the Castro and Lumumba episodes, and no evidence of a direct U.S. role in the actual execution of Lumumba or of other leaders (Trujillo, Diem, and Schneider) killed in various circumstances. New CIA documents, released to the public in June 2007, pointed to more direct CIA leadership approval and Agency participation in the Castro case in particular.

The term "assassination" could include any intentional killing, or it could define only murders of state leaders in the narrowest of circumstances. The British Manual of Military Law, unlike the American Uniform Code of Military Justice, defines assassination, which is "the killing or wounding of a selected individual behind the line of battle by enemy agents or partisans. . . ." The definition of assassination found in the law of war finds its roots in the Hague prohibition against "treacherous killing." During wartime, a killing would be an assassination if it was accomplished by treacherous means, such as by a person not in uniform, (which would be a violation of the law of war), and was a killing of a specifically targeted individual. Judge Abraham Sofaer, former LegalAdviser at the U.S. Department of State, offered a simple definition: "any unlawful killing of particular individuals for political purposes." A lawful homicide is never an assassination. In general, the law of war prohibits any violence beyond that necessary for military purposes. The principle of "military necessity," one factor that must be considered in military targeting decisions, "justifies those measures not forbidden by international law which are indispensable for securing the complete submission of the enemy as soon as possible."

Some have suggested that the very act of targeting a particular leader of an enemy force in an armed conflict must violate the laws of war, and that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. The subject of summary or arbitrary executions had been discussed in the United Nations for many years within the framework of a wider discussion on human rights. The Commission on Human Rights, in its resolution 1992/72, renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and widened the title of the mandate to include "extrajudicial" as well as "summary or arbitrary" executions. The situations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions that the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions is requested to investigate comprise a variety of cases.

The use of "targeted killings" as a weapon to combat terrorism has become common. Targeted killings are wholly different from assassinations and other intentional targeting used during wartime. They are a politically risky undertaking with the potential for negative international implications. Targeted killings are a proven tactic for some terrorist groups that may, in the future, cause states to reconsider their decision not to use targeted killings. Targeted killings can impact terrorists and terrorist groups at the strategic, operational, and tactical level. Targeted killings can have both negative and unintentionally positive impacts on terrorist groups; and can expose civilians to unintentional harm.

For instance, the United States criticized Israel's September 26 attempt to kill a Hamas militant as a "targeted killing" and urged Israel's compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1435, said Department of State Spokesman Richard Boucher at the 27 September 2002 regular briefing. "We are against targeted killings. We're against the use of heavy weaponry in urban areas, even when it comes to people like Mohammed Deif, who have been responsible for the deaths of American citizens," said Boucher at the State Department's September 27 regular briefing.

Martin Van Creveld, in "The Transformation of War", notes that "Whenever and wherever war takes place, it cannot occur unless those who participate in it are given to understand just whom they are and not allowed to kill, for what ends, under what circumstances and by what means. A body of [soldiers] that is not clear in its own mind about these things is not an army but a mob."

The promulgation on 24 April 1863 of General Order No. 100, commonly known as the Lieber Code, provided in Article CXLVIII that "The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individualbelonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hos-tile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial byany captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows suchinternational outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage." Executive Order 12333 (EO 12333) specifically prohibits "assassination" in paragraph 2.11.

FM 27-10 THE LAW OF LAND WARFARE notes that under internationa law (HR, art. 23,par. (b).) "It is especially forbidden * * * to kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army." But this Army Field Manual states that "This article is construed as prohibiting assassination, proscription, or outlawry of an enemy, or putting a price upon an enemy's head, as well as offering a reward for an enemy "dead or alive". It does not, however, preclude attacks on individual soldiers or officers of the enemy whether in the zone of hostilities, occupied territory, or else-where."

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said December 09, 2003 that "... to use the phrase "targeted killing" I think is a misunderstanding of the fact that we're in a war where, obviously, the people who don't surrender, who are terrorists trying to kill innocent Iraqis and coalition forces, are people we want to stop. We would be happy to capture them, we'd be happy to have them surrender, and if they don't, we'd be happy to kill them. And that's what's going on. But the implication or the connotation of "targeted killing" I think is unfortunate because it suggests an appetite to do that, which is not the case. The goal is to stop terrorists from killing innocent men, women and children, Iraqis, and coalition forces. It seems like a perfectly logical thing to me."

In August 2009 The New York Times reported that the Central Intelligence Agency in 2004 hired outside contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al-Qaeda. According to this reporting, CIA spent several million dollars on the program, which did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects. Vice President Dick Cheney told CIA officers in 2002 that they did not need to inform Congress because the agency already had legalauthority to kill al-Qaeda leaders.

On March 25, 2010, Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State, told the Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law in Washington, DC that " ... in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al-Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks.... individuals who are part of ... an armed group are belligerents and, therefore, lawful targets under international law. During World War II, for example, American aviators tracked and shot down the airplane carrying the architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ... under domestic law, the use of lawful weapons systems-consistent with the applicable laws of war-for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute "assassination.""

On 02 June 2010 Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur onextrajudicial executions, presented his report to the Human Rights Council on legalissues raised by targeted killing. Alston noted that "The most prolific user of targeted killings today is the United States, which primarily uses drones for attacks... some 40 states alreadypossess drone technology, and some already have, or are seeking, the capacity to firemissiles from them.... I'm particularly concerned that the United States seems oblivious to this fact when it asserts an ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe. But this strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other States can have without doing grave damageto the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extra-judicial executions."

Alston observed that "it is an essential requirement of international law that States using targeted killings demonstrate that they are complying with the various rules governing their use in situations of armed conflict." The clearest challenge to this principal today, according to the independent expert, comes from the program operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency in which targeted killings are carried out from unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. "It is clear that many hundreds of people have been killed, and that this number includes some innocent civilians. Because the program remains shrouded in official secrecy, the international community does not know when and where the CIA is authorized to kill, the criteria for individuals who may be killed, how it ensures killings are legal, and what follow-up there is when civilians are illegally killed."

Alston noted that "the easiest contrast to draw is with the well-established practice of the US Department of Defense. While it is by no means perfect, the US military has a relatively public accountability process... Intelligence agencies, which by definition are determined to remain unaccountable except to their own paymasters, have no place in running programs that kill people in other countries."

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Page last modified: 22-11-2013 00:03:43 ZULU