Arabian predators: CIA's secret Saudi drone base revealed
A remote base in Saudi Arabia is being used by the C.I.A. to conduct its drone assassination campaign in Yemen, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
The base was first reported as being under construction by AP in June 2011, but the exact location was withheld by the news agency at the request of the Obama administration.
Saudi Arabia recently denied reports it had aided in the U.S. drone war in Yemen.
Covert operations by U.S. agencies in Saudi Arabia are highly sensitive, as the Kingdom has historically been a maturation chamber for Al Qaeda.
The Saudi base from which drones killed Anwar Awlaki on September 30, 2011, also launched the drones that killed deputy Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Said Ali al-Shihri on January 22, the Times said.
Shihri was suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana’a, 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 on January 21, 2002. He was released to Saudi custody in 2007.
In Saudi Arabia he went through a rehabilitation and reintegration program and was released in 2008. He resurfaced with Al Qaeda 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 U.S. Senate on Thursday for a confirmation hearing to become CIA director.
Brennan has been the principal coordinator of a "kill list" of Al Qaeda 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 on 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 Qaeda 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 Qaeda or one of its affiliates and poses "an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States," provided his capture was not feasible.
Administration officials on 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.
With additional reporting from Al Bawaba.