By Samuel Burke & Ken Olshansky, CNN
The story of how America's Central Intelligence Agency got back into the killing business after September 11th has, for the most part, been kept under wraps.
The secret weapons, targets and killings have had little-to-no oversight by the U.S. Congress, the courts or the press.
Now, New York Times correspondent Mark Mazzetti has uncovered key moments of America's shadow war. In his new book, "The Way of the Knife," the Pulitzer Prize-winning author reports on how the CIA morphed from an intelligence agency to a paramilitary force, and the complicated route to get it back again.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday, Mazzetti said the name of the book came from analogy originally used by John Brennan – now the CIA director – formerly President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser.
Brennan gave a speech in which he compared some CIA practices to using a “scalpel,” implying a clean surgery without complications. However, Mazzetti’s book examines the very complicated risks and ramifications of this kind of warfare.
President Bush authorized drone strikes, but his use of them was minimal – at least compared to Obama’s. There were 37 targeted airstrikes in 2008, compared to 121 in 2010, according the Long War Journal.
It all began in 2004, when the CIA was trying hard to get armed drones into Pakistan. The U.S. managed to kill a militant named Nek Muhammad, using a drone in June of that year, according to Mazzetti. Despite being affiliated with al Qaeda, Mazetti reports that Muhammad was actually more of Pakistan's problem than the United States’.
“There was a deal that was cut between America and the Pakistani spies to kill Nek Muhammad,” Mazzetti told Amanpour, paving the way for these types of killings to commence.
It took a few years for the program to ramp up, but it was not until the end of the Bush administration in 2008 that the strikes really escalated.
Then President Obama took office, embraced the strikes and expanded the program even further.
“As we found in Pakistan and also in Yemen, the groups that get hit are not just al Qaeda senior leaders,” Mazzetti said. “And to be honest, in Pakistan, there are very few of the original al Qaeda leadership as it existed on 9/11.”
According to Mazzetti, the CIA is also targeting members of the Haqqani network and the Pakistani Taliban – so while Pakistan says it is against the drone program, the government is willing to bless some strikes because the U.S. is hitting enemies of Pakistan.
Now, Brennan has hinted he might move the program to the Pentagon, allowing the CIA to revert back to being an intel-gathering spy machine – though that transfer might be easier said than done.