How many people has the CIA killed with its drones?

Probably about 650 – so far. Here’s how we know.

The US Central Intelligence Agency operates armed Predator drones that it uses to hunt for and kill suspected terrorists. But how many Predators does the Agency possess and how many people have they killed?

The answer to the first question is around 80 – and we’ll get to the second down the page. Here’s how we know: At a US Army industry trade fair in Washington, D.C., on 14 October, General Atomics – the California company that manufactures Predators – announced it has produced “some 700 aircraft to date” and proudly pointed out that as of 2October its drones had flown for a total of three million hours, performing “nearly 220,000 total missions completed and almost 90 percent of all missions flown in combat.”

Following 2001, the Predator became the primary unmanned aircraft used for offensive operations by the US Air Force and the CIA in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas; it has also been deployed elsewhere.

Because offensive uses of the Predator are classified, US military officials have emphasized the intelligence and reconnaissance-gathering abilities of these “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs) but decline to publicly discuss their use as weapons platforms.

Civilian applications include border enforcement and scientific studies, and to monitor largescale natural disasters like forest fires and flooding.

The Predator drone family includes the basic MQ-1 Predator, the larger MQ-9 Reaper and the Army’s special MQ-1C Gray Eagle.All three types can carry cameras, sensors and munitions including bombs and Hellfire air-to-surface missiles. Operators control the propeller-driven robots via satellite link on missions lasting 12 hours or more. The US Air Force admits to acquiring 268 MQ- 1s and 200 MQ-9s. The US Army has 110 MQ- 1Cs. Other Predator users include the Italian Air Force, Britain’s Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, Turkey, Morocco, the United Arab Emirate and the US Customs and Border Patrol, which between them possess between 40 and 50 Predators.

That’s no more than 629 Predators that we can account for. The CIA doesn’t discuss its own drone fleet, but in 2013 investigative reporter Aram Roston spoke to an unnamed official “familiar with the program” who said the Agency operated “more than 80” Predators. That’s consistent with our count. Eighty CIA drones plus the 629 or so Predators that belong to other users equals 709. Or “some 700,” to borrow General Atomics’ phrasing.

Since 2001, US Air Force, Army and CIA Predators have killed a total of around 4,700 people – including no fewer than a thousand innocent civilians – in attacks in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and potentially other war zones, like Mali and the Philippines where, under the cover of a training exercise in March 2002, Washington sent Gnat drones , the smaller, slower, older brother of the Predator .

At any rate – and Gnats aside – that’s around seven bodies per US military and CIA Predator. Now, we don’t know how many of the thousands of drone strikes America has launched involved CIA robot aircraft, as opposed to military ones. But let’s assume the strikes are proportional to fleet size.

The CIA posses 15 percent of America’s Predators. By that reckoning, their body count could be as high as 650. 

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