He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, See It/Shoot It: The Secret History of the CIA’s Lethal Drone Program, and reported the following:
Opening up to page 99 drops the reader straight into one of the many controversial debates around U.S. counterterrorism policy covered in the book. It explores the aftermath of Operation El Dorado Canyon, an American bombing raid launched against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in retaliation for his connection to the bombing of a nightclub in West Berlin frequented by U.S. service personnel in 1986.Learn more about See It/Shoot It at the Yale University Press website.
The Reagan administration’s use of a large-scale bombing raid was controversial for a number of reasons. First, despite his tough rhetoric, the bombing marked the first time Reagan had directly authorized the use of military force in retaliation for a terrorist attack. This decision is still significant today as it marks the first time the United States shifted from treating terrorism as a criminal offense to a matter of national security.
Second, as the page reveals, the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh later uncovered evidence that members of Reagan’s National Security Council (NSC) had ordered the U.S. Air Force bombers to target Gaddafi’s personal residence in an attempt to kill the Libyan dictator. In targeting a head of state, the Reagan administration had technically acted in breach of international law, and Reagan’s own Executive Order 12333 (EO12333). A restatement of Gerald Ford’s Executive Order 11905, signed in the aftermath of the Church Committee’s investigations into CIA wrongdoing, Reagan’s order barred U.S. forces from engaging in any act that could be construed as political assassination. EO12333 is still in place today, although the United States’ counterterrorism efforts have long since evolved legally, with the U.S. authorizing targeted killings of members of terrorist groups based upon the state of non-international armed conflict America now argues it is in. This reveals that while the counterterrorism objective has very much remained the same – the elimination of terrorist leaders and their sponsors – the legal language and approach to this has become significantly more nuanced.
The final point of continued relevance covered on page 99 is the reason Gaddafi survived. Despite the aggression of launching a bombing raid on Libya’s capital, the United States went to significant lengths to try to limit civilian casualties. The bombers were fitted with state of the art laser-guidance systems — a precursor to the precision strike technology utilized for today’s drone strikes. On the night of the raid, these systems malfunctioned on four of the nine aircraft tasked with attacking Gaddafi’s compound. As the Rules of Engagement — written to limit collateral damage — stated any aircraft that was not 100 percent functional was to be withdrawn, these bombers never dropped their payloads, and Gaddafi’s compound was spared the sixteen two-thousand pound bombs they carried. Post-strike photography revealed a line of craters leading right to his home. Had the additional munitions been employed it is unlikely the dictator would have survived. In the end, the very technology designed to allow the U.S. to more accurately eliminate its foes saved Gaddafi’s life. Furthermore, despite these efforts the raid still killed dozens of Libyan civilians, revealing the enduring problem of utilizing military tools against terrorists who hide among innocent citizens.
It is apt that page 99 discusses the Gadaffi raid. As this book goes on to reveal, the failure of this raid, and the high collateral damage it incurred played a key role in inspiring the CIA to seek a more precise method of eliminating those responsible for prosecuting terrorism against the United States. That pursuit would eventually inspire the very technology that would evolve into the armed drones that have become so integral to the United States continued pursuit of security against terrorist threats.