Did Lindsey Graham Accidentally Divulge Secret Drone Casualty Estimates?

John Glaser, February 20, 2013

One of the things itching the people who demand more transparency and accountability in Obama’s drone war is that the secrecy of the program means that the government doesn’t publicly release casualty estimates. This has led a number of journalistic and think-tank organizations to do their due diligence and come up with their own estimates with their own methodologies. Even United Nations special rapporteur Ben Emmerson is in the beginning stages of an investigation into drone deaths in Pakistan and Yemen.

But none of this means the government doesn’t maintain their own, classified casualty estimates.

Micah Zenko, at his CFR blog, caught an obscure statement Sen. Lindsey Graham made yesterday during a speech at the Easley Rotary Club in Easley, South Carolina. Graham issued the boilerplate defense of the drone war and then might have let something slip.

Graham then added:  “We’ve killed 4,700. Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al-Qaeda.” His estimate of the death toll of suspected terrorists and militants by U.S. nonbattlefield targeted killings is higher than any other reported.My report, Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies, compiled the averages found within the ranges provided by New America FoundationLong War Journal, and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and produced a number about 1,200 fewer.

It is notable that Graham’s estimate nearly matches the TBIJ’s highest estimated range for “total reported killed” in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia: 4,756. Either Graham is a big fan of TBIJ’s work, or perhaps he inadvertently revealed the U.S. government’s body count for nonbattlefield targeted killings.

It should be noted also that TBIJ, despite their rigorous methodology, was for a long time shunned by a mainstream media that refused to cite their casualty estimates, simply because it recorded the highest ones available. Newspapers and TV typically used the middle-of-the-road estimate, which was New America Foundation. Graham – with his seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee – is almost certainly privy to some secret government numbers on drone war casualties. The fact that he might of let it slip here – and the fact that it’s way higher than virtually anybody in the mainstream reports – should be something of a lesson, I think.

Update: Just a reminder to help put this 4,700 in context: the Standford/NYU study of the drone war found that, “The number of ‘high-level’ targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low—estimated at just 2%.”




  • http://www.phddissertation.biz/about-us/ phd dissertation

    What an interesting topic. I'm really excited about the talent of the author. It's incredible interesting post.

  • http://jimbovard.com Jim Bovard

    Assuming that Graham's revelation is accurate, that means that there are least 10 million potential radicals and militants who still need to be whacked.

    • Ron Smyth

      There are more than 300 million in the United States alone. So far Obama has only killed three. You did say potential, right?

  • Tom Mauel

    Feinstein claimed civilian drone deaths are in the single digits. By the estimate made in this article 4,500 civilians died in the attempt to wipe out less than 100 high level suspects. The UN investigates under charges of genocide an armed conflict which results in 90% civilian casualties. Will the UN expose the genocidal U.S. drone war? Not likely.

    • coleenrowley

      I have not yet waded through this recent (Jan 2013) research but just see from first few pages that this RAND Corp and UCLA authored study finds that drone bombing "works." The authors are actually contradicting the prevalent wisdom, from an increasing number of national security officials, the Washington Post and the "living under drones" report that drone bombing is counter-productive when it kills a lot of civilians.

      The study may be the first of its kind in apparently coming up with some evidence that US drone bombings work fine to reduce militants’ violence. The theory that a periodically drone-attacked civilian population gets angry, resentful and possibly susceptible to being radicalized so that the US "loses hearts and minds” is apparently over-rated according to the authors since the foreign civilians are more “rational” and safety-conscious than that.

      Here's an excerpt: "The observed dampening effect of drone strikes on militant violence would also cast doubt on certain conventionally held views regarding how civilians respond to violence. Specifically, to the extent that Muslims, especially Pashtuns, living in the region have a strong disdain for the drones' persistent surveillance and periodic destruction, they either have less agency to mobilize as mujahideen fighters or less interest in doing so than both academic theories of emotion and violence (revenge, in particular) and military doctrine that emphasizes the importance of “hearts and minds" would predict. If this were true, it would suggest either that the militant organization in particular, the networks through which militants operate is their center-of-gravity rather than the population. Alternatively, it could mean that the population behaves more rationally than many would expect based on the narratives about popular anger
      stemming from drone strikes. This would imply that as angry and spiteful as parts
      of the population might feel as a result of drone strikes, emotions ultimately take a
      backseat to individuals' primary interest in their own safety, which is much higher as
      a civilian than as a fighter who associates with other possible targets of the drones,
      thus risking becoming a target himself."
      http://patrickjohnston.info/materials/drones.pdf "The Impact of US Drone Strikes on Terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan" – Patrick Johnston

  • Alex Bell

    I think the Senator's comments will certainly aid the enemy as they try to maintain support amongst their own people. Senator Graham should therefore be in a cell at Guantanamo Bay next to the one prepared for Julian Assange.

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  • Avi

    Two percent of 4700 is 94.

    That's a 1 to 50 ratio. For every high ranking terrorist it kills, the US kills 50 innocent human beings including women and children.

    No court, of course, makes the determination as to who is a terrorist and who isn't. That decision is made extra-judicially by government officials and the media (Trial by Media).

    So the US kills 50 innocent human beings just to get at that 1 person it considers to be a terrorist.

    But hey, "Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war […]"

    We're at War™

    We're at War™

    Is anyone familiar with the YouTube meme, "YOLO"?

    YOLO is a sweeping all-encompassing excuse one uses to justify all kinds of abnormal, foolish or unpopular behavior.

    "We're at War" is exactly the same. And that only goes to show that US Congress members have the same infantile logic of juveniles.

    WAW? YOLO!

    • persnipoles

      I take it there are people at war. Linseeee saying 'we'-are is one of those inside-jokes that pussies tell each other openly… E.g., he sure aint.

  • youforget

    “….So the US kills 50 innocent human beings just to get at that 1 person it considers to be a terrorist…”

    does that account for the “signature strikes” where drone
    operators kill somebody somewhere who simply exhibits a few
    characteristics (as seen from 10,000 feet up) of what a
    “terrorist” would?

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  • A Tran

    Get an editor. "…might of…." Don't you mean, "…might have…?"

    • Umm Abdullah

      "One of the things itching the people"? And more…

    • persnipoles

      Editors cost money. Comments sections are free.

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  • jim sharp

    gobheads of u.s. imperialism
    points two fingers without
    twigging there's six mauled
    fingers pointing back at
    their gawd forsaken imperium

  • camus10

    so the seeds of the long war

    were intentionally sowed. Why and by whom. Lets go back to basics how the US democracy and the constitution were deliberately usurped against the interest of its beleaguered People

  • mojo

    What this man is saying is simply this: we are at war.., we need to kill more leveling more of the killing to what is only 2% of terrorist killed by USA drone wars all over the world. In another word.., more drone killing.., chances are that these drone killings can kill more of "who is" the enemy of USA-EU.

    Look people: these wars are not about terrorism nor democracy, the amount of people are killed proving the fact that these wars are about USA-EU telling the world that USA and EU governments are hired by vulture capitalism, using their Neo technology to steal people's wealth.., meanwhile starving (killing) their own people at home.

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  • anthony

    Wait. We're at war? I do not remember Congress ever declaring war, but I keep hearing and reading that we ARE at war. That certain ammounts of civilian casualties are acceptable in war, or WAR this, or WAR that. Did I miss something big? When did we, as a people, declare a war is on through our congress? Someone set me straight please.

  • Anthony

    Through drones we can kill everyone who is an enemy.
    It's more like through drone we can kill everyone. Who is an enemy?
    Who is an enemy= anyone THEY say it is; because THEY say so.
    It won't be long before those same drones are turned on our own soil.

  • ikramghouri2000

    This is a sad story to kill human beings for lies and oil.

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  • http://resolvethem.com swa

    Very nice share man, I really like it.

    Thanks again!

  • http://www.freeinstagramfollowers.net Wicked137

    This story somehow changes my entire way of thinking…Stop WAR!