WIRED has an article by Spencer Ackerman, "How the CIA Became ‘One Hell of a Killing Machine’". It's an account of how the CIA got up to speed with its efforts to attack al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to Spencer, the CIA started from zero.
On April 14, 2004, CIA Director George Tenet looked so impotent he might have starred in a Viagra commercial. Tenet had come before the 9/11 Commission for what was sure to be a public flogging. In response, he alternately apologized for the agency’s failure to stop 9/11 and explained it away. Finally, the exhausted panelists posed him a bottom-line question: how long would it take Tenet to get the CIA in a position to counterattack al-Qaida?
“It’s going to take another five years,” Tenet confessed, ”to build the clandestine service the way the human intelligence capability of this country needs to be run.”
Seven years later, no one views the CIA as anything resembling impotent. The drone strikes it operates are the most important counterterrorism tool the Obama administration uses, battering a relatively small section of Pakistan so intensely that in 2010 they struck an average of once every three days. Osama bin Laden is dead as the result of a military operation the CIA commanded, highlighting the unprecedented coordination between CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). In the words of the head of CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, its central nervous system for counterterrorism: “We are killing these sons of bitches faster than they can grow them now.”
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CIA’s fleet of 30 Predators and Reapers — the Post gives the total — get the most attention, and understandably so. But it’s easy to forget that the drones are a lagging indicator. Every intelligence operation, even the ones that go wrong and kill civilians, is the result of the CIA’s cultivation of a network of spies it didn’t possess back during Tenet’s testimony. Drone strikes need spotters; the CIA has them in a group of Pashtun informants who cross the Afghanistan-Pakistan border with news of militant activity.