Beyond the headlines surrounding the passing of Nelson Mandela lies another story. Before overseeing the historic transition of power heralding majority rule in South Africa, Mandela led Umkhonto we Sizwe, the militant wing of the African National Congress which was labeled a terrorist organization by the United States. The Central Intelligence Agency is suspected to have played a role in his arrest, having invested more resources in countering the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid movements than did South Africa’s own security services. It devotes a similar level of attention today to Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, where it has deployed drones to eliminate targets who are suspected of terrorism based on their patterns of behavior.
The United States Government’s public justification for drone warfare was defended by the current CIA Director and then top Presidential counterterror aide John Brennan, who argued that drone strikes are legal, ethical, and wise. The first two of these points are up for debate, but using targeted strikes against suspected terrorists is widely considered to be wiser, safer, and less expensive than attempting to capture suspects and bring them to justice. Brennan noted that the primary purpose of these strikes is not to punish targets for past actions, but to “mitigate an actual ongoing threat.” It is likely that the threat Mandela presented to one of the United States’ Cold War allies would have easily passed Brennan’s threat mitigation test for using drone strikes.