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Wet Work is Better

Strategy Page reports on what they claim is a resurgence of Russian assassination.

[I]n the last decade, the Russian "wet work" (assassination) teams are back. This is considered an intelligence operation, as it is often used to eliminate those supplying foreigners with damaging information about Russia.

How many people have been targeted by the SVR (foreign intelligence successor to the KGB) and GRU (military intelligence) SVR death squads are unknown. It is believed to be at least a dozen in the last decade. The most common targets have been members of Chechen terrorist organizations. Six of these Chechens have been killed in Turkey in the last four years. All were killed with a pistol used mainly by the Russian special operations troops.... Other hits were only suspected, because the target was taken out in such a way that it could have been an accident.

Russia denies any involvement with any of this, and they always have. 

I'd like to point out that this is better than what we are doing, with our drone-and-airstrikes program of targeted killing, in at least three ways.

1)  It is the mark of a more competent intelligence service.  To infiltrate an enemy safe area and kill a man with a pistol -- or in a manner that looks like an accident -- is the mark of a highly competent clandestine service.  How many members of the Haqqani network could we kill this way, if we wanted to do it?  Could we walk a man into their compound, pop them, and walk him out again before the body was found?  Arrange an accident?  Refuse to comment on the operation to the press?  Keep the documents from leaking?

2)  It is more discriminating.  A knife is an excellent weapon for this kind of war; a silenced pistol is a good weapon.  A rifle can be a good weapon, in the hands of an expert.  You get the man you want, and you don't kill women, children, or those who are accidentally near.  I know full well how deep the protections are that we put around our operations to try to limit collateral damage especially of women and children, and I admire the work of the men and women who do it:  but as a simple practical fact, aerial bombing kills more innocent people than Russian-type wet work.  This is true in spite of the tremendous protections we have instituted, and the very best efforts of our people to ensure that such innocent deaths are as close to zero as they can possibly be.

3)  It cuts down on political consequences.  Our drone strikes in Pakistan have given that part of the political factions who oppose us a politically dynamite issue.  They have put what supporters we have on the line.  Combined with the bin Laden raid -- which would not have been the straw that broke the camel's back if it wasn't for the drumbeat of the drone strikes -- they have disrupted military-to-military cooperation between the PAKMIL and our forces, which decreases our insight into how things stand on the Pakistani side of the border, decreases pressure on our enemies, and cuts down on the ties that allow us to bring effective military intelligence analysis to bear on the problems we face there.  

What do we get out of this?  We get to say that we oppose assassination -- though not "targeted killing."

A wise man recognizes a good idea no matter who brings it to the table.  If we're going to wage war through the targeted killing of individuals, we ought to engage in 'wet work' instead.