The Suffolk County courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, is an unlikely place to learn about the CIA’s drone program. Yet a contract dispute currently being litigated in Superior Court there offers a rare glimpse into the computer systems and software that are at the heart of the program.
The suit gives worrying indications that the CIA may have knowingly relied on untested and substandard software to operate its drones. It also raises important questions regarding potential civil and criminal liability for civilian casualties that could result from flawed/erroneous drone strikes.
The CIA is not a party to the Massachusetts case. But its unmanned aerial vehicle program, whose operations are very much at issue in the case, was responsible for at least 20 missile strikes that are believed to have killed more than 150 people last month in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan.