As the debate over the federal government’s drone strike program is climaxing in Washington, the Air Force has quietly erased previously published drone strike data from its website. Additionally, the Air Force has now changed its policy of publishing statistics of drone strikes in Afghanistan each month.
Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) had been publishing monthly updates on drone strikes, or “weapons releases from remotely piloted aircraft (RPA),” since October. However, data published in February suddenly “contained empty space where the box of RPA statistics had previously been,” the Air Force Times reports.
Upon further investigation, Air Force Times reporters Brian Everstine and Aaron Mehta discovered additional statistics from previous months were missing as well.
Foreign Policy provides a before and after of the Air Force drone strike reports:
More from the Air Force Times on suspicious timing of the changes:
The data removal coincided with increased scrutiny on RPA policy caused by President Barack Obama’s nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. Brennan faced opposition in the Senate over the use of RPAs and his defense of their legality in his role as Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
On Feb. 20, two days before the metadata indicates the scrubbed files were created, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., sent a letter to Brennan saying that he would filibuster the nomination over concerns about using RPA strikes inside the U.S., a threat he carried out for over 12 hours on March 6 (Brennan was confirmed the next day).
That same day, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., told a crowd in South Carolina that strikes by American RPAs have killed 4,700 people.
A Defense Department spokesman told the Air Force Times that the department had nothing to do with the data scrub. AFCENT did not respond to inquires from the Air Force Times.