The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency operates armed Predator drones that it uses to hunt for and kill suspected terrorists. But how many Predators does the Agency possess?
Around 80. And here’s how we know.
At a U.S. Army industry confab in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 14, General Atomics — the California company that manufactures Predators — announced it has produced “some 700 aircraft to date.”
The Predator drone family includes the basic MQ-1 Predator, the larger MQ-9 Reaper and the Army’s special MQ-1C Gray Eagle. All three types can carry cameras, radars and munitions. Operators control the propeller-driven robots via satellite link on missions lasting 12 hours or more.
The Air Force cops to acquiring 268 MQ-1s and 200 MQ-9s. The Army has 110 MQ-1Cs. Other Predator users including Turkey, Morocco, Italy, France, the U.K., the UAE and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol together possess between 40 and 50 Predators.
That’s no more than 629 Predators that we can account for. The CIA doesn’t discuss its own drone fleet, but in 2013 investigative reporter Aram Roston spoke to an unnamed official “familiar with the program” who said the Agency operated “more than 80” Predators.
That’s consistent with our count. Eighty CIA drones plus the 629 or so Predators that belong to other users equals 709. Or “some 700,” to borrow General Atomics’ phrasing.
Since 2001, Air Force, Army and CIA Predators have killed around 4,700 people—including no fewer than a thousand innocent civilians—in attacks in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and potentially other war zones.
That’s around seven bodies per U.S. military and CIA Predator.
Now, we don’t know how many of the thousands of drone strikes America has launched involved Agency robots, as opposed to military ones. But let’s assume the strikes are proportional to fleet size.
The CIA posses 15 percent of America’s Predators. By that reckoning, their body count could be as high as 650.