When I read the news that John Brennan was set to appear before the Senate in hopes of becoming of the C.I.A. director, I thought of the group of villagers I met at a seaside hotel in Yemen two years ago. They had driven many miles to see me, coming from the Yemen countryside in a pair of battered taxis, and they were waiting in the hotel parking lot.
There were about a dozen of them in all. It was a beautiful hotel, called the Mercure, with panoramic views of Aden harbor. The villagers, dressed in robes and rags, looked out of place, but they’d come to talk.
I had flown to Yemen to report on the popular uprising that was unfolding against the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh, but I was also trying to find out about the secret war that the United States was waging there.
In December, 2009, the Yemeni government had announced that its Air Force had bombed an Al Qaeda training camp in the village of Al Majalah, in a remote corner of the country, killing thirty-four fighters, and that the U.S. had provided the intelligence for the strike. The reality, as I discovered, was different.