Report Suggests Obama May Take Drones Away From The CIA

from the more-transparency-please dept

While much of the recent conversation here surrounding the United States’ use of drones has centered on the fear of how they might be used domestically, there can be little doubt that their use is highly controversial around the world as well. In that arena, the questions that arise are more about transparency in their use, collateral damage, and whether or not there is even a legal argument for their application at all. As the pressure continues to mount, President Obama finally began to at least respond, suggesting in his most recent State of the Union address that he is seeking moves that will “ensure that not only our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remain consistent with our laws and systems of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.” Many of us who have paid attention to Obama’s actions versus his promises when it comes to transparency may have rolled our eyes, but there may shortly be a move coming in which, in the case of drones at least, progress will actually be made.

Reports are circulating via senior U.S. officials as sources that the President is going to take the CIA drone program, one of two in the United States, and unify it with the Defense Department’s drone program. If it does indeed happen, this move should not go under-appreciated by those of us who wish for more accountability and transparency when our government decides to kill people abroad. As The Daily Beast notes:

The move could potentially toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program’s accountability, and increase transparency. Currently, the government maintains parallel drone programs, one housed in the CIA and the other run by the Department of Defense. The proposed plan would unify the command and control structure of targeted killings and create a uniform set of rules and procedures. The CIA would maintain a role, but the military would have operational control over targeting. Lethal missions would take place under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs military operations, rather than Title 50, which sets out the legal authorities for intelligence activities and covert operations. “This is a big deal,” says one senior administration official who has been briefed on the plan. “It would be a pretty strong statement.”

While any move that occurs will be phased in gradually, the report suggests it will be completed within the President’s second term. The likely pusher for this shift, oddly enough, is coming from John Brennan, newly appointed CIA Director, who also has headed up the administration’s drone program since the start of his first term. Reportedly, Brennan wants to get back to gathering intelligence, the CIA’s longstanding role prior to the September 11 attacks over a decade ago. For the President, the one who dramatically upped the ante with America’s drone strikes from the previous administration, this would be a serious move. Why?

Perhaps most important is that the CIA’s program is “covert”—which is to say it is not only highly classified, it’s deniable under the law. That means the CIA, in theory, can lie about the existence of the program or about particular operations. The military’s targeted killing program, however, is “clandestine”—which means it is secret but not deniable.

The cynical may not see much in such a move, but it’s an important step. I’ll leave it to other arenas for any debate over whether we should be using drones in the war on terror at all, but I would at least hope that we could all agree that when America, the nation, decides we’re going to kill people overseas, America, the nation, should demand that choice be scrutable.

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Comments on “Report Suggests Obama May Take Drones Away From The CIA”

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Another AC says:

War on Terror?

I’ve never understood how you can be at war with an abstract concept. I mean, at least ‘drugs’ is a quantifiable thing in the war on drugs (all opinions on effectiveness of said war aside).

The U.S may as well be at war with Love, or Fear, or Crazy. I can’t wait to hear about the next war on cyberterrorism. A virtual war on a abstract concept!

Sam Kephart (profile) says:

Emmy Award-winning newscaster Shad Olson?s ?The Great Drone Debate?, featuring US Senator John Thune

Domestic drone usage is ill-conceived, elitist, and end-runs our inherent Constitutional protections.

Here are two (2), very well-produced, videos that anchor my points:

Emmy Award-winning newscaster Shad Olson?s ?The Great Drone Debate?, featuring US Senator John Thune (7:41):

Here?s a mind-blowing, well-done animated short that really captures our collective angst that if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then domestic drones are a superhighway to an Orwellian panoptic gulag (3:22):

For national security purposes, Americans are already subject to warrantless wiretaps of calls and emails, the warrantless GPS ?tagging? of their vehicles, the domestic use of Predators or other spy-in-the-sky drones, and the Department of Homeland Security?s monitoring of all our behavior through ?data fusion centers.?

America?s promise has always been the power of the many to rule, instead of the one. Ungoverned drone usage, particularly domestically, gives power to the one.

DCX2 says:


Over at the emptywheel blog, I read an interesting post just a few weeks ago. The gist is that while the President can authorize the killing of a US citizen “in war” without violating 18 USC 1119, that authorization only extends to the military (i.e. DoD/JSOC). A civilian agency like the CIA cannot be authorized under AUMF or Article II to kill an American “in war”, and they would thus be violating 18 USC 1119 when they kill US citizens like Anwar Awlaki, his son Abdulrahman, or Samir Khan.

Perhaps the administration is trying to move the CIA program under the jurisdiction of the military so as to prevent any lawsuits about violating that statute?

special-interesting (profile) says:

Is personal opinion but ALL weapons (overly large? Undefined.) should be under the control of the Defense Department. (with the exception of citizen held weaponry. Undefined.) Spy agencies in charge of killing anyone plus nearby innocent civilians? No way. NSA (why does this agency exist?) or White House is still out of the question. No way. Killing is for professionals and leave it at that. (No I don’t believe that common spy agencies should have blanket license to kill. Keep in mind the judicial review process.)

A separate agency (for armed drones) is silly when compared to democracy and the Three branches of government. Defense Department or nothing as this keep clear the foreign and domestic issues.

The actual invocation of a lethal response requiring the assistance of the Armed Forces creates a lessor but similar scenario as judicial review does. (which would be nice in many circumstances also) It creates the paperwork and documentation trail for a (grudgingly) required lethal assault be it marines, naval aircraft, army or drone missile.

Please (more personal opinion) end the congressionally approved war on terror. (Which arguably does not exist.) Write your local congressmen. Some domestic (and sometimes foreign) oversight is needed. The precedent of random drone strikes on world opinion is not currently in our favor. Fear is never good. Fear of the USA can only lead to bad things.

Domestic surveillance only drones should also be regulated by judicially reviewed search warrant (publicly posted) please. Under no circumstances should the average person fear government spying. Also please reinstate (judicial policy or with legislation) the inadmissible evidence by search warrant not specifically mentioning the item looked for. (still weak but is better than the abuse when everything is allowed.) Otherwise a search warrant for poppy fields (who cannot just hide them) might be used for a property tax increase because they saw your temporary above ground steel sided pool. (they only last a 5-15 or so years depending on maintenance.)

The justice branch (when issuing search warrants) must not fall into the ‘interpretation of the law doctrine’ trap. Every case must be examined by judge and jury in relation to basic constitutional law. Tossing out the ridiculous special interest influenced congressional sponsored nonsense is the control that our original founding fathers anticipated. Not anticipated are the special interest sponsored appointees to the judicial department. (i-evil in any analysis) Additionally, well, not overly, worded law helps.

All government actions by any agency must be accountable to the public for any action whatsoever.

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