Feinstein And Chambliss Let James Clapper Talk Them Out Of Requiring Transparency On The Administration's Drone Strikes

from the editing-the-pre-edited-version dept

It looks like the American public won’t be getting any answers on the government’s extrajudicial killings any time soon. An intelligence bill that passed the Senate late last year contained a stipulation requiring the administration to provide statistics on drone strikes, including number of combatants and noncombatants killed or injured in these strikes. That requirement has now been excised, thanks to the efforts of Sens. Feinstein and Chambliss and their buddy at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, as Spencer Ackerman reports.

[T]he Guardian has confirmed that Senate leaders have removed the language as they prepare to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, after the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, assured them in a recent letter that the Obama administration was looking for its own ways to disclose more about its highly controversial drone strikes.

“The executive branch is currently exploring ways in which it can provide the American people more information about the United States’ use of force outside areas of active hostilities,” Clapper wrote to the leaders of the Senate committee, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, on 18 April.

CC’ed on the letter are the heads of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger. This decision wasn’t in their hands, but even if it was, it wouldn’t have played out any differently. Rogers, in particular, is a huge fan of the administration’s drone work and has publicly lamented the fact that the slowly-turning wheels of bureaucracy are keeping the US from killing even more people.

Feinstein’s relationship with drones is, of course, somewhat hypocritical. She feels there should be stricter regulations on commercial drone usage (partially prompted by a non-commercial drone appearing outside her house during a Code Pink anti-NSA protest) and seems generally opposed to drone surveillance. However, she does stand strongly behind the nation’s counterterrorism efforts and believes killing people with drones (rather than just watching them) is more acceptable.

Even more oddly, despite her very public battle against the CIA over control of the so-called “Torture Report” (a battle also marked by a bouts of Feinstein hypocrisy), she’s been very supportive of the agency’s weaponized aircraft.

Feinstein has long been a defender of the CIA’s drone strikes. During a February 2013 confirmation hearing for CIA Director John Brennan, Feinstein stated that the CIA’s targeting procedures kills only “single digits” of civilians annually, an assertion that cannot be independently confirmed because of the official secrecy surrounding the strikes.

Even some intelligence officials have grudgingly agreed some transparency on this issue would be a positive step for the administration to take. But that number doesn’t include James Clapper, whose unintentionally humorous letter asserts that the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration” is actively seeking ways to publicize drone strike numbers. Only in recent months has the administration even acknowledged there might be a downside to its drone strike program. There’s been a rollback in the number of strikes and the administration did express its hesitance to kill American citizens with drones, even if they clearly were associating with known terrorists. But this hand-wringing was mostly about public relations and less about the reality of the situation — that the US would have to piss off yet another country by blowing past its agreement with them to not engage in military strikes on its soil.

So, there’s that. And all of that is indeed very little. For years, it’s been even less, as Ackerman points out.

The sharing of even basic information about drone strikes has run into a wall of official secrecy. Several independent groups attempt to track the numbers of people killed in the strikes, but no official US confirmation has been possible.

For one obfuscation artists (Clapper) to claim another (the administration) will be taking the lead when it comes to transparency borders on farcical. Now that Senate intelligence heads have complied with Clapper’s request, the intelligence community’s accountability has been removed. This puts the whole thing in the administration’s hands, which isn’t really an improvement. I’m sure the current president has no desire to publicly announce his regime has been more deadly than his predecessor’s, especially given Bush’s proclivity for pushing military/surveillance solutions to the world’s problems.

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Comments on “Feinstein And Chambliss Let James Clapper Talk Them Out Of Requiring Transparency On The Administration's Drone Strikes”

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27 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

That was a close one

The government almost ended up yet again having to laugh off an attempt to force them to tell the public something.

Can you imagine what would have happened if that bit of the bill had been left in? The ones in charge of ‘releasing’ that information would have been insensible for likely minutes, laughing at the idea that they answered to the people, before ending with a chuckle and a response of ‘National security, you get nothing.’

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: That was a close one

Nothing…nothing but the “Most Transparent Administration” in history according to Jay Carney on April 17, 2014.

MAJOR GARRETT: “The Obama administration came to Washington promising transparency. In your view, has the administration fallen short of this goal?”

JAY CARNEY: “I think there’s no question, I’ve covered the previous two administrations, and know a thing or two about ones before that, there has never been a more transparent administration…”

Anonymous Coward says:

let’s just face it. no one gives a toss about what the public thinks or what it wants. the government and it’s security forces are going to do whatever they like, to whoever they like, wherever they like and whenever they like! they wont be satisfied until they know every little detail about everyone’s life and if that means being under constant surveillance, even in your own home (if you are not already, of course!), then so be it!
who would have thought that this would come back after fighting in a world war to prevent it? unbelievable!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Exploring ways to provide information

?The executive branch is currently exploring ways in which it can provide the American people more information about the United States? use of force outside areas of active hostilities,?

With the rise of the Internet, providing information to the American people has never been easier. If the administration wants to provide information, it can post the after-action reports for the drone strikes and publicly state that the people who worked on those missions are permanently excused from any secrecy obligations they have with respect to the anything mentioned in the report. Those people can then freely state whether the report is accurate.

Michael (profile) says:

James Clapper, assured them in a recent letter that the Obama administration was looking for its own ways to disclose more about its highly controversial drone strikes

That’s the US government for you. “Because we are in the middle of determining how to do something, we are forced to disregard the instructions you have provided for how to do it.”

I’m pretty sure that is exactly how brand new Ikea furniture sometimes ends up on the curb.

zip says:

dead babies, mutilated children, and other dirty secrets

As far as requiring the government to report drone-strike casualties, these aren’t quite the “unknown unknowns” or “known unknowns” or even “unknown knowns” (to quote the great wordsmith Donald Rumsfeld) that the US government seems to claim. Foreign news sources routinely report the death toll, even posting photographs and videos of dead babies and mutilated children as proof.

The US mainstream media, as expected, routinely censors this information, and instead repeats government talking points. (OK, maybe not RT)

Anonymous Coward says:

I have a better Idea, make the number of casualties outside a war zone zero, by prohibiting the use of drone strike outside of a war zone where the US army is engaged. Where war has not been declared, or at least informally recognized by armies engaging each other, killing people because you do not like their politics is murder.

Zonker says:

Government secrets and the reasons for them certainly seem to have changed a lot since my childhood.

What was considered government secrets back then:
* Nuclear weapons: How they are made and delivered to their targets.
* Area 51/Military bases: What projects are hidden inside it? Experimental aircraft or alien conspiracies?
* Stealth technology: Everything about the B-2 stealth bomber, even simply what it looked like.
* Codebreaking: Methods and effectiveness.
* Espionage: Agent identities, missions, locations, and foreign targets.

What is considered a government secret today:
* Treaties: What agreements in the name of trade are being made between nations, even the negotiations themselves.
* Laws and Justice: Secret laws with secret interpretations using secret evidence for secret convictions.
* Lists: No-fly lists, watch lists, threat lists, terrorist lists, who is on them, how they got on them, why they are on them, how to get off of them.
* Senate reports: The results of $40 million dollar investigative reports by our elected representatives of policies and acts committed by government agencies that are most certainly illegal, immoral, and violate international treaties.
* Espionage: Spying and collecting data on American citizens (Cats out of the bag on that one now). Agent’s identities, not so much (If they don’t support the administration’s agenda).
* Military outcomes: Drone stats and effectiveness. Enemy vs civilian vs American losses.
* Embarrassment: Basically anything that would embarrass or make government look bad or hypocritical. Government communications, opinions, or potentially incriminating activities. Anything a whistle-blower might reveal.

Makes me miss the less overtly corrupt times of the past.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The difference is merely from political to commercial.

Democracy VS fascism.

In the old days, the fed was not controlled by corporations…. as much. 🙂

Now days, its more important to “protect the product” and “maintain the image” than to worry about international or domestic stuff, unless there’s some money to be made in it.

Wait till you see how the Fed is paying off the Chinese for financing the latest US commercial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You’re gonna love this secret.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's OK

for us to kill Africans and Muslims. Sadly, that’s just the way it is. There are quite a few criminals in this (and the previous) administration that I’d love to see rot in jail for the rest of their lives. I’m sick to death of ‘state secrets’ applying to everything this government does. I’m guessing the question of whether Obama shits like the rest of us is probably classified.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: how is Clapper not a felon and traitor?

Because they all did exactly what the government told them to do, even though it makes them look like assholes.

Hell they’ll likely get promotions… or retirement mansions in Yosemite at least.

When you’re an employee of the fed and following the instructions of the government, you cannot be charged with committing a crime for the government by the government.

For example, assassins who commit murder, or drone operator assassins who commit mass murder and terrorism – FOR the government – would never be charged with such crimes BY the government.

Now YOU on the other hand, if you’re not a federal employee, can be charged with both a felony and with treason, simply for breathing air, should the government decide it doesn’t like you, or the way you comb your hair.

This is the most common symptom of all fledgling police states. You see, the fed no longer works for you. Its now working against you, because its certain that pretty soon, you and everyone else will be working against it.

Its a sort of siege mentality. After all, they are sort of Occupying a conquered land.

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