Are Drone Strikes Really Killing Terrorists? The Omnibus Spending Bill Hides the Answer

Are Drone Strikes Really Killing Terrorists? The Omnibus Spending Bill Hides the Answer

Drones are being used by our government; we already know this. It’s just a question of how. Drone strikes aren’t exactly a secret anymore. However, it was recently revealed by The Washington Post that there is a secret provision in the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that blocks the transfer of drone authority from the CIA to the Pentagon.

Last spring, amid increasing controversy over U.S. targeted killings, President Obama assuaged the concerns of legislators and citizens by signaling his intention to shift control of most drone strikes from the CIA to the Department of Defense. “The move could potentially toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program’s accountability, and increase transparency,” wrote Daniel Klaidman.

However, according to anonymous U.S. officials, “Congress has moved to block President Obama’s plan to shift control of the U.S. drone campaign from the CIA to the Defense Department, inserting a secret provision in the massive government spending bill introduced this week that would preserve the spy agency’s role in lethal counterterrorism operations,” Greg Miller reported in The Washington Post.

“The measure, included in a classified annex to the $1.1 trillion federal budget plan, would restrict the use of any funding to transfer unmanned aircraft or the authority to carry out drone strikes from the CIA to the Pentagon.” (The Atlantic)

By keeping the drone program with the CIA, it provides “legal cover for drone strikes” as well as deniability.

“Under the aegis of the CIA, the [drone] program has enjoyed a considerable degree of secrecy and flexibility because under U.S. law [it’s] not subject to the same restrictions as a traditional military operation carried out by the Pentagon,” says NPR‘s Tom Gjelten. “The president can authorize the CIA to carry out the operation outside the normal military chain of command, where it can remain covert and deniable.”

However, this means that:

“…it’s extremely difficult for journalists and outside researchers to obtain data from the CIA about its drone operations. And they are still briefed to Congress as covert operations, so relatively few lawmakers and congressional staff know about them. (Foreign Policy)

Rand Paul has previously raised concerns about drones being used on American citizens and about warrant-less, free-ranged government surveillance. While he supports the use of these tools on terrorists, he’s been concerned about whether or not proper, constitutional protocols are taking place with domestic citizens, say, like warrants and the use of a public judicial system.

We all know government agencies are using drones and other technology, but what we want is transparency. If there’s nothing to keep it in check, can we really trust our government not to abuse their powers? It still amazes me that a power play over who gets to order drone strikes would be revealed in something like the omnibus spending bill. (Not that it’s in the part which we, the public, can review!) Of course, if one really wants to dig, always start with the money, right?  Share your thoughts about all of this in the comments below.


(Photo courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Imagery, via Flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0)



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