Democratic Senator Calls For Greater Declassification Of Drone Program

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) appeared on MSNBC this morning calling for greater openness related to the Obama administration’s use of armed drones ahead of today’s hearing on the confirmation of John Brennan as the next CIA Director.

Wyden, a long opponent of over-classification by the intelligence community, has been particularly critical ahead of Brennan’s confirmation. At the heart of Wyden’s concerns is the secrecy surrounding the administration’s targeted killing program.

More needs to be done to ensure that Americans are aware of the justification used by the administration to target those they deem combatants, Wyden told the panel interviewing him on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “What I’m going to be pressing for today and in the days ahead is declassifying more information about those issues,” Wyden said. “I think we can do it consistent with national security.”

WYDEN: Every American has the right to know when their government believes it’s allowed to kill them. I don’t think that, as one person said, that is too much to ask. And this idea that security and liberty are mutually exclusive, that you can only have one or the other, is something I reject. So we’re now going to have to begin the heavy lifting of the congressional oversight process by examining the legal underpinnings of this program and to make very clear I am going to push for more declassification of these key kinds of programs. And I think we can do that consistent with national security.

Watch the full interview here:

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — of which Wyden is a member — gets access to information surrounding drones, but struggled to obtain access to a classified Department of Justice memorandum laying out the legal argument for the use of targeted killing against American citizens. The existence of that memo was first reported in 2011, following the killing of American radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. After an unclassified white paper describing the argument leaked on Tuesday, and Wyden hinting that he would be willing to launch a filibuster against Brennan, the Obama administration has agreed to provide the DOJ memo to Congress.

Operations involving drones used by the CIA remain classified, striking at militants and suspected terrorists in places like Pakistan and Somalia. When used by the military as in Yemen, the strikes have been for the most part unclassified, but have included missions from a recently revealed air base in Saudi Arabia.

When he first came into office, President Obama pledged to be a greater proponent of declassifying documents than previous administrations. In his first year in office, Obama signed off on an executive order and accompanying Presidential Memorandum to speed the declassification of documents dating back to World War II and remove the ability of the intelligence community to veto declassification.