While Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) undoubtedly won the DC news cycle on Wednesday with his twelve-hour long filibuster against CIA Director nominee John Brennan, his opposition to drones is not as all-encompassing as you would think.
The coverage of the filibuster fixated on what appeared to be Paul’s unwavering opposition to the use of unmanned vehicles, commonly called drones. As Paul made clear, though, he was only speaking in opposition to their use in a narrow sense, as part of a targeted killing ordered against a U.S. citizen on American soil.
While the White House has so far ignored calls to declassify the Department of Justice memos laying out the administration’s legal argument, it has explained that drone strikes could not Constitutionally be carried out against an individual who was not an imminent threat, effectively answering Paul’s limited question.
Paul’s opposition to the use of drones began with his concerns about their use for surveillance purposes against U.S. citizens without a warrant. To this effect, Paul introduced in 2012 what he called the “Preserving Freedom From Unwarranted Surveillance Act,” that would ”prohibit the use of drones by the government” without a warrant. The Pentagon has pushed back against the need for this new legislation, arguing that the laws that apply to manned aircraft — such as small airplanes and helicopters — would necessarily apply to unmanned drones as well.
That worry about drones is not universal for Paul, however, as he’s less concerned when it comes to enforcing border security via drone. Laying out his stance on comprehensive immigration reform, Paul published an op-ed in the Washington Times making clear that he felt that border security had to be addressed before a path to citizenship could be enacted:
Border security, including drones, satellite and physical barriers, vigilant deportation of criminals and increased patrols would begin immediately and would be assessed at the end of one year by an investigator general from the Government Accountability Office.
Though he did not make it clear, it can be assumed that Paul was referring to drones of the unarmed variety, rather than advocating launching Hellfire missiles at immigrants attempting to cross the border.
Paul’s concerns about drones have also yet to extend into their use as a weapons platform in combating terror overseas. While holding the floor of the Senate, the junior Senator from Kentucky repeatedly acknowledged that strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have shown themselves effective. Paul also several times referenced the use of the tactic known as “signature strikes,” where groups of men between 16-55 who meet a certain profile are considered legitimate targets. These references were only spoken in opposition to the transfer of the tactic to being used against Americans, as Paul said he “didn’t want to say” whether their use as part of a strategy of targeted killing was in the right.