The Central Intelligence Agency may be out of the armed drones business soon, according to a report out Wednesday morning, possibly granting more visibility to the Obama administration’s targeted killing program.
According to The Daily Beast, the White House is ready to approve a plan transferring authority to launch lethal missions in areas such as Pakistan from the CIA to the Department of Defense. Both DOD and the CIA currently have access to unmanned aerial vehicles, as drones are formally known, but use them in different ways for different purposes under different congressional authorities and different rules of transparency.
Should President Obama sign-off on the idea, the shift that would take place would not likely be immediately apparent to the public, but would go a long way to formalize the procedures in which drones are used. The process known as “institutionalization” has been in motion for over a year now, according to The Daily Beast, headed by newly-confirmed CIA Director John Brennan:
Brennan, who has presided over the administration’s drone program from almost day one of Obama’s presidency, has grown uncomfortable with the ad hoc and sometimes shifting rules that have governed it. Moreover, Brennan has publicly stated that he would like to see the CIA move away from the kinds of paramilitary operations it began after the September 11 attacks, and return to its more traditional role of gathering and analyzing intelligence.
Under the new structure, the CIA would still have a role in providing the intelligence necessary to identify targets, at least temporarily, but would no longer have operational control of lethal missions. That role in gathering intelligence means that the CIA’s use of unarmed drones for surveillance purposes is unlikely to be affected. While not a guarantee of greater transparency, placing the targeted killing program entirely under the Defense Department would mean that it would no longer be “covert” — or both secret and deniable by the government — but instead “clandestine” — meaning the administration would be unable to legally lie about operations.
The move mirrors an approach former Defense Department lawyer Jeh Johnson promoted in an appearance at Fordham University on Monday. Johnson is the latest in a long line of high-profile Democrats questioning the current structure of the targeted killing program and the secrecy surrounding it. In recent weeks, CAP Chair John Podesta, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) have all called for greater openness from the Obama administration about the way the program is carried out.