House Intel Chair Defends Targeted Killing Program


Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI)

WASHINGTON, DC — House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) on Thursday gave a full-throated defense of the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, even those with American citizenship.

Rogers was speaking at a cybersecurity summit hosted at the Washington Post, on a panel discussing the threats that the country faces in the future. When later asked about what role, if any, the National Security Agency has in the administration’s targeted killing program, Rogers defended the use of the tactic against terrorists, even those with U.S. citizenship. The administration currently argues that it has the authority under the law to determine that if individuals are deemed a terrorist threat, they can be placed on the list for execution, be it via Tomahawk missile, special operations forces mission, or armed drone.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration released a small portion of its legal justifications — which for the most part still remain classified — for the use of force against terrorists without due process, in particular those who retain U.S. citizenship, claiming that those with “operational roles” would be the only once marked for death. It also marked the first admission that Anwar al-Awlaki, who died in 2011, was killed on such a basis — though his actual operational role in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains under debate.

On the charges that the NSA is involved in assassination, as journalists Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Schahill are apparently preparing to allege, Rogers completely denied any such role. “To say that the NSA participates in assassination attempts is completely inaccurate, it’s inflammatory,” he said. “We have intelligence services who collect intelligence. What happens next is beyond, candidly, anything they participate in.”

Panel moderator David Ignatius had earlier asked the panel what he thought about Edward Snowden, the leaker of a treasure trove of documents obtained during his time at the NSA, being nominated for an award in Europe celebrating his actions. Snowden is, in fact, a finalist for the Sakharov Prize, which is awarded for human rights activism. In response, former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden, told the audience, “I must admit in my darker moments over the past several months, I also thought of nominating Mr. Snowden. But it was for a different list.”

“I can help with that,” Rogers replied. Rogers, as chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has oversight authority over the targeted killing program, hence his implying — albeit jokingly — that he’d be able to help place Snowden on such a list.

Even with that lapse from Rogers, Hayden was a little more free with his words, drawing a distinction between assassination and the targeted killing program. “Yes, we do targeted killings, and I certainly hope they make the full use of the capacity of the National Security Agency when we do that, so we can meet the laws of armed conflict with regard to proportionality, distinction, and military assessment,” Hayden said.