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Under siege for its drone program, the Obama Administration plans to shift control of the drones from the CIA to the Defense Department. Daniel Klaidman has the scoop:
The move could potentially toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program’s accountability, and increase transparency. Currently, the government maintains parallel drone programs, one housed in the CIA and the other run by the Department of Defense. The proposed plan would unify the command and control structure of targeted killings and create a uniform set of rules and procedures. The CIA would maintain a role, but the military would have operational control over targeting. Lethal missions would take place under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs military operations, rather than Title 50, which sets out the legal authorities for intelligence activities and covert operations. “This is a big deal,” says one senior administration official who has been briefed on the plan. “It would be a pretty strong statement.”
After the Iraq war, the DoD is usually viewed as more gung-ho and aggressive than the CIA. But Klaidman believes that the shift is an indication that the president is cracking down a bit. Among the differences between the DoD and CIA drone programs:
Perhaps most important is that the CIA’s program is “covert”—which is to say it is not only highly classified, it’s deniable under the law. That means the CIA, in theory, can lie about the existence of the program or about particular operations. The military’s targeted killing program, however, is “clandestine”—which means it is secret but not deniable.
The military more thoroughly scrutinizes who should be put on kill lists than the CIA. It’s also more subject to treaties and international law. Klaidman quotes one former adviser: “Barack Obama has got to be concerned about his legacy. He doesn’t want drones to become his Guantánamo.” If that’s true, it’s hard to imagine that the pro-civil liberties activism of the past couple weeks didn’t have something to do with his decision.
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