President Barack Obama has allegedly decided to hand over part of the CIA’s drone program to the Pentagon. The administration plans to gradually shift responsibility in stages, thereby providing greater congressional oversight on the use of drones.
News of the president’s alleged plans comes from four US government sources who anonymously spoke to Reuters about the impending shift of duty. The president plans to make a speech at the National Defense University on Thursday, but it is unknown whether or not he intends to bring up plans regarding CIA’s counterterrorism drone program.
According to the officials, the president has already made up his mind about allowing the armed forces to conduct future drone operations, but he has not yet publicized these plans. By giving the Pentagon greater responsibility in stages, the president hopes that the military will eventually control drone operations in Pakistan.
The shift would allow the CIA to return to its traditional spying operations and intelligence analysis, rather than using its resource to engage in paramilitary activities.
But for now, the CIA will continue to control drone operations in Pakistan, where the US military is not engaged and where locals remain angry about the 355 drone strikes that have occurred on their land, according to the New America Foundation.
The Pentagon will, however, take over the drone program in Yemen, where the US military is already working in cooperation with local forces to combat terrorism, two of the four sources told Reuters.
The Obama administration has allegedly been discussing the shift of responsibility for months. Officials say that the move would lead to greater transparency and congressional oversight of the drone program, which has been heavily scrutinized in the past.
To date, the New America Foundation estimates that there have been 355 drone strikes in Pakistan and 66 in Yemen. Sen. Lindsey Graham in February estimated that 4,700 people have been killed in America’s drone war, many of which were innocent civilians. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in February estimated that the number killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia is between 3,072 and 4,756.
The administration claims that CIA drone strikes are only authorized against confirmed terrorist threats, but many believe there is more to the covert operations than they will ever know.
“The United States has gone far beyond what the US public – and perhaps even Congress – understands the government has been doing and claiming they have a legal right to so,” Notre Dame Law School professor told McClatchy, claiming that CIA drone operations in Pakistan violate international law.
If the Pentagon takes over drone operations, congressional lawmakers would have more of an input on the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles.
Last month, three senior US officials told the Daily Beast that the move would “toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program’s accountability, and increase transparency.”
Jeh Jonson, a former top lawyer for the Pentagon, said in a speech at Fordham University that “the parameters of congressionally authorized armed conflict are transparent to the public, from the words of the congressional authorization itself, and the executive branch’s interpretation of that authorization… lethal force outside the parameters of congressionally authorized armed conflict by the military looks to the public to lack any boundaries, and lends itself to the suspicion that it is an expedient substitute for criminal justice.”
It is unclear when the president will announce his alleged plans to shift the drone program, but after last week's scandals regarding government overreach – including the IRS targeting of conservative organizations and the DOJ investigating Associated Press journalists – Obama may be feeling the pressure to provide greater transparency.