Drones Might Have a Congress Problem

(via)

When he takes the hot seat on Thursday for what should be a grilling by the Senate Intelligence Committee, John Brennan is going to have some explaining to do. 

As Obama's top counterterrorism adviser and CIA-chief nominee, the 25-year spy agency veteran was no stranger to Bush-era "enhanced interrogation" efforts and is also considered the architect and overseer of today's so-called drone "disposition matrix" (see: "kill list")--this past and present top-level involvement is proving more torturous than imagined and could very well spur some pretty intense scrutiny from within the Senate. Earlier this week, just prior to the leak of a 16-page Justice Department white paper legitimizing the use of lethal force against American citizens who pose "imminent" threats to the US and its interests, 11 senators sent a letter to the president seeking his administration's legal rationale for taking out American citizens with armed drones or otherwise. 

But even if Brennan gets the job--for all we know, he will--what's been a "rare moment" in the public spotlight for all the dangers and moral and ethical quandaries, for all the missteps and possible successes of the US's dronings on, could extend indefinitely.

Which is to say, so long as the full legal memos outlining the entire scope of America's fully-droned counterterror campaign remain under lock and key, how is Congress--not to mention the general public--able to weigh whatever safeguards are in place to keep the president's (or, Brennan's) privilege to terminate US citizens in check? These unknowns could come back to bite Brennan, his boss, and the US shadow wars writ large in the collective ass as a groundswell of criticism over the US drone program (a largely corvert, two-pronged effort carried out by the Pentagon and the CIA) is now building in Congress. 

John Brennan showing how few fucks he gives about Congressional drone pushback (via)

As the Associated Press reports, the Democratic-led outcry has only grown louder in the wake of the leaked memo, first obtained by NBC, which greenlights drone strikes "against a wider range of threats" and "with less evidence" than it was previously believed. And if you had to pin down the bulk of this pushback, it'd be those calls for a dire rethinking of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, the joint resolution passed in the days immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks to destory with "neccessary and appropriate force" all those involved in plotting the attacks.

"It has to be in the agenda of this Congress," Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) tells the AP, "to reconsider the scope of action of drones and use of deadly force by the United States around the world because the original authorization of use of force, I think, is being strained to its limits."

A lot has changed in the decade since 9/11. Thanks to heavy aerial bomabardment (including via drones) and internal conflict, al-Qaida has splintered into a number of affiliate groups and allied cells. Nowadays, an authorization like AUMFAT effectively places in the crosshairs untold thousands of seasoned militants and fresh recruits who are strewn across the Middle East and the Horn of Africa and who have little to no hope of ever successfully waging (or aiding) a strike on Americans. It's now that the DoJ brief, which lawmakers have known about since last summer, is out in the open that both weaponized drones and what some consider the antiquated policy under which fly deserve fresh consideration. 

"We are sort of running on the steam that we acquired right after our country was attacked in the most horrific act of terror in U.S. history," Congressman Ellison Ellison (D-Minn.) tells the AP. "We have learned much since 9/11, and now it's time to take a more sober look at where we should be with use of force."

It should be noted that Brennan--an "unelected bureaucrat"--has been one to at least talk the talk when it comes to reining in that force. It should be noted, too, that his word today is that should he get the gig of nation's top spy his plan is to slowly restore the original role of the CIA--a spy, not paramilitary, unit--by relinquishing a lot of its future drone strikes to the US military. Even still, the prospect of a Brennan-led CIA coming amid an already monumental week in war revelations has some in Congress sharpening their teeth. Now let's see if they actually bite. 

Reach Brian at brian@motherboard.tv. @thebanderson

Topics: drones, drone, UAV

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