They do drone on


Photo: Rick Loomis | Los Angeles Times

Sen. Rand Paul may have gotten a few more arrows for his quiver on Friday courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act as the Kentucky Republican aims to find out whether the Obama administration would justify the killing of an American terrorist on U.S. soil.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is scheduled to vote on John Brennan’s nomination to be CIA director on Tuesday, The Hill reported. But Paul, for one, is still anxious for answers from the White House on its drone program, he told the National Journal in an interview published on Saturday, and so he may put a hold on the process.

Paul, it turns out, is one of a bipartisan gang of four senators who intend to keep droning on about the unmanned aircraft that has been successfully used for surveillance and kill missions in the war on terror by the Bush and Obama administrations. The drones have spied on and taken out enemy fighters not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also the more elusive terrorists hiding in the tribal region of Pakistan.

Under President Obama, the number of drone strikes has tripled.

Brennan, who oversaw many of the strikes as Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, explained to the Senate Intelligence Committee in written answers that the targets were selected “on a case-by-case basis through a coordinated interagency process” involving the Pentagon, CIA and State Department.

That explanation isn’t good enough for the Checks and Balances Caucus, which proves that politics does make strange bedfellows. Civil-liberty Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado have united with Tea Partiers Paul  and Mike Lee of Utah to demand the legal opinions that the White House used to justify the drone program, Eli Lake wrote in the Daily Beast on Tuesday.

NBC News disclosed a month ago the existence of a 16-paged Justice Department memo that OKs the killing of American citizens if they are “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or a force tied to the terrorist network. The CIA program continues despite a 1976 executive order, signed by President Ford, that bans U.S. intelligence from engaging in assassination, and that pesky, little piece of paper known as the Constitution.

I don’t know about you, but as an American citizen I’m less concerned about drones hovering over the skies of South Waziristan than the ones that may be snooping over the border regions of Arizona and Texas.

Newly released documents disclose “significant details” about the  Predator drone contracts drawn up with the Department of Homeland Security, Ryan Gallagher wrote in Slate on Friday. Drones monitoring the U.S. border are required to have a “signals interception receiver.” You’ll be happy to know that a Border Patrol spokesman told Gallagher that the agency was “not deploying signals interception capabilities on its (drone) fleet.” Whew! Well, at least we’ve dodged the spy drone for now.

– M.S. Scully