It looks like the American public won’t be getting any answers on the government’s extrajudicial killings any time soon. An intelligence bill that passed the Senate late last year contained a stipulation requiring the administration to provide statistics on drone strikes, including number of combatants and noncombatants killed or injured in these strikes. That requirement has now been excised, thanks to the efforts of Sens. Feinstein and Chambliss and their buddy at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, as Spencer Ackerman reports.
[T]he Guardian has confirmed that Senate leaders have removed the language as they prepare to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, after the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, assured them in a recent letter that the Obama administration was looking for its own ways to disclose more about its highly controversial drone strikes.
“The executive branch is currently exploring ways in which it can provide the American people more information about the United States’ use of force outside areas of active hostilities,” Clapper wrote to the leaders of the Senate committee, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, on 18 April.
CC’ed on the letter are the heads of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger. This decision wasn’t in their hands, but even if it was, it wouldn’t have played out any differently. Rogers, in particular, is a huge fan of the administration’s drone work and has publicly lamented the fact that the slowly-turning wheels of bureaucracy are keeping the US from killing even more people.
Feinstein’s relationship with drones is, of course, somewhat hypocritical. She feels there should be stricter regulations on commercial drone usage (partially prompted by a non-commercial droneappearing outside her house during a Code Pink anti-NSA protest) and seems generally opposedto drone surveillance. However, she does stand strongly behind the nation’s counterterrorism efforts and believes killing people with drones (rather than just watching them) is more acceptable.
Even more oddly, despite her very public battle against the CIA over control of the so-called “Torture Report” (a battle also marked by a bouts of Feinstein hypocrisy), she’s been very supportive of the agency’s weaponized aircraft.
Feinstein has long been a defender of the CIA’s drone strikes. During a February 2013 confirmation hearing for CIA Director John Brennan, Feinstein stated that the CIA’s targeting procedures kills only “single digits” of civilians annually, an assertion that cannot be independently confirmed because of the official secrecy surrounding the strikes.
Even some intelligence officials have grudgingly agreed some transparency on this issue would be a positive step for the administration to take. But that number doesn’t include James Clapper, whose unintentionally humorous letter asserts that the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration” is actively seeking ways to publicize drone strike numbers. Only in recent months has the administration even acknowledged there might be a downside to its drone strike program. There’s been a rollback in the number of strikes and the administration did express its hesitanceto kill American citizens with drones, even if they clearly were associating with known terrorists. But this hand-wringing was mostly about public relations and less about the reality of the situation — that the US would have to piss off yet another country by blowing past its agreement with them to not engage in military strikes on its soil.
So, there’s that. And all of that is indeed very little. For years, it’s been even less, as Ackerman points out.
The sharing of even basic information about drone strikes has run into a wall of official secrecy. Several independent groups attempt to track the numbers of people killed in the strikes, but no official US confirmation has been possible.
For one obfuscation artists (Clapper) to claim another (the administration) will be taking the lead when it comes to transparency borders on farcical. Now that Senate intelligence heads have complied with Clapper’s request, the intelligence community’s accountability has been removed. This puts the whole thing in the administration’s hands, which isn’t really an improvement. I’m sure the current president has no desire to publicly announce his regime has been more deadly than his predecessor’s, especially given Bush’s proclivity for pushing military/surveillance solutions to the world’s problems.