White House Refuses to Inform Lawmakers About Drone Operations

A Pakistani protester holds a burning US flag as they shout slogans during a protest in Multan on October 31, 2011 against the US drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal region. Nearly 60 US drone strikes have been reported in Pakistan so far this year, dozens of them since Navy SEALs killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad, close to the capital Islamabad, on May 2. Relations between Pakistan and the United States deteriorated after that, and again over accusations that Pakistani intelligence was involved with the Haqqani network, blamed for a siege last month of the US embassy in Kabul. AFP PHOTO / S.S. MIRZA

Tensions Rising Over Drone Secrecy (Wall Street Journal):

Tensions are quietly increasing between the White House and some congressional leaders over access to sensitive information about the government’s use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen, officials said.The White House has brushed aside requests for information from lawmakers, who argue that the strikes, carried out secretly by the Central Intelligence Agency and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, have broad implications for U.S. policy but don’t receive adequate oversight.

Some current and former administration, military and congressional officials point to what they see as significant oversight gaps, in part because few lawmakers have full access to information about the drone strikes.

Lawmakers on Congress’s intelligence committees are privy to information about all CIA and military-intelligence operations, but members of at least two other panels want insight on the drone program.

Compounding the dispute: Lawmakers who are briefed on classified information are legally constrained from raising their concerns publicly. Current and former officials say the White House wants to keep a tight hold on classified information to avoid unauthorized disclosures.

The demand for lawmakers outside the intelligence committees to have access to details on the covert drone program, said one U.S. official, “just doesn’t hold water.”

After the CIA launches a drone strike, the intelligence committees receive a notification telephone call almost immediately, which is followed by a secure fax with the details of the strike, according to government officials. There are also monthly meetings at the CIA’s Langley, Va. headquarters with congressional staff to review the program and classified briefings or hearings on Capitol Hill at least every three months.

Administration officials say the drone programs run by the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command are carefully monitored by top officials at both agencies and by the White House National Security Council.

Secrecy defines Obama’s drone war (Washington Post):

Since September, at least 60 people have died in 14 reported CIA drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions. The Obama administration has named only one of the dead, hailing the elimination of Janbaz Zadran, a top official in the Haqqani insurgent network, as a counterterrorism victory.The identities of the rest remain classified, as does the existence of the drone program itself. Because the names of the dead and the threat they were believed to pose are secret, it is impossible for anyone without access to U.S. intelligence to assess whether the deaths were justified.

The administration has said that its covert, targeted killings with remote-controlled aircraft in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and potentially beyond are proper under both domestic and international law. It has said that the targets are chosen under strict criteria, with rigorous internal oversight.

It has parried reports of collateral damage and the alleged killing of innocents by saying that drones, with their surveillance capabilities and precision missiles, result in far fewer mistakes than less sophisticated weapons.

Yet in carrying out hundreds of strikes over three years — resulting in an estimated 1,350 to 2,250 deaths in Pakistan — it has provided virtually no details to support those assertions.

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