CIA drone program may return to Pentagon

March 21, 2013 at 2:30 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 21 (UPI) -- The White House is working to move the CIA's lethal drone program to the Pentagon and return the CIA to spying on enemies for the military, U.S. officials said.

A draft directive would put most combat drone operations under the Defense Department -- making the covert program subject to international laws of war and requiring it to get the host-government consent, the officials told several news organizations after the plan was reported by The Daily Beast.

The timetable for the shift, which still needs President Barack Obama's approval, was not spelled out in the directive, but officials said the phase-out would likely begin with the Yemen program. The CIA started the program in 2011 with the killing of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who Washington alleged was a senior member of an al-Qaida affiliate.

The U.S. military has a parallel drone program in Yemen, established before the CIA's.

The drone program in Pakistan -- started in 2001 to kill alleged al-Qaida and related operatives after the militant group's leadership relocated there after the start of the U.S. offensive in Afghanistan -- would come later, the officials said.

The reasons for Pakistan's coming later involve "the complexities" in that country and because the Pakistan combat-drone program was started by the CIA, a senior official told The Wall Street Journal.

U.S. drone strikes carried out by the military in Afghanistan, as part of the war there, would likely remain a military program after 2014, when the U.S. and allied mission is scheduled to end, the senior official told the Journal.

Under the directive, the CIA eventually would return to its more traditional spying role and providing that intelligence to the military, which can in turn target suspected terrorists, the Journal said.

The change follows growing political and non-governmental concerns about the CIA's secret drone operation.

Conservative and liberal lawmakers held up the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan over this issue two weeks ago. The obstruction culminated with a nearly 13-hour filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who demanded and received White House confirmation it would not launch drone strikes on Americans on U.S. territory.

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