McCain blasts budget panel for meddling in U.S. drone policy

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Thursday told leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee it is "not their business" to create U.S. drone policy.

McCain was reacting to an exclusive report in the Washington Post that said the $1.1 trillion spending bill for the remainder of fiscal 2014 before Congress secretly restricts funds to transfer the U.S. drone program from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Defense Department, the Hill reported.


The CIA and the Pentagon currently operate separate unmanned drone programs aimed at killing high-value terrorist targets.

McCain, in a speech on the Senate floor, said leaders of the Appropriations Committee, in a classified annex of the budget bill governing U.S. spy agencies, were trying keep the lethal drone program from going to the Pentagon as President Obama wants.

The Post said officials at the White House, CIA and Pentagon declined comment on its story.

"This [appropriations] is a fundamental function of government that has to do with national security, it's hidden in a secret provision of the mammoth appropriations bill. I say to the distinguished chairperson and ranking member, that is not their business."


McCain said he believes most senators who will vote on the appropriations measure are unaware of the drone provision in a classified portion of the massive bill.

"The Appropriations Committee is supposed to appropriate. The Appropriations Committee has no business making this decision," he said.

The provision would restrict the use of any funding to transfer unmanned aircraft or the authority to carry out drone strikes from the CIA to the Defense Department, blocking Obama's plan to shift control of the controversial program and return the CIA's focus to intelligence-gathering, the Washington Post reported.

Besides having a direct effect on the way covert operations are run, the Post said the move also may reflect lawmakers' concerns about the military's ability to conduct targeted strikes without hitting the wrong targets and killing civilians.

The extent of the restrictions was unclear. Officials told the Post the language was included by members of the House and Senate appropriations committees. While the drone provision isn't included in the budget blueprint released to the public, a section outlining $572 billion in defense spending notes "adjustments to classified programs are addressed in the accompanying classified annex."

The spending bill sets budgets for federal agencies for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. The legislation cleared the House Wednesday and is expected to be approved by the Senate this week and delivered to Obama for consideration.


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