The White House plans to take the power to launch drone strikes away from the CIA and make the program the exclusive to the Defense Department, according to reports.
Daniel Klaidman of The Daily Beast reports that the White House will soon take the power to launch lethal drone strikes away from the CIA and make the program the exclusive domain of the Defense Department. Because the military and intelligence services operate under a different set of rules, the move would consolidate all drone operations under a single command and a single set of procedure. It could also (potentially) add new layers of transparency and accountability to what has become one of the government's most controversial operations.
The shift may not change much in the real world of missile strikes and terrorist hunting, as drones will continue to be a major tool in the U.S. arsenal. However, it could signal a major shift in the legal and diplomatic basis for the program. For example, one of the most important distinctions between CIA operations and military ones is the difference between "covert" and "clandestine." The military can keep its "clandestine" activities classified or secret—like say a SEAL team raid to kill a wanted terrorist. But if Congress or a judge asks, they can't pretend they didn't happen. The CIA, on the other hand, is allowed to declare certain missions to be "covert." (Like say, sneaking American citizens out of a hostile country.) That means that, legally, they can deny that program even exists, shielding those responsible from accountability and hiding them from the public.