Senate Intelligence Committee

WikiLeaks and the Drone Strike Transparency Bill

by Robert Naiman

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently took an important step by passing an intelligence authorization which would require for the first time - if it became law - that the Administration publicly report on civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes.

Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at New York University School of Law and a Special Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, calls this provision "an important step toward improving transparency," and notes that "Various U.N. officials, foreign governments, a broad range of civil society, and many others, including former U.S. Department of State Legal Advisor Harold Koh ... have called for the publication of such basic information."

This provision could be offered as an amendment in the Senate to the National Defense Authorization Act. It could be offered in the House as an amendment on the intelligence authorization, or as a freestanding bill. But it's not likely to become law unless there's some public agitation for it (you can participate in the public agitation here.)

Drone Strike Transparency Provision of the Senate Intelligence Authorization

Below is the text of the drone strike transparency provision of the Senate intelligence authorization. [You can urge Congress and the President to support this provision here. The full bill is here.]

SEC. 312. UNCLASSIFIED ANNUAL REPORT ON THE USE OF TARGETED LETHAL FORCE OUTSIDE THEUNITED STATES.

(a) REQUIREMENT FOR ANNUAL REPORT.—For each year, the President shall prepare and make public an annual report that sets forth the following:

(1) The total number of combatants killed or injured during the preceding year by the use of targeted lethal force outside the United States by remotely piloted aircraft.

Could the Senate Intelligence Committee Do Oversight of CIA Drone Strikes?

Different Senate committees are supposed to do oversight of different federal agencies. The Senate Judiciary Committee is supposed to oversee the Department of Justice. The Senate Armed Services committee is supposed to do oversight of the Pentagon. And the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to do oversight of the Central Intelligence Agency. Since the CIA is conducting drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and since this is, to say the least, a controversial policy, the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to be doing oversight of that.

But contemplating the Senate Intelligence Committee's past oversight of the drone strike policy evokes the quote attributed to Gandhi when asked what he thought about Western civilization: "I think it would be a good idea."

Now that criticisms of the drone strike policy are getting some play in the press, people are floating ideas for various reforms. That's great! Let a hundred flowers bloom. But please call on me. I have an idea for a reform.

Why don't we ask the Senate Intelligence Committee to do its job of overseeing the CIA?

Now, you might think, that's a pretty arrogant claim, saying that the Senate Intelligence Committee has been asleep at the switch. Here, therefore, are three pieces of evidence for the claim.

Exhibit A: No public hearings.

Reporting on the Senate Intelligence Committee's confirmation hearing of John Brennan to head the CIA, Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the Senate Intelligence Committee