Obama Administration Quietly Strips Senate Bill Of Provision Requiring Disclosure Of Annual Drone Kills

by | Apr 29, 2014

Death From Above

There is yet another victory for the national security state under President Obama. The Obama Administration has succeeded, with the help of Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, in quietly removing a provision that would seem unobjectionable to a President who pledged “the most transparent Administration in history.” The provision simply required disclosure of the number of people killed each year by U.S. drone attacks. Not the details mind you. Just the figure. That sent the intelligence community into outrage over having to tell the public how many people have been killed in just this one area. The result was that it was simply stripped out of the Senate bill without a vote or debate.

The person demanding the change was James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence. You recall Clapper’s last notable appearance before Congress was to lie about surveillance programs — an act viewed widely as perjury but Clapper has not been even investigated let alone prosecuted by the Obama Administration. Instead, he is now working to strip out provisions requiring the most basic form of disclosure. That must certainly be a comfort to an official who admitted to previously giving false information to Congress. If no disclosure is required, there could be no new charges of perjury.

The provision, passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee last year as part of its authorization bill, required Obama to annually disclose “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.” Note that it did not require details on countries, identifications, or operations. Just a number.

Intelligence officials demanded that the provision be removed. Once again, they got their way in a back door agreement. No debate on the floor of course. The decision was made by the intelligence community and demanded by the White House. That is all.

Of course, President Obama just got finished promising the public last May that this time he really means it: he will demand transparency from intelligence operations. The change this week reflects that little has been done on this promise which (like the one made earlier) has been honored primarily in the breach. But don’t worry, the White House sent out Clapper to assure the public that he is exploring ways to “provide the American people more information about the United States’ use of force outside areas of active hostilities.” Now if that is not reassuring, I cannot imagine what would be.

Re-published with author’s permission from his blog.


  • Jonathan Turley

    Professor Jonathan Turley is a nationally recognized legal scholar who has written extensively in areas ranging from constitutional law to legal theory to tort law. He has written over three dozen academic articles that have appeared in a variety of leading law journals at Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, University of Chicago, and other schools.

    View all posts