The White House is working to shift control of the US Central Intelligence Agency’s controversial drone programme to the military amid mounting criticism of the use of armed aerial vehicles for targeted killing of terrorism suspects.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the new directive is intended to shift the covert drone programme to one that is subject to international laws of war and undertaken with the consent of host governments.
The draft document, according to the report, reflects a growing consensus within the Obama administration that the long-term future of the programme lies with the military, where US officials say it will be on firmer legal footing and be more transparent.
The drone programme has drawn fire from both Democrats and Republicans who say it is secretive and unpredictable. However, current and former U.S. official say even under military control, however, the campaign is likely to remain relatively secretive.
The shift remains controversial on Capitol Hill, within the CIA and in some military circles among people who think the programme is more effective under the agency’s control, the Journal said.
One senior defence official, according to the newspaper, warned that putting the programme under military control could impose operational limitations. Human rights groups consider a shift in authority inadequate and want it to meet the demands of international law.
The administration shift on drones was outlined in recent weeks as a draft presidential directive, which provided formal guidance to federal agencies, the report said. The directive, once finalised, would set out a general framework for the shift to the military, providing a “clear marker” of where the drone programme is heading without setting out hard and fast deadlines, a senior U.S. official said.
Top administration officials agreed to the change in principle, but final approval of the directive awaits the president’s nod, US officials said. The draft directive still could take years to fully implement, the Journal said.
It doesn’t specify a timetable for the phased shift, nor which CIA programs in which countries would be first in line to be phased out.