Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

McCain Vows New Fight Over Control of US Armed Drone Program

Feb. 19, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
July 24 airpower summary: Reaper stops enemy attac
An MQ-9 Reaper UAV prepares to land after a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. (US Air Force)
  • Filed Under

WASHINGTON — A senior US lawmaker intends to renew his fight to require the Obama administration to fully shift its armed drone program from the CIA to the Defense Department.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a senior Armed Services Committee member, told Defense News on Wednesday, just before Congress left for a weeklong recess, that he will push the issue when the panel crafts its 2015 Pentagon policy bill in coming months.

“We’re going to have that debate,” McCain said in a brief interview. “There is no doubt about it.”

McCain’s comments come weeks after he expressed disgust with language reportedly inserted into the classified portion of a Pentagon-funding section of an omnibus spending bill blocking the shift of the drone program from the CIA to the military.

The administration of President Barack Obama last year signaled it wanted to move most — or all — of the program from the spy agency to the military. But that plan hit a number of legal and operational snags, and was not fully completed before Congress passed the omnibus.

But McCain says the fight isn’t over.

“I would like to make sure they are cooperating with other countries,” McCain said, referring to concerns among some lawmakers and analysts that the Obama administration avoids getting clearance from leaders of countries before flying drones into their airspace.

“Mostly, I want to see it moved over to DoD. That’s my primary goal,” McCain said.

Many analysts say that other than possibly taking up a new immigration reform measure, Congress likely is finished with major legislation this year. The mid-term election cycle is in full swing, and both parties seem content to battle it out back home after five years of bitter partisan fights here.

But Congress is expected, as it has for 52 consecutive years, to pass a defense authorization bill. And McCain’s intentions will revive a battle between two powerful camps on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers on both sides of the debate have strong opinions about whether it is the job of the military or intelligence community to kill al-Qaida leaders and operatives. And behind the issue of whether the CIA should be firing missiles from remotely piloted aircraft is a simmering congressional turf war between the chambers’ Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

If the Defense Department is handed control of the CIA’s armed drone fleet and strike missions against al-Qaida targets, it would also gain what intelligence analysts say is the program’s sizable budget and control over one of the White House’s primary tactics for combating the terrorist group.

On one side are pro-military lawmakers like McCain. They believe the military should be the US entity charged with killing America’s foes, and that the CIA should get back to collecting and analyzing intelligence.

On the other side are members like Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. These members, largely Democrats, are skeptical of the military’s ability to use what they see as the CIA’s rigorous decision process before carrying out armed strikes. ■

Email: jbennett@defensenews.com.

More In World News

Start your day with a roundup of top defense news.

Subscribe!

Subscribe!

Login to This Week's Digital Edition

Subscribe for Print or Digital delivery today!

Exclusive Events Coverage

In-depth news and multimedia coverage of industry trade shows and conferences.

TRADE SHOWS:

CONFERENCES:

Defensenews TV

  • Sign-up to receive weekly email updates about Vago's guests and the topics they will discuss.