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Brennan Sidesteps Query on Drone Kills in U.S.

In written answers to Senate Intelligence Committee questions released Friday, CIA director nominee John Brennan would not say whether the U.S. could conduct drone strikes inside the United States — only that it did not intend to do so.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has placed a hold on Brennan’s nomination pending an answer to the question of when the government can use lethal force to target a U.S. citizen within the United States. Brennan, as the top White House counterterrorism and homeland security adviser to President Barack Obama, has guided administration policy on the use of drones on foreign battlefields.

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked Brennan in written follow-up questions to his Feb. 7 confirmation hearing, “Could the administration carry out drone strikes inside the United States?”

Brennan answered, “This administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.”

Nor did Brennan answer who precisely makes final determination within the administration about whether a U.S. citizen who is targeted for death as a suspected terrorist is actually a senior operational leader of al-Qaida, or if that person poses an imminent threat. Those are two of the standards outlined in a Justice Department legal opinion for proceeding with a targeted killing against a U.S. citizen.

“Given the stakes involved and the consequence of the decision to conduct a strike, the evaluation of whether an individual presents an ‘imminent threat’ would be made after considering the information available, carefully and responsibly — drawing on the most up-to-date intelligence and the full range of our intelligence capabilities,” Brennan wrote in an answer to another question from Feinstein. “The process of deciding to take such an extraordinary action would involve legal review by the Department of Justice, as well as a discussion among the departments and agencies across our national security team, including the relevant national security council principals and the president.”

Paul, on Feb. 13, announced a hold on Brennan.

“I have asked Mr. Brennan if he believed that the president has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and my question remains unanswered,” Paul said in a written statement. “I will not allow a vote on this nomination until Mr. Brennan openly responds to the questions and concerns my colleagues and I share.”

The Intelligence Committee delayed a planned vote Feb. 14 on Brennan’s nomination, in part because committee members were seeking additional information about drone strikes.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. announced legislation (HR 637) aimed at curtailing potential abuses of domestic drones, including a prohibition on law enforcement agencies or businesses attaching weapons to the unmanned aircraft. A number of bills and amendments aimed at restricting the use of domestic drones were introduced last year, but none became law.

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