The Virgin Rebirth of CIA’s Drone Wars and NSA’s Cyberwars

The DC press is buzzing about how little President Obama will do tomorrow to rein in the dragnet. The most telling description of Obama’s thought process is this one, which makes it clear Obama worries about a backlash from the Deep State if their authorities are reigned in.

The emerging approach, described by current and former government officials who insisted on anonymity in advance of Mr. Obama’s widely anticipated speech, suggested a president trying to straddle a difficult line in hopes of placating foreign leaders and advocates of civil liberties without a backlash from national security agencies.

But two other developments probably reflect a better sense of where we’re headed: WaPo’s report that the Omnibus Spending bill defunds any effort to shift our drone war to DOD control.

Congress has moved to block President Obama’s plan to shift control of the U.S. drone campaign from the CIA to the Defense Department, inserting a secret provision in the massive government spending bill introduced this week that would preserve the spy agency’s role in lethal counterterrorism operations, U.S. officials said.

The measure, included in a classified annex to the $1.1 trillion federal budget plan, would restrict the use of any funding to transfer unmanned aircraft or the authority to carry out drone strikes from the CIA to the Pentagon, officials said.

The article names Barb Mikulski and Dianne Feinstein as possible culprits for this move.

Still, senior lawmakers have been vocal in expressing concern about the prospect of the CIA ceding responsibility for drone strikes to the military. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee, said last year that she had seen the CIA “exercise patience and discretion specifically to prevent collateral damage” and that she “would really have to be convinced that the military would carry it out that well.”


Among Feinstein’s colleagues on the Intelligence Committee is Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who is chairman of the appropriations panel responsible for the budget bill.

But I am skeptical such a thing would have happened without buy-in — if not direct orders — from John “Always Already Gone Native” Brennan (described as such by an anonymous Senior Administration Official who was shocked that Brennan was moving to keep the drone war contrary to the propaganda the White House had released while he was there).

Then there are the multiple reports on the spending bill’s doubling of CyberCommand’s budget to $447 million, largely to hire 4,000 more staffers (that compares with a less than 5% increase in the cyber budget for DHS, which is supposed to have the lead on domestic defense).

Whether or not Obama supports CIA retaining control of the drone war, he surely supports this doubling of CyberCommand’s budget, as it is consistent with Obama’s pre-emption, in December, of his Review Group’s recommendation to split NSA and CyberCommand. With that decision, Obama made it clear he intends to prioritize cyberoffense over cyberdefense of the US.

Obama’s going to get up tomorrow to try to pretend to respond to the many criticisms of his NSA’s dragnet. But whether because he has lost control of his wars to the Deep State, or because he wants to continue to approach risks using tools of war, the entities driving this issue seem to be the Deep State (and the contractors it keeps fat).

5 replies
  1. Strangely Enough says:

    she had seen the CIA “exercise patience and discretion specifically to prevent collateral damage”

    I guess if the CIA is the sole source of information on collateral damage dead children, blown up weddings, targeting first responders, grandmothers in pieces, it’s much easier to see “patience and discretion.”

    There must be another definition of “prevent” I’m missing…

  2. orionATL says:

    a basic question:

    has president obama ever in his presidency challenged a seat of economic or political power?

    it wasn’t the banks.

    it wasn’t the drug companies, medical insurance companies, or medical and hospital associations.

    it wasn’t the pentagon, the neo-cons think tanks, and the generals howling to continue in afghanistan.

    it wasn’t the physically and psychologically brutal fbi, or the perpetually mendacious and brutally punitive dept of justice.

    is it any surprise our empty-suit of a prez would not challenge the nsa’s constitutional depredations enabled and abetted by the dept of justice?

  3. bloodypitchfork says:

    quote:”The most telling description of Obama’s thought process is this one, which makes it clear Obama worries about a backlash from the Deep State if their authorities are reigned in.”unquote

    And EXACTLY what could these so called “backlash’s from the Deep State” be, hmmmmm? I mean, has the “deep state” threatened the President of the United States? One can only imagine given what we now know about NSA’s response to Sanders question “Does NSA spy on Congress”. No mention if the Prez has asked the same question, although, I’d submit, he knows better.

    My my my. What convoluted webs of deceit the USG has created for itself. No one can trust anyone. It’s almost like a Supersoap Opera. The daily episodes of lies, intrigue, disclosures, coverups, interagency turfwars, Congressional/agency staredowns, contempt charges, kill list murder god. What have we become? The Framers would repel in horror at what the inheritors of their Republic have done with it. In fact, I submit, they would be forming hang-mans nooses by the dozens about now.

  4. GKJames says:

    Time for my exercise in befuddlement and naivete. Obama (assuming he’s not doing the lip-service thing) proposes to move the power of deadly force back to where it belongs and where there’s at least a rudimentary structure of rules and accountability. Why would the LEGISLATIVE branch oppose this? And why would it do so in the form of secret legislation? How does this fit with the (tired) mantra of both the legislative and judicial branches’ to-a-ludicrous degree deference to the commander-in-chief when it comes to the use of force outside the US? On what grounds would two DEMOCRATS, neither at risk of losing her sinecure, buy into this idea? Is Washington afraid that DOD just might be less gung-ho about assassination?

  5. P J Evans says:

    When Sensenbrenner, Amash, Lofgren, and another member wanted to find out what NSA is doing, they called in Bruce Schneier for a meeting.

    This does not speak well for oversight in the House. (One commenter elseweb said they wouldn’t trust Amash with their date-nut bread recipe, let alone classified information.)

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