Yes, the Drone Rule Book Is a One-Off

Over at The New Republic, I’ve got a more formal piece on the weird hybrid document that serves as Obama’s Drone Rule Book. In addition to some formal observations I made in this working thread, it has these descriptions from both “an administration official” and from Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood, which I found particularly interesting.

Start with the fact that a “Presidential Policy Guidance” is a previously unknown type of presidential order. Indeed, an administration official confirms it is still the only document of its type. “We have not issued any other PPGs,” the official told me. Obama’s normal practice when issuing national security orders has been to release “Presidential Policy Directives,” a set of numbered directives that occasionally get released publicly. The word “Guidance” would suggest this is a weaker kind of order than a “Directive.”

The PPG does mandate some actions, requiring that agencies “shall” develop certain assessments and so on. But in other instances, the PPG appears designed to give agencies leeway. It states that agencies “may develop a detailed operational plan” to govern their direct action. It says a top White House aide could make final decisions about who will attend an interagency meeting to approve the kill list.

Without offering an explanation for the difference between a PPG and a PPD, the same White House official nevertheless dismissed concerns about the discrepancy. “The PPG carries the same requirement of compliance, as it’s presidential guidance,” the official explained.

Nevertheless, as Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy points out, this document lacks some of the formal features you would expect from a presidential order: “As released, the Guidance is neither addressed to anyone in particular, nor signed by anyone.” Unlike PPDs, the Guidance as released to the ACLU was not printed on White House stationery (compare the PPG with this closely related PPD on the military or civilian custody of terror detainees in U.S. custody). Aftergood also noted, “It refers to the president in the third person, as if he is also subject to its requirements (‘The President will adjudicate any disagreement among or between Principals’) rather than its author.”

The administration official dismissed questions about the document’s authority and its lasting value. “The document has not changed since it was completed in 2013. The redacted document that was released last week remains the operative guidance,” the official said.

Click through to read the rest.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    So, only “one” is being offed? (I assume that does not count civilian collateral “ones”).

  2. Peterr says:

    an administration official confirms it is still the only document of its type. . . .
    .
    Nevertheless, as Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy points out, this document lacks some of the formal features you would expect from a presidential order: “As released, the Guidance is neither addressed to anyone in particular, nor signed by anyone.”

    A one-of-a-kind order, issued unsigned. What does this remind me of?
    .
    Oh, yeah: the majority opinion in Bush v Gore.
    .
    The title of the document in question is striking as well: “PROCEDURES FOR APPROVING DIRECT ACTION AGAINST TERRORIST TARGETS LOCATED OUTSIDE THE
    UNITED STATES AND AREAS OF ACTIVE HOSTILITIES.” Reading through it, however, says to me the word “procedures” is a misnomer (as is “rule book” in this post). The word “guidance” as in “Presidential Policy Guidance” is much more accurate in describing what this document purports to do.
    .
    In short, the document gives guidance to (unnamed) others about how to develop procedures for direct action against these targets — the procedures need to prioritize capture over killing, the things any operational plans need to include, the path these procedures need to take for approval, etc. Section 1.E is very direct in saying the policies and procedures are to be developed by the relevant agencies.
    .
    It may be the only PPG document issued, but the term Guidance certainly fits. I certainly see more guidance than procedures here.

  3. scribe says:

    Like I said the other day ( https://www.emptywheel.net/2016/08/07/drone-rule-book-working-thread/#comment-705200 ):

    In other words, a bundle of sophistry wrapped around fatal, unchallengable whimsy deciding who to kill, where and how, in a way that won’t offend anyone other than the dead guy, his family, and the inevitable dead innocent bystanders and their families who, being Little People, don’t count. All designed to make sure the people making the call never have to account (in this life, at least) for their actions.

  4. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT: (but really never is). Can not trust net.

    http://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/290947-researchers-crack-microsoft-feature-say-encryption-backdoors-similarly
    Researchers who uncovered a security key that protects Windows devices as they boot up say their discovery is proof that encryption backdoors do not work.
    “Microsoft implemented a ‘secure golden key’ system. And the golden keys got released from [Microsoft’s] own stupidity,”

    [So security by obscurity and secrecy fails – DOH!]

    and http://arstechnica.com/security/2016/08/linux-bug-leaves-usa-today-other-top-sites-vulnerable-to-serious-hijacking-attacks/
    Besides injecting malicious JavaScript into a USA Today page, the researchers also show how the vulnerability can be exploited to break secure shell, or SSH, connections and tamper with communications traveling over Tor. In the latter case, attackers can terminate key links in the Tor chain—for instance, those connecting an end user to an entry node, an entry node to a middle relay, or a middle relay to the exit node. The Tor attack could be particularly effective if it knocked out properly functioning exit nodes because the technique would increase the chances that connections would instead use any malicious exit nodes that may exist.

  5. martin says:

    Meanwhile, a collective “meh” is heard from every office of those who order the murder of someone around the planet, notwithstanding raising their middle finger towards the White House while saying..”…we don nee no steenking ..”guidance”.

  6. martin says:

    Meanwhile, on a side note, the Wall Street Journal reports..that scumbag of IC scumbags, Mike Rodgers might become a National Security adviser to the nations posterchild for Scumbags-R-Us, Donald Trump.

    Just when you think the parallels between the rise of Trump and Hitler were only coincidence. Now Murika’s own Goebells,Goering, Himmler, Bormann…all rolled up into one.. will whisper in Trump’s ear, sweet nothings of National Security bullshit.

    Wonderful. whudda thunk.

  7. martin says:

    ps..as the worlds two quintessential liars, together, they’ll redefine reality daily. Next thing you know, Trump will make his chauffeur Secretary of Transportation for Torture.

  8. Evangelista says:

    Marcy,

    Playing with my monitors, to see who and where they were, I was flipping things around in my sandbox, and then out. I flipped a piece addre3ssing the PPG out for here, but landed it in your preceding “18,000 Word” comment thread. You can move it here, where its references will make more sense, or leave it where it is, whichever you wish.

    The only additional point that needs to be made in regard to the PPG, and its like concerns the concern expressed in such things for the Constitution, usually referencing “powers” “conferred” on the U. S. Executive therein:

    The United States Constitution is restrictive of powers, inherently and specifically, which means all conferrences in it are limiting and limited, and divided with the other government branches, the purpose being to impede, if not interdict, accumulation of powers, in the government and in any branch of government. Obviously the powers the PP(x)es codify, being of dictatorial nature, correlate to imperial government authorities, rather than republican government, are entirely non-Constitutional; irreconcilable with the Constitution, where, for an example, ‘Executive Orders’ are not executive dictations, but executive requests, what the executive wishes the other branches to permit and approve. That is, executive orders are akin to orders in restaurants, commensurate with a democratic decision-making utilizing republican form of government. Not to imperial dictats that an emperor could issue.

    For the difference, and the the PP(x)es defining imperial powers, the PP(x)es are evidences of the government in which they are corporate being a non-Constitutional government. In a Constitutional government context participation in governments in the United States incorporated on the present U. S. government patterns would be treason. The present U.S. government defines itself differently, however, in non-Constitutional terms, in which its permitted activities are not treason. The question carried in this conflict of perspectives will eventually be decided per one or the other set of definitions, by whichever prevails to gain power to impose its definitions.

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