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Insiders: White House Should Develop Rules for Drone Program Insiders: White House Should Develop Rules for Drone Program

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Insiders: White House Should Develop Rules for Drone Program


An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on Jan. 31, 2010. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

A strong 87 percent majority of National Journal's National Security Insiders say that the White House should develop formal rules for the drone program targeting terrorists overseas.

But 58 percent of Insiders believe that those rules should be kept secret. "Drones have introduced a new element into warfare. Along with other related developments, the established international rules of war have been overtaken and need new agreed definition, principles, and interpretation," one Insider said, calling for those rules to be kept secret because the U.S. should not "prematurely" define its policy.


"We cannot just wing it with the drone program, but we should not allow terrorists to know when, where, how, and if they will be targeted," another Insider said. "Some things need to remain classified; this is one of them."

Others called for clearly delineated rules of engagement for the drone strikes, especially because more countries will have this technology shortly—but they said that specific operational details should remain secret. "Rules of engagement are absolutely vital to the use of any new weapons system. Drones represent a major leap in the means available to the Defense Department just as nuclear weapons did when they came into the system," one Insider said. "Drones don't have the destructive power of a nuclear weapon, but they should not be considered just 'another air platform.' "

One Insider said that the rules should be kept secret, except for provisions outlining protections for American citizens suspected of being terrorists who might be targeted abroad—such as Yemen-based cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in 2011 along with another American, Samir Khan, who produced a magazine promoting terrorism but was reportedly not on a specific kill list. "What is the process for allowing the targeted killing of Americans? It is unbelievable that this president is getting away with killing Americans," one Insider said. "Imagine what would have been done to Bush!"


A 13 percent faction said that it was not necessary for the White House to develop formal rules for the program. "They need flexibility," one Insider said. "Having the National Security Council and attorney general review is sufficient."

With Defense Secretary Leon Panetta leaving office, perhaps as early as this week if his would-be successor Chuck Hagel is confirmed, a plurality of 47.5 percent of Insiders say he will be best remembered for diversity issues in the force, such as implementing the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy to allow gays to serve openly, and paving the path for women to service in more combat positions.

"In many ways, Secretary Panetta's legacy was enabling the reelection of the president, in part because he persuaded the service chiefs to accept the first tranche of Budget Control Act cuts with no public complaints and in part because he managed the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan," one Insider said."Those won't be what he is remembered for; his action to open combat to women will be the defining legacy we'll remember 40 years from now."

Panetta held the line on spending as best he could, one Insider said. "The drawdowns were mandated by the White House. But had he chosen to do so, he could have left office without pushing for more social change in the military. He chose to do so and will be remembered for it."


A 27 percent faction said that overseeing the drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will be his legacy. "Being able to set withdrawal dates is historical," one Insider said. But 17 percent of Insiders said that Panetta will be remembered for other reasons—namely, that he did not have a defining issue to make his mark. Insiders called him a "placeholder for Obama policies" and "continuity [after] the departure of Bob Gates."

Panetta will be remembered, one said, "as a caretaker, a good servant. But nothing more."

1. Should the White House develop formal rules for the drone program targeting terrorists overseas?

(59 votes)

  • Yes, but they should be secret  58%
  • Yes, and they should be public 29%
  • No, it's not necessary 13%

Yes, but they should be secret

"Despite the urge by some in the media to turn this into a reality show—text the CIA with your view on the worthiness of the target now!—this should remain classified. If you really want to know, then fill out a damn SF-86 and join the government."

"The scope of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court should be broadened and the White House required to obtain its assent for targets to be attacked lethally. The Court enjoys respect and a measure of independence, and lending its authority to lethal strikes will take pressure off the White House and, abroad, off the United States."

"There are already rules of engagement and decision processes in place."

"To the extent that process and decisions need to be documented that can be done administratively."

"Formal should not be legislative under any circumstances. Congress is already dangerous enough with budget rules."

"Perhaps there should be a secret oversight panel including representatives from DOD, State, DNI, the oversight committees in Congress, and the federal court."

"Treat it like a presidential finding, but offer some mechanism for congressional oversight as a means to maintain political support."

Yes, and they should be public

"As much public as possible, but, if necessary, also secret."

"There should be both a public and classified set of rules."

No, it's not necessary

"They need flexibility. Having the National Security Council and attorney general review is sufficient."

2. How will Leon Panetta be best remembered for his term as Defense secretary?

(59 votes)

  • Diversity issues, i.e. "Don't ask, don't tell" repeal/Women in combat 47.5%
  • Drawing down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan 27%
  • Other 17%
  • Overseeing spending cuts 8.5%

Diversity issues

"The budget has not yet been cut. The drawdown in Iraq was before his time and, for Afghanistan, largely a White House decision. But he gets real credit for minding the store in an effective way and stepping out on the gay and women's issues, with full backing from the chiefs."

"Spending and overseas wars are more important matters, but Panetta has had more personal influence on the diversity issues."

"The drawdowns started under Gates, and the spending cuts won't really kick in until Hagel."

"Secretary Panetta is respected and liked, but a status quo leader who failed to lead reform or prepare DOD for looming budget cuts. Unlike defense industry, which for two to three years has streamlined operations and delayered management, increasing its cost-efficiency, DOD has done little of this. Thus, it will face a larger and more unsettling jolt than would otherwise have been the case. Panetta should also have urged greater cuts in uniformed personnel, so that more resources would be available for readiness and modernization; as a result, there is a too-high risk of 'hollowing' out the force."

"Nice guy, loved by nearly all in the building, didn't really move the ball with regards to necesary reform."

"At least in the short-term, Panetta will be remembered by the public more for the diversity issues (allowing gays to serve openly and women in combat) he championed than the other momentous decisions on his watch. His attempt to head off draconian spending cuts and the drawdown on troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are more operationally significant. He also championed cybersecurity initiatives and those will prove to be important, but they remain a 'work in progress' as he gets ready to leave the Pentagon."

"The opening up of the military to gays and the opening of combat positions to women will trump all of Panetta's other activities as secretary of Defense in the long view."

Drawing down troops

"Interesting historical footnote—the last two secretaries of Defense were both members of the Iraq Study Group."

"Being able to set withdrawal dates is historical. But I will say the 'don't ask' and combat for woman is equally historical."


"He'll be quickly forgotten."

"I'm not sure he had a signature issue in the way Gates did (equipping the soldier to win ongoing wars) or Rumsfeld did (transformation)."

"Nothing. I think he has been a mediocre secretary of Defense."

"With the exception of combat positions for women, the other processes were under way or were decisions previously taken. He provided continuity on the departure of Bob Gates."

"A placeholder for Obama policies."

"Being a caretaker secretary."

"To be honest, I don't think he will be remembered. His leadership at a time of great fiscal challenges has been woefully inadequate."

"Mr. Go Along to Get Along. He became wedded to the bureaucracy just as he did at the CIA to win over DOD employees. Sequester will be his legacy."

National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign policy experts. They include:

Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.

This article appears in the February 5, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.

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