Obama Administration Considering Drone Strike on U.S. Citizen

But the decision faces a myriad of legal and international complications.

A NASA Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone aircraft, takes off during a Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel, or HS3, mission at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, on September 10, 2013.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
Feb. 10, 2014, 7:29 a.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­sid­er­ing a drone strike to kill a U.S. cit­izen it says is a mem­ber of al-Qaida, of­fi­cials said Monday.

The CIA has drones cur­rently watch­ing the in­di­vidu­al, who, of­fi­cials told the As­so­ci­ated Press, is act­ively plan­ning at­tacks against Amer­ic­ans liv­ing abroad.

Un­der Pres­id­ent Obama’s policy the mil­it­ary — not the CIA — can kill Amer­ic­ans over­seas who are sus­pec­ted ter­ror­ists.

The coun­try where the man resides doesn’t al­low U.S. mil­it­ary ac­tion with­in its bor­ders, and of­fi­cials said de­fense lead­ers were torn on wheth­er or not to strike.

Obama said last year that a per­son can only be killed by a drone strike “to pre­vent or stop at­tacks against U.S. per­sons, and even then, only when cap­ture is not feas­ible and no oth­er reas­on­able al­tern­at­ives ex­ist to ad­dress the threat ef­fect­ively.” And that per­son must be “a con­tinu­ing, im­min­ent threat to U.S. per­sons,” ac­cord­ing to the guidelines, but the Justice De­part­ment hasn’t fin­ished build­ing its leg­al case against him.

But of­fi­cials said the pres­id­ent could defy those guidelines and al­low the CIA to use a drone strike.

A move to trans­fer over­sight of the U.S. drone pro­gram from the CIA to the Pentagon was re­cently blocked by Con­gress un­der the om­ni­bus bill. Such a move could have shed more light on some of the gaps in the pub­lic’s know­ledge of drones, but mem­bers of Con­gress have voiced hes­it­a­tion about the De­fense De­part­ment’s abil­ity to ef­fect­ively and ac­cur­ately man­age the pro­gram.