A former CIA official reacted coolly, too, but from the opposite direction.
“I think it is reasonable to ask the question under what circumstances the president can use lethal force against a U.S. citizen overseas,” said Jeff Smith, former general counsel of the CIA. “It’s a frightening power, and I think we need to think very, very carefully about how that power is used and whether some judicial review is warranted.”
“But I certainly don’t think judicial review or congressional review is needed to strike al-Qaida or other terrorists organizations,” he said.
The idea is also so preliminary that lawmakers can’t yet say exactly how a new process would work. In fact, most of those interviewed said the current system run by the White House works well.
Brennan pioneered the current process to determine which targets are dangerous enough to be placed on one of two hit lists for killing or capture — one held by the CIA and the other by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command. Many of the names on the lists overlap, and the agency that goes after the target depends on where the suspect appears. That process was described in a legal memo made public this week, and the White House shared classified details with select lawmakers.
The new notion is drawing concern from some in Congress who fear special courts would slow down the drone strikes — considered by some, including Brennan, as one of the most effective weapons in the war against al-Qaida.
But many lawmakers say an update is needed in the law, passed in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks, that gives the president sweeping powers to pursue al-Qaida. They say that al-Qaida has grown far beyond the war zones and technology has improved, too, enabling a Predator drone operator in the United States to track and kill a target thousands of miles away with great accuracy.