Can Intel Agencies Kill Americans?
The director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, shocked Washington last week when he told a congressional committee that U.S. spy agencies have the authority to assassinate American citizens abroad who are believed to be involved in terrorism. But he suggested that intel officials would have to follow special rules to do so: "If … we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that," he told the House intelligence committee.
Blair's testimony left behind a pile of questions: By whose authority can intel agencies kill Americans? And who in the government has the power to grant or deny the "specific permission" to carry out such operations? In interviews with NEWSWEEK, current and former U.S. national-security officials—who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive information—filled in some of the blanks.
These officials say that, a few days after 9/11, George W. Bush signed a classified "intelligence finding" authorizing the assassination of suspected terrorists. By this order, which continues under Barack Obama, officials within the CIA and Pentagon can launch lethal strikes on suspected foreign terrorists without seeking permission from higher-ups. But, say the officials, strikes specifically targeting Americans must first be approved by a secret committee made up of senior intel officials and members of the president's cabinet (it's not known which ones). The president himself does not have to sign off on kill orders.
The sources say that committee approval is required only if the specific target of the assassination is an American—not if an American happens to be in the vicinity of a foreign target at the time of the strike. At least once, U.S. forces have killed an American this way. In November 2002 a missile attack targeting a Yemeni terrorist also killed Kamal Derwish, an American citizen associated with an alleged terrorist cell in Lackawanna, N.Y. U.S. forces almost did it again last Christmas Eve, with an airstrike against another Yemeni terrorist; he was believed to be hiding with Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born radical cleric who advised both the suspected Fort Hood shooter and the alleged Christmas Day bomber. Al-Awlaki is believed to have escaped.
Civil libertarians are already questioning the wisdom, and legality, of the U.S. government targeting its own citizens. Roger Cressey, a former National Security Council official, takes a different view, saying, "If you are stupid enough to be associated with known Al Qaeda operatives in a known Al Qaeda safe haven, you're putting your life at risk." Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman, says, "The agency's counterterrorism operations are lawful, aggressive, precise, and effective." White House and Pentagon spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.
Fonte: News Week