Feinstein is worried about the CIA losing the drone program

If Barack Obama is moving the CIA's drone program to the Pentagon, as Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman reports, he has yet to convince senior Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein that it's a good idea.

On Capitol Hill yesterday, Feinstein cast doubt on the prospect of transferring the targeted killing program to the Defense Department, where it would presumably come under stricter oversight. Her remarks, largely overlooked in yesterday's news, were picked up by John Bennett at Defense News

Feinstein told reporters her "mind, certainly, is not made up." But she quickly added she has reservations about turning over to the military the CIA's armed drone fleet and the missions they conduct.

During the last few years, she said, "We've watched the intelligence aspect of the drone program: how they function. The quality of the intelligence. Watching the agency exercise patience and discretion," Feinstein said.

"The military [armed drone] program has not done that nearly as well," she said. "That causes me concern. This is a discipline that is learned, that is carried out without infractions.... It's not a hasty decision that's made. And I would really have to be convinced that the military would carry it out that way."

If the Pentagon does take over the program, as "three senior U.S. officials" say it will, Feinstein will lose her current oversight access of it as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Interestingly, transferring the program to the Pentagon would likely put it under the auspices of the House and Senate Armed Services committees. And Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican of the Armed Services Committee, just so happens to support the idea of the Pentagon taking it over. "The majority of it can be conducted by the Department of Defense," McCain said yesterday. "It's not the job of the Central Intelligence Agency.... It's the military's job."

As both McCain's and Feinstein's remarks indicate, the decision about which agency should control the drone program is not one that falls reliably along partisan lines, or even divides doves and hawks. (Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KT) have each called for greater openness in how the drone war is conducted.)

So what's the substantive difference between a CIA drone program and a Pentagon drone program? It depends who you ask.

Dan Metcalfe, the former director of the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy, told Foreign Policy that a Pentagon takeover would inevitably mean greater oversight and transparency. "This shift bodes well for both congressional oversight and greater public disclosure through targeted FOIA requests," he said. "It's clear that the CIA's unprecedented regime of drone secrecy has hit an indefensible peak."

But Klaidman, in a somewhat counterintuitive take, says the Pentagon takeover could actually mean less oversight. "There's nothing in the law that says the military has to brief congressional committees about its lethal activities," he writes. "The CIA, on the other hand, is compelled under Title 50 to notify Congress of its intelligence activities." 


Obama's 'Beast' limo suffers another overseas malfunction

For a vehicle that goes by the fearsome name "The Beast," Barack Obama's presidential limo has had its fair share of run-of-the-mill car trouble.

Today we learned that Obama is down a limousine for his trip to Israel after his armored Cadillac refused to start. The Beast runs on diesel, but whoever got the crummy job of having to fill up the tank for the president used gasoline instead -- forcing the car to be towed away from a gas station in Jerusalem ahead of the president's arrival. And yes, an eight-ton limousine does look strange on the back of a flatbed truck.

That weight -- and the car's low clearance -- made for difficulties on another state visit, when the Beast got stuck on a ramp as it tried to leave the U.S. embassy in Dublin in 2011:

But fear not: Obama will continue to travel in style this week. A spare limousine, one of a fleet of as many as 25, has arrived, and just drove him away from the president's residence in Jerusalem, where he planted a magnolia tree with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Update, March 25: The Secret Service told FP that the limousine was not accidentally filled with gasolene instead of diesel, but that they have not yet brought the limousine back to the United States to determine the cause.