Last November, Motherboard asked how President Trump would handle the legacy of his predecessor's drone program. Much was unclear, but four months later, we have our answer: America's remote killing strategy is only intensifying.
Trump has given unprecedented power to the CIA to expand its killing program and launch drone strikes against targets, drone strikes that have no legal obligation for public disclosure and do not require the the approval of the Pentagon.
Dan Gettinger, co-director at the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, told Motherboard in an email that Trump's decision repeals a central restriction placed on the targeted killing program by the Obama administration.
In a distinct change to Obama's policies, which allowed the CIA to hunt and surveil suspected terror targets but required the permission of the military to physically launch a missile strike, The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump has given the CIA authority to pull the trigger on its own strikes. This decision came shortly after his inauguration, and has already been used in a strike against al Qaeda deputy Abu al-Khayr al-Masri in February, the newspaper reports.
"Although the CIA never abandoned its role in drone strikes, the agency will now have greater freedom to carry out strikes on its own," Gettinger said. "In the coming months, we are likely to see a further redefinition of the targeted killing program by the Trump administration."
The unnamed US officials speaking to the Journal said that the new authority the CIA possesses can only be used for operations in Syria, but there are fears the CIA could easily expand its remit to outside of the country.
Obama's decision to allow the military to preside over the final call on drone strikes, rather than the CIA, promoted heightened transparency and public disclosure on America's drone operations. The CIA can now kill at will, unaffected by the need for public disclosure.
The revelation comes as US officials admit the Trump administration has almost put the finishing touches on a drone strike review that lowers the threshold on acceptable civilian casualties injured or killed in a drone strike, according to The Washington Post. The review goes back on policies Obama introduced, and could give the Pentagon permission to launch its own strikes without the approval from the White House.
It was previously unclear how Trump would wage his war against terror, but it is now obvious that the drone strike complex initiated by Bush, propelled by Obama, and now inherited by Trump continues to expand along the same trajectory.
Update: this story has been updated with comment from Dan Gettinger.
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