Top Intel Officer: U.S. May Kill Americans Abroad
In a striking admission from the Obama Administration's top intelligence officer, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair announced Wednesday that the United States may target its own citizens abroad for death if it believes they are associated with terrorist groups.
"We take direct action against terrorists in the intelligence community," Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the House Intelligence Committee. He said US counter-terrorism officials may try to kill American citizens embroiled in extremist groups overseas with "specific permission" from higher up.
If "we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that," Blair said in response to questions from the panel's top Republican, Representative Pete Hoekstra.
Blair's comments came after The Washington Post reported that US President Barack Obama had embraced predecessor George W. Bush's policy of authorizing the killing of US citizens involved in terrorist activities overseas.
If a United States citizen was determined to have joined a foreign terrorist group, that person could be legally murdered under orders given by President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks.
"After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said," the Post reported. "The evidence has to meet a certain, defined threshold. The person, for instance, has to pose 'a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests,' said one former intelligence official.
"The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, 'it doesn't really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,' said a senior administration official. 'They are then part of the enemy.'"
The Post, citing anonymous US officials, said the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Joint Special Operations Command have three Americans on their lists of specific people targeted for killing or capture.
Blair said weighing whether to target a US national required determining "whether that American is involved in a group that is trying to attack us, whether that American is a threat to other Americans."
The intelligence chief said he was offering such unusually detailed information in public because "I just don't want other Americans who are watching to think that we are careless."
"In fact, we're not careless about endangering lives at all, but we especially are not careless about endangering American lives as we try to carry out the policies to protect most of the country," he said.
Hoekstra, the ranking Republican, asked what the standards were for targeting American citizens abroad. Blair didn't specifically articulate them.
"We don't target people for free speech," he said. "We target them for taking action that threatens Americans."
Hoekstra pressed him, citing a 2001 incident in which Peru's air force shot down a plane carrying US missionaries, killing a woman and her seven-month-old daughter, after the aircraft was misidentified as a drug-smuggler.
"We were careless and we were reckless," Blair replied. "I want to make sure that this committee does everything that it can and within its power that it does not allow the community to be reckless and careless again."
"While I'm in charge, we will not be careless and reckless," he pledged.