- The Washington Times
Sunday, April 26, 2015

Calls for moving the U.S. drone strike program from the CIA to the Pentagon intensified Sunday in the wake of a counterterrorism attack that accidentally killed two Western hostages.

Sen. John McCain, who heads the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said last week’s revelation about the hostages’ deaths in a drone strike against al Qaeda “will renew this discussion with the administration, within Congress, as to who actually should be running the drone operation.”

Asked if the CIA should be running the program, the Arizona Republican said, “I do not think so.”

“That’s why they’re called the intelligence agency and why we call the armed forces, obviously, the people that are supposed to be carrying out military operations,” Mr. McCain told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I can understand when it was a very small operation why it would be done by the intelligence agency, such as U-2s and other reconnaissance aircraft, for many years.”

“Now it’s reached the point where it’s an integral part of the conflict and a very essential one, so I think it should be conducted and oversight and administered by the Department of Defense,” he said.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering a bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, echoed those sentiments, telling CNN, “I don’t believe the drone program should be run out of the CIA.”

“The CIA is an intelligence-gathering operation. The drone program should be operated exclusively out of the Pentagon,” Mr. Kasich said. “The Air Force has the capability of doing extensive targeting. You don’t have those capabilities in the CIA.”

President Obama expressed support nearly two years ago for moving the drone program to the Defense Department, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and then-chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, resisted the idea, Politico reported Thursday.

Mr. Obama apologized and took “full responsibility” Thursday for the counterterrorism strike that killed American aid worker Warren Weinstein and Italian citizen Giovanni Lo Porto. Their deaths in the January attack on al Qaeda were revealed last week.

Mr. McCain, a supporter of the drone program, said their deaths were “obviously preventable,” blaming a “breakdown in intelligence.” He also cited “turf battles” between the defense and intelligence communities as the reason that the program has yet to be moved to the Pentagon.

“We’re now facing a new form of warfare, these non-state terrorist organizations that are spread all over hell’s half acre, and really the only way you can get at them that we know of now that’s viable is through the drone operations,” Mr. McCain said. “They have taken out leadership.”

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