A License to Kill Our Own?
Hosenball, Mark, Newsweek
Byline: Mark Hosenball
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). …