The focus has been on drones. But the real question is whether targeted killings by other means occur in the U.S.

By Marcy Wheeler
Feb. 21, 2013

Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan (Credit: AP)

At John Brennan’s confirmation hearing to be director of the CIA earlier this month, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked him whether the administration could let the public know under what circumstances the government believes it can kill Americans within the United States. The exchange takes on added resonance today, as new reports reveal the Obama administration continues to hide its targeted killing authority, even from Congress.

“I’ve asked you how much evidence the president needs to decide that a particular American can be lawfully killed and whether the administration believes that the president can use this authority inside the United States,” Wyden reminded Brennan at the Feb. 7 hearing. ”What do you think needs to be done to ensure that members of the public understand more about when the government thinks it’s allowed to kill them, particularly with respect to those two issues: the question of evidence and the authority to use this power within the United States?”

After saying, “What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time optimize secrecy,” Brennan emphasized that while the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel “establishes the legal boundaries within which [the executive branch] can operate … It doesn’t mean that we operate at those outer boundaries.”

Just hours earlier, Wyden had read two Office of Legal Counsel memoranda describing the administration’s authority to carry out the targeted killing of Americans.

Wyden had requested the memos at least five times over the previous two years, and had finally received them by threatening to hold up Brennan’s nomination. He went from reading those memos to asking this question about when the administration believed it could target Americans within the United States.

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