Like the Justice Department memo authorizing the assassination of American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki without due process, the Obama administration's "drone rule book" is so secret that the government can neither confirm or deny its existence, except on the front page of the New York Times.
Scott Shane's recent report on the drone program confirms the "drone first, come up with the justification later" approach the Obama administration takes toward drones, reveals the rush to write down the amorphous rules for who gets droned and when, and demonstrates the rank hypocrisy of refusing to confirm or deny a program that administration officials are comfortable discussing with the New York Times
The drone program is so secret that:
The draft rule book for drone strikes that has been passed among agencies over the last several months is so highly classified, officials said, that it is hand-carried from office to office rather than sent by e-mail.(an admission in and of itself about how, even pre-Petraeusgate, highly-placed government officials knew their e-mails were vulnerable.) Yet, the vast majority of the quotes in the New York Times are from "administration officials" or "officials involved in the discussions" who have to give their "authorized leaks" about the hand-delivered secret rulebook on the condition of anonymity because:
Despite public remarks by Mr. Obama and his aides on the legal basis for targeted killing, the program remains officially classified. In court, fighting lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times seeking secret legal opinions on targeted killings, the government has refused even to acknowledge the existence of the drone program in Pakistan.
Putting aside the glaring hubris of rushing to write down rules once it is possible someone else will wield the power of being judge, jury, and executioner in the morally-suspect, ethically-fraught business of droning even your own citizens, it is worth remembering that Congress - not the executive - usually writes the rules (otherwise known as laws), so that the rules will involve public input, and better yet, accountability.
It is almost a tacit admission that the Obama administration has been operating the drone program without a legal framework that any President - current or future - could follow. So until the secret-but-selectively-leaked "rule book" is complete, the status quo for THIS President is unregulated, unaccountable, secret and unilateral authority to pick people off using drones. In other words, a sort of "until, I reign myself in, I can do whatever the f**k I want" approach.
And, by the way, as noble as it sounds for Obama to do future presidents the courtesy of creating a rule book for drones, the next president could simply in secret and unilaterally change the rule book to whatever he or she wants. A fact Obama knows well. (See the secret interpretation of PATRIOT Act Section 215).
However, instead of allowing real public input and debate on a program that has resulted in the deaths of at least two American citizens, one innocent American teenager, and an ever-changing but likely unacceptably high number of innocent civilians, the Executive branch has chosen to selectively inform the public when it is most advantageous.
The super-secret but front-page news drone program is in desperate need of whistleblower. But, considering the government's draconian crackdown on whistleblowers using the Espionage Act and Congress' refusal to protect intelligence community whistleblowers in recent legislation, such a whistleblower is unlikely to come forward.
Thus, the public is left relying on "anonymous administration officials," who are no doubt only telling the parts of the story that won't land them in the unemployment line, or worse, on trial for Espionage.
And this from an administration "committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government."