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DRONE WATCH BREAKING: Filibustering Brennan

The Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday confirmed White House adviser John Brennan as CIA director on a 12-3 vote. The Democratic Senate leadership is attempting a quick vote, but ran into a problem as a filibuster began. The Associated Press reports:

“Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., stalled the chamber as he took to the Senate floor to complain over what he said was President Barack Obama's failure to adequately answer questions about the legality of conducting lethal drone strikes against targets inside the United States. The Obama administration has said it does not intend to conduct such strikes.

"'No American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found guilty of a crime by a court,' Paul said. 'How can you kill someone without going to a judge, or a jury?'"

Sen. Paul began speaking about two hours ago, you can watch HERE.

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Sandy Hook Dad Testifying Before Congress on Gun Violence

As a mom of two small children – one who is the same age as children killed in Newton – I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for this dad to speak about his loss at the Senate Judiciary Committee recently about a proposed assault weapons ban. Thank you for your courage.

Now it's time to ask Congress to show some courage and enact sensible measures to prevent gun violence. Too many parents have already lost their children.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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DRONE WATCH: Our Disappearing Privacy

The Federal Aviation Administration is scheduled to begin issuing commercial drone permits in 2015, allowing for a massive use of domestic drones. But according to Reuters, It’s already happening.

“They hover over Hollywood film sets and professional sports events. They track wildfires in Colorado, survey Kansas farm crops and vineyards in California. They inspect miles of industrial pipeline and monitor wildlife, river temperatures and volcanic activity.

“They also locate marijuana fields, reconstruct crime scenes and spot illegal immigrants breaching U.S. borders.

“Tens of thousands of domestic drones are zipping through U.S. skies, often flouting tight federal restrictions on drone use that require even the police and the military to get special permits.”

We live in a world where privacy barely exists. Almost everything about each of us in monitored – what we buy, which websites we visit, where we go. And the coming of the drone age will only accelerate that reality.

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DRONE WATCH: Congressional Concern About Drone Policy

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday held one of the first public hearings on U.S. drone strikes, with Democratic and Republican members expressing concern about the secret program. Reuters reports:

“The public congressional hearing on "drone-kill policy" was noteworthy: government officials refrained for years from even uttering the word "drone" when talking about the use of armed, pilotless aircraft because such operations were classified.

“But in the past year, the White House has sought more publicly to present its justifications for drone strikes, through comments by officials like Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who has been nominated to become CIA director.”

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DRONE WATCH: Take Their Citizenship First

While the U.S. continues to debate whether the president has legal authority to order the drone killing of American citizens, it seems the British have found their answer to the question. According to The Independent:

“The Government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – with two of the men subsequently killed by American drone attacks.

“An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent has established that since 2010, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has revoked the passports of 16 individuals, many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.”

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Defending the Gun Market

Mary Sanchez, op-ed writer for the Kansas City Star, offers in her column something many of us probably didn’t know:

“There’s a little-known fact about guns in America, and it’s one that the firearms industry and its political allies don’t like to dwell on: The rate of gun ownership in America is declining.

“This has been the case for decades. Rates peaked way back in the 1970s, the era of disco balls and bell bottoms. In 1977, 54 percent of American households reported owning guns. In 2010, the last time the General Social Survey data was compiled, the percentage had shrunk to 32.”

Sanchez concludes that the strong opposition to anti-gun violence measures is driven more by the need of gun manufacturers to sustain their market than it is about the Second Amendment.

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DRONE WATCH: Drones? What Drones?

Yesterday on MSNBC’s Up w/ Chris Hayes, former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in an interview that when he took that position, he was told not to discuss the government’s secret drone program or even acknowledge its existence. According to Gibbs:

“When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the first things they told me was, ‘You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists.'” 

He added:

“Here’s what’s inherently crazy about that proposition: you’re being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists. So you’re the official government spokesperson acting as if the entire program … pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

At this point, after a leaked Justice Department memo, the John Brennan hearings, several ongoing U.N. negotiations, and coverage by most major news organizations, any denial of a drone program is laughable. It does exist, it is not a secret, and it is regularly killing people in several countries. 

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Base in Niger

With a short note to the Congressional leadership, President Barack Obama announced last week that a total of 100 U.S. troops are now in Niger to “provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali.”

The Washington Post reported:

“A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide details about military operations, said that the 40 troops who arrived in Niger on Wednesday were almost all Air Force personnel and that their mission was to support drone flights.

“The official said drone flights were “imminent” but declined to say whether unarmed, unmanned Predator aircraft had arrived in Niger or how many would be deployed there.”

The Predator drones will be unarmed and carry out surveillance missions. But The Post noted that theadministration had not ruled out arming the Predators with missiles in the future.

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Strikes in Afghanistan Increase

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan released its annual report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan on Tuesday, finding a decrease from 2011. According to the Guardian, the U.N. also reported that 506 weapons were fired by drones in 2012, compared with 294 in 2011. Five cases resulted in civilian casualties, with 16 deaths and three wounded. Although drone attacks have become controversial in Pakistan, the Guardian writes:

 “They have not been a prominent issue in Afghanistan, however. While drone attacks have occurred, they have largely been in support of ground troops during operations and have not been singled out by President Hamid Karzai's administration in its campaign against international air strikes.

“The steep rise in the number of weapons fired from unmanned aerial aircraft – the formal term for drones – raises the possibility that may change as US forces become more dependent on such attacks to fight al-Qaida and other insurgents as combat missions are due to end by the end of 2014.”

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DRONE WATCH: Moral and Ethical Concerns

Dennis Sadowski at Catholic News Service has a good summary of the moral and ethical concerns about drone warfare from a workshop at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. One participant, Charles Camosy, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University, suggested that it should be viewed as a pro-life issue:

"It involves violence and violent killing. It involves the killing of the innocent in a way that doesn't follow the church's teaching. It's an exercise of raw violent power in a way that I think should get pro-lifers really, really upset," Camosy explained to CNS.

“Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, suggested that drones have led to 'a battlefield without borders.' "We have a global battlefield, which completely undercuts any possibility of talking about just war. There are no boundaries on this thing," she said.”

As the drone debate continues, it should go deeper into these concerns rather than only discussing legalities.  

 

 

 

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DRONE WATCH: Drones Over the U.S.

While we have been focusing on drones as weapons of war – killing by drone – controversy over the domestic use of drones is also growing. Police forces across the U.S. have become enamored by surveillance drones that can be used in law enforcement. But that has led to a rise in local governments beginning to strictly regulate their use or banning them. The New York Times reports on these efforts:

“To me, it’s Big Brother in the sky,” said Dave Norris, a city councilman in Charlottesville, Va., which this month became the first city in the country to restrict the use of drones. “I don’t mean to sound conspiratorial about it, but these drones are coming, and we need to put some safeguards in place so they are not abused.” … Last week, the Seattle Police Department agreed to return its two still-unused drones to the manufacturer after Mayor Michael McGinn answered public protests by banning their use.”

Some states have adopted moratoriums on drones pending further study, others are considering proposals that would require search warrants for their use. It is heartening that the objections are coming before drones are flying over all of us, rather than attempting to stop them when it is already too late.

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DRONE WATCH: From CIA to Pentagon?

The U.S. killing by drones in countries other than war zones is run by the CIA. This leads to the secrecy of the program, one of its controversial aspects. Now, according to Ken Dilanian in the Los Angeles Times, it may change.

 “Facing growing pressure to lift the veil of secrecy around targeted killings overseas, the Obama administration is considering shifting more of the CIA's covert drone program to the Pentagon, which operates under legal guidelines that could allow for more public disclosure in some cases. John Brennan, whom President Obama has nominated to run the CIA, favors moving the bulk of drone killing operations to the military, current and former U.S. officials say.” 

Some think this would result in less secrecy, as the Pentagon has already acknowledged its use of drones. Others think it would prove more difficult in causing problems for nations that secretly host U.S. drone bases. Whatever the perceived problems may be, if a change leads to a more open and accountable program, it’s a good thing.

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DRONE WATCH: The Drone Medal

Military medals have historically been given for exceptional bravery in combat. But the Defense Department has announced a new medal – for flying a drone.  A servicemember can now sit at a screen in the United States with a joystick and earn a “Distinguished Warfare Medal.” Army Times reports,

“The Pentagon is creating a new high-level military medal that will recognize drone pilots and, in a controversial twist, giving it added clout by placing it above some traditional combat valor medals in the military’s 'order of precedence.'

“The Distinguished Warfare Medal will be awarded to pilots of unmanned aircraft, offensive cyber war experts or others who are directly involved in combat operations but who are not physically in theater and facing the physical risks that warfare historically entails.”

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DRONE WATCH: Brennan Vote Delayed

As the drone debate continues, the Senate Intelligence Committee is delaying a confirmation vote on John Brennan as CIA Director. Brennan most recently was President Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor, and in that capacity the administration’s point person on drones. The Washington Post reports:

“A Senate confirmation vote on John O. Brennan as CIA director has been postponed for at least two weeks as lawmakers step up pressure on the Obama administration to provide more information about its drone campaign against terrorism suspects.

“In particular, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she is seeking seven Justice Department memos related to the administration’s targeted killing program, in addition to four the committee has been allowed to view.”

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Out of Control Partisanship

Like former Sen. Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar is a moderate-to-conservative Midwest Republican. Lugar was defeated in a primary election last year by a tea party candidate, and this week gave his first public speech since leaving office in January. According to the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette, he spoke of the out of control partisanship that now controls Washington politics, specifically noting  the “politicization of national security policy” in the debate over Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense. 

“Hagel’s “main transgression is that he is a Republican who has questioned policies that are sacred among most conservative senators,” Lugar said. “These include whether the surge in Iraq was worth the lives lost, whether the current high levels of defense expenditures make strategic sense, whether nuclear forces can be reduced further and whether there are non-military options in dealing with Iran.”

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