Court Says Obama Can’t Talk About Drones and Still Call Them Secret

Obama discussing drones in his 2013 Googe+ Fireside Hangout.YouTube

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


If you want to keep something a secret, you probably shouldn’t brag about it. 

That may seem obvious. But the Obama administration’s habit of singing the virtues of its supposedly secret targeted killing program is the reason a panel of three federal judges on the DC Circuit ruled against the government on Friday, finding that the CIA cannot continue to claim it has not acknowledged its involvement in the use of drones in targeted killings. Quoting newly minted CIA Director John Brennan, former CIA Director Leon Panetta, and President Barack Obama himself, Judge Merrick Garland wrote that “it is neither logical nor plausible” for the CIA to say it would reveal anything not already public to admit that the Agency “at least has an intelligence interest” in such strikes. “The defendant is, after all, the Central Intelligence Agency,” the judges added. Friday’s ruling reverses a previous one from 2011 in which a lower court ruled in favor of the government.

Since 2010, the ACLU has been seeking information from the CIA on when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how and whether the US ensures compliance with international law restricting extrajudicial killings. The CIA had argued that “no authorized CIA or Executive Branch official has disclosed whether or not the CIA possesses records regarding drone strikes or whether or not the CIA is involved in drone strikes or has an interest in drone strikes.” According to the CIA’s argument, just because high ranking officials can’t stop talking about how targeted killing is effective, only kills bad guys, and always complies with the law doesn’t mean it’s not a secret.

This doesn’t mean the CIA will be releasing the documents. The Agency will have to explain and list which documents it has, and either release them or find another reason to argue why they can’t be released—and there are national security exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act the Agency could use to avoid having to hand them over. “It’s only a small step forward but an important one,” says Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU attorney who argued the case. “It will also make it more difficult for government officials to deflect questions about the program.”

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate