A secret panel of senior administration officials is responsible for placing American-born terrorists on a kill or capture list and advising President Barack Obama of the decision, according to a new report.
Officials say the group is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council, Reuters reports, citing current and former officials. But there are no laws that formally acknowledge the group’s existence or rules that guide the panel’s work and decisions.
The role of the president in ordering or ratifying a decision to target a citizen is unclear, the reported noted. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to discuss anything about the process with Reuters.
When the name of a foreigner, rather than American, militant is added to targeting lists, the decision is made within the intelligence community and normally does not require approval by high-level NSC officials, the wire service said.
The group was responsible for placing Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric and Al Qaeda leader, on the target list. The administration confirmed Awlaki’s death in Yemen last month, and Obama hailed the operation as “another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat Al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
Officials said that when Awlaki became the first American put on the target list, Obama was not required to approve the decision. But one official told Reuters that Obama would be notified of the decision and, if he objected, the decision would be rolled back.
While the killing of Awlaki, just months after a successful mission that took down Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was considered a significant national security victory for Obama, questions have been raised in recent weeks about the process through which the president pulled the final trigger on the operation.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters this week that the process of targeting Awlaki entails “going through the National Security Council, then it eventually goes to the president, but the National Security Council does the investigation, they have lawyers, they review, they look at the situation, you have input from the military, and also, we make sure that we follow international law.”
Other officials told Reuters that the process was less clear than that, saying targeting recommendations made by mid-level NSC officials are sent to the panel of NSC “principals” for approval. They also said that lawyers, including those from the Justice Department, were consulted before Awlaki was placed on the target list.
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