High-Level National Security Experts Release Comprehensive Recommendations On Obama Administration’s Drone Policy

June 26, 2014

Findings Represent the Most Senior-Level Nonpartisan Recommendations on Drones to Date 
For Immediate Release: June 26, 2014 
Contact: Jim Baird at [email protected]; (202) 478-3413 

(Washington, D.C.) – A senior-level, nonpartisan task force of leading national security experts released a groundbreaking new report, outlining concrete recommendations designed to ensure that U.S. drone policy is transparent, accountable, and consistent with long-term U.S. national security goals. The Stimson Center convened the Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy, which includes former senior government officials from the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, Department of State and Department of Commerce. The release represents the most comprehensive and high-level recommendations on U.S. drone policy to date.   

“In the 21st century, drones have become a central tool in America’s struggle against terrorism,” said task force co-chair Gen. John P. Abizaid (Ret.), former Commander of U.S. Central Command. “Used wisely, drones can advance our national security interests; used foolishly, they endanger them.” 

Members of the task force include: Gen. John P. Abizaid (Ret.), Lt. Gen. David Barno (Ret.), John B. Bellinger III, Rosa Brooks, Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr., Missy Cummings, Janine Davidson, Peter Lichtenbaum, Philip Mudd, and Jeffrey Smith. The report and full recommendations are available online here

The task force was created in response to President Barack Obama’s call to examine options to address concerns on U.S. drone use. On May 23, 2013, President Obama delivered a major speech at National Defense University, in which he committed to “review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of warzones that go beyond our reporting to Congress.”

Rachel Stohl, task force project director and Senior Associate at the Stimson Center, said the use of drones continues to be a divisive issue, “Although the U.S. drone program has had success in targeted killings of terrorist operatives, their use has sparked debate on their ethical, legal, and strategic implications.” 

The task force’s recommendations are the product of a yearlong study that brought together legal, national security, political and military experts, as well as representatives from the defense industry and civil society groups. The recommendations provide specific steps to achieve a more transparent U.S. policy that can account for changes and developments in drone technology. Final recommendations include: 

  • Conducting a rigorous strategic review and cost-benefit analysis of the role of lethal drones in targeted counterterrorism strikes
  • Improving transparency through the release of a detailed report from the administration explaining the legal basis for U.S. conduct of targeted killings; the approximate number, location and organizational affiliations of those killed by drone strikes; the identities of civilians killed as well as the number of strikes carried out by the military versus the CIA.
  • Transferring general responsibility for carrying out lethal drone strikes from the Central Intelligence Agency to the military
  • Developing robust oversight and accountability mechanisms, including an independent commission to review drone policy and past strikes
  • Fostering the development of appropriate international norms for the use of lethal force outside traditional battlefields
  • Assessing drone-related technological developments and likely future trends and creating an interagency research and development strategy
  • Reviewing and reforming drone-related export control rules and Federal Aviation Administration rules
  • Accelerating Federal Aviation Administration efforts to meet the requirements of the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Bill

“The use of drone technology is here to stay,” said task force co-chair Rosa Brooks, former Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama Administration. “We must ensure that America’s drone policy does not undermine the rule of law and that we set smart precedents for countries to follow in the years to come.” 

The Stimson Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to enhancing international peace and security through a unique combination of rigorous analysis and outreach. Stimson’s Managing Across Boundaries Initiative (MAB) develops innovative government responses at the national, regional and international levels, and identifies pragmatic public-private partnerships to mitigate complex transnational challenges. Read more about the Stimson Center here