Congress Overrules Pentagon to Fund Northrop Grumman Drones
Weapons maker Northrop Grumman (2012 revenues: $25.218 billion) made it rain on Congress to the tune of $31 million in lobbying spending since the beginning of 2012, and in return Congress has passed legislation ordering the Air Force to purchase the arms maker’s RQ-4 Global Hawk, a high-altitude surveillance drone the military canceled nearly two years ago.
Originally pitched as a $35 million money-saver during the parsimonious Clinton years, Global Hawk costs rose over time by 284%, according to the Congressional Research Service, mostly because of the Air Force’s changing requirements, and each drone is now estimated to cost about $220 million.
Although serious doubts had arisen by early 2011, when the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation said that Global Hawk “was not operationally effective for conducting near-continuous, persistent ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] operations,” in June 2011 Air Force officials certified the project as “essential to national security” in order to ensure continued Congressional funding.
Obama Refused To Release Memos On Drone Strikes
Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich says President Barack Obama’s administration has refused to show Congress any documents detailing the legal justification for drone strikes overseas.
Kucinich is currently building bipartisan support for a resolution that would force the Obama administration to demonstrate the legality of the drone program.
The resolution is co-sponsored by Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rush Holt, Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash, Massachusetts Democratic Rep. James P. McGovern and California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee.
“Thus far, the administration has refused to release the memo or any documents, despite multiple requests from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle,” Kucinich said in a statement on Friday. “Intelligence operations that have virtually no transparency, accountability or oversight raise serious legal questions, particularly when such programs may constitute possible violations of international law or the Constitution of the United States.
Kucinich told The Daily Caller on Capitol Hill this week that Obama is bypassing Congress by authorizing drone strikes overseas.
“Regardless of your support of our drone program, Congress and the American people deserve to know which laws the United States is relying on to conduct this program, and how they are interpreted by the executive branch,” Kucinich said.
A Reformist Strategy to Downsize the Drone Strike Policy
This is slightly adapted from a presentation given at a Congressional briefing on drone strike policy on November 16, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
I want to talk about what Congress could do about drone strikes in the next 1-2 years.
To begin with, some political context, as I see it.
First, I don’t think anyone will argue with me if I say that for the last ten years Congress has done very little.
Second, I think it would be extremely helpful if Congress would do something. I think Congress doing something is intrinsically important in itself, in addition to whatever the thing is. The reason is that the media, the public and the Administration take cues from what Congress is talking about. If Congress isn’t talking about something, then it’s perceived as not very controversial. More people would contact Congress if we had a vehicle for them to contact Congress about.
Third, I don’t think it’s as hard for Congress to do things on this as some people seem to think. There’s a kind of conventional wisdom that Congress can’t do anything because no-one cares because no U.S. soldiers are being killed by the policy. I think this conventional wisdom is completely wrong. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Honduras and yet a hundred Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Honduras, and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Bahrain but Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Bahrain and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. Conversely, plenty of U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan before 2009 and Congress didn’t do much about that. So whether or not American soldiers are being killed is not as decisive as some people seem to think.
Testimony at Congressional Briefing on Drones: Drones Create Enemies
I recently returned from leading a US delegation of 34 Americans to Pakistan, looking at the results of US drone attacks. We found that drones are actually jeopardizing our security by spreading hatred of Americans and sowing the seeds of violence for decades to come. Drones help extremists recruit more discontented youth. In the tribal society of Waziristan where the drones are attacking, we learned that people who have lost their family members in these deadly attacks are bound by the Pashtun honor code — Pashtunwali — to retaliate and seek revenge.
While for the most part we were received with great hospitality, we found intense anger over the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and what people perceived as a cavalier attitude towards their lives. “To Americans, we are disposable people; our lives are worth nothing” an angry young man told me. At a meeting with the Islamabad Bar Association, we were confronted by a group of lawyers yelling, “Americans, go home. You are all a bunch of terrorists.”
A June 2012 Pew Research poll found that 3 out of 4 Pakistanis considered the US their enemy. With a population of over 180 million, that means 133 million people! Surely that cannot be good for our national security. When Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was asked why there was so animosity towards the United States, she gave a one word answer: drones.
America’s Drones Are Homeward Bound
Americans have been protesting and getting arrested at U.S. drone bases and research institutions for years, and some members of Congress are starting to respond to the pressure.
But it’s not that drones are being used to extrajudicially execute people, including Americans, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia that has U.S. lawmakers concerned. Rather it’s the possible and probable violation of Americans’ privacy in the United States by unlawful drone surveillance that has caught the attention of legislators.
Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., says “there is distrust amongst the people who have come and discussed this issue with me about our government. It’s raising alarm with the American public.” Based on those discussions, Landry has placed a provision in a defense spending bill that would prohibit information gathered by drones without a warrant from being used as evidence in court.
Two other legislators, Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced identical bills to bar any government agency from using a drone without a warrant to “gather evidence or other information pertaining to criminal conduct or conduct in violation of a regulation.”
Armed Services Committee Chairman Congressman Buck McKeon (R-CA) is best known today as the weapon industry’s go-to lawmaker for expanding the use of domestic drones in America. But in 1998, the congressman accepted a discounted mortgage from subprime mortgage giant Countrywide as part of the company’s wide-ranging efforts to bribe public officials. (No one has been charged with bribery, but the loans were clearly doled out “in order to influence the judgment or conduct.”) Though McKeon told the Los Angeles Times this year that he had no idea that his Countrywide loan was “VIP,” e-mails released today by the Oversight Committee show that that McKeon family were well aware of their preferential treatment.
The Oversight Committee report reveals e-mails and letters from Countrywide to McKeon. Previously released e-mails show that a Countrywide employee instructed loan officers to give McKeon a special deal, noting, “Per [Countrywide CEO] Angelo [Mozilo] — take off 1 point, no garbage fees, approve the loan and make it a no doc.” But the new e-mails show even more evidence that McKeon was aware of, and accepted an unethical gift from a company seeking influence in government.
When the news broke earlier this year that McKeon had participated in the VIP Countrywide program — which has ensnared former Clinton and Bush administration officials, as well as Senators Chris Dodd, Kent Conrad, and others with cut-rate mortgages, discounted interest rates, and “no doc” loans — McKeon aggressively denied any knowledge of a special deal:
McKeon’s office said McKeon had never met or spoken to Mozilo and was “shocked and angry to hear this, as he had no knowledge of the Friends of Angelo designation.” In an interview in his Capitol Hill office last month, McKeon said he had paid the “garbage fees” and did not get a point off on the loan.
The evidence, however, shows that McKeon shouldn’t be surprised about the special nature of the Countrywide refinance he received in 1998.
Drone Killings a Stain Upon Our Nation
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 31, 2012) — Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has opposed the use of combat drones against suspected terrorists abroad since the first known attack in 2004. In February 2006, he asked the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency to suspend the use of Predator drones citing the “high toll in innocent civilian life.” In the 111th Congress, he sponsored a bill to prohibit the extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens abroad in response to revelations that the Administration included U.S. citizens on its targeted killing list. Today, he is leading a growing number of Members of Congress to demand the President’s legal justifications for drone strikes.
“The New York Times recently revealed a series of stunning revelations about the secretive U.S. drone campaign abroad. 1) President Obama personally authorizes each drone strike. 2) The White House continues to fail to provide its legal rationale for the killings which include Americans and civilians. 3) Any male of fighting age killed by a drone is automatically assumed to be a militant. At the same time, The Washington Post has reported that our use of drones in Yemen has actually strengthened Al-Qaeda’s recruiting efforts and generating sympathy for our enemies.