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Intel Chief Dodges on Killing American Citizens

I spent my morning attending the fifth birthday of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the management organization dedicated to marshaling the 16 intelligence agencies toward a coherent, unified goal. Surrounded by the heads of all those agencies, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, gave an inspiring speech to his workforce about how the next five years of intelligence integration would be “driven by joint missions, powered — united — by technology, continually learning and improving.” There were cupcakes. And then we talked about killing American citizens.

Two weeks ago, anonymous administration officials had said an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, living in Yemen and producing scores of incitement-filled sermons about the alleged Islamic imperative to kill Americans, could be targeted for assassination. The legal basis for such a thing has not been disclosed. So in a brief press Q-and-A with Blair, I asked what legal authorization he had for targeting an American citizen like Awlaki. Blair replied broadly that his authorization came from the law and the Constitution, pledged the intelligence community would “follow all rules” given to it by the “executive branch [and] the congressional branch” and then ended the press conference. There were more cupcakes.

I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA and the Justice Department two weeks ago to find out the actual legal basis claimed by the Obama administration for targeting an American citizen for death without any provision of due process.

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