Rep. Adam Schiff Offers Amendments in Intelligence Committee Markup to Increase Transparency on U.S. Drone Use

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a senior Member of the Intelligence Committee, offered two amendments to the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 during a markup of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that would increase the transparency and accountability of the use of drones. The first amendment would have required an annual report of both combatant and non-combatant deaths and injuries by drone strikes.  The second would require the preparation of a “red team” report – essentially an independent review – when a U.S. person is potentially targeted with lethal force, and would require that report to be declassified after ten years.

Both amendments are similar to amendments agreed to by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in its consideration of the same bill, and collectively they offer reasonable reforms to increase transparency and accountability in the use of lethal force. Schiff offered both in the markup, but ultimately they were not adopted. Rep. Schiff plans to continue fighting for these and other reforms as the bill moves to the House Floor and conference with the Senate. During the markup, Schiff spoke in support of both of his amendments.

On reporting combatant and non-combatant deaths and injuries: “The production of this report will require minimal resources, but will provide a modest but important measure of transparency and oversight. It will help to fulfill the promises made by the President in his May 2013 speech at the National Defense University. As the President articulated, when we order a drone strike, ‘there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.’ Never the less despite our best efforts these strikes unfortunately do result in civilian casualties and the death of innocents who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps that is unavoidable and simply the nature of fighting the enemy we confront, an enemy that places no value on civilian life. But what we can do is be accountable and transparent, both with ourselves and with the world. And as the President pointed out in his NDU speech, ‘There’s a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties and nongovernmental reports.’ This amendment would help narrow that gap.”

On requiring “red team” analysis and declassification: “The decision to target a US person for lethal force is an extraordinary one. There has been only one strike targeting a US citizen, the strike that killed Anwar Awlaki. The ‘red team’ analysis puts in place a statutory review of these determinations. While this or other Administrations may put in place internal processes, codifying the process would ensure that our commitment to oversight of the incredibly weighty decision to potentially target a US citizen is a common sense reform. It will serve to increase the confidence in our assessments, and provide an additional measure of transparency through the Intelligence Committees and the Inspector General.  In addition to the amendment adopted by the Senate committee, my amendment would go a step farther requiring the red team reports generated to be made public ten years after their preparation. The declassification of assessments will also have the salutary benefit of improving the quality of these assessments, as I have always believed that the knowledge that a document will be published and critiqued has a positive impact on its quality.”

Background on each amendment can be found below:

  • The first amendment would require an annual report on the number of combatants and noncombatant civilians killed or injured annually by strikes from remotely piloted aircraft, also known as drones. The amendment also requires that the report include the definitions of combatants and civilian noncombatants used to reach the totals. The amendment also requires that the report include the definitions of combatants and civilian noncombatants used to reach the totals. This simple amendment would increase the transparency and accountability in drone operations, a goal that has been endorsed by President Obama, CIA Director Brennan, and others. The amendment would explicitly exclude strikes that take place in Afghanistan or other theatres of conflict.  A similar amendment was proposed by Senator Diane Feinstein and was adopted and agreed to by the Senate committee.
  • The second amendment would require the preparation of a "red team" analysis of the determination that a US citizen or US person is engaged in acts of international terrorism against the United States and may be targeted with lethal force. The red team analysis would be conducted by an independent team and would review the materials and assessments used to make the determination, and would provide their own analysis to the Director of National Intelligence within 15 days. The alternative analysis is not binding. The amendment would also require these reports to be provided to Congress and to the DNI Inspector General. A similar amendment was proposed by Senator Angus King and Senator Marco Rubio and agreed to by a bipartisan 10-5 vote. Rep. Schiff's amendment would also include a new provision requiring the declassification and publication of these reports after ten years, unless the DNI determines they cannot be made public without jeopardizing ongoing intelligence operations.