`Covert operations tag needs to be removed from drones`

A top US Senator heading a Congressional intelligence committee argued that unmanned armed aircraft are no longer a secret with the entire world knowing about them.

Updated: Feb 08, 2013, 09:45 AM IST

Washington: Arguing that unmanned armed aircraft are no longer a secret with the entire world knowing about them, a top US Senator heading a Congressional intelligence committee has called for the removal of covert operations tag from drones.

"At one point it (drone) was a limited covert programme; now everybody knows about it," Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the powerful Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told reporters here on Thursday.

Observing that the unmanned armed aircraft are now being built by other countries in the world, it is being sold and is even being used commercially inside the country for surveillance purposes, the top Senator argued that it is high time that a legal architecture is put in place.

"I think we need to see that this programme is really run according to the American Constitution and according to law. And so we`ve got to carefully look at that," she said.

The White House and US President Barack Obama himself made available to the Congress Office of Legal Counsel opinions, on specifically Anwar al-Awlaki, she said. "So we had an opportunity to look at that, plus the memorandum of notification on the covert activity and really look in depth at that one instance," she said.

Feinstein said other Senators and Senate Committees are interested in establishing a procedure for use of drones and targeted killings.

"So I think there`s going to be a new day of transparency," she said.

Earlier chairing the confirmation hearing of John Brennan as CIA director, Feinstein said that the civilian casualties due to drone strikes are in single digits annually.

"I`ve.....been attempting to speak publicly about the very low number of civilian casualties that result from such strikes, (but) I`ve been limited in my ability to do so," Feinstein said.

"But for the past several years, this committee has done significant oversight of the government`s conduct of targeted strikes and the figures we have obtained from the executive branch, which we have done our utmost to verify, confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes has typically been in the single digits," she said.

"It`s our belief, based on that, that the intelligence used is very careful and very good. It`s also our belief that the collateral damage spelled out in the papers is wrong. But the only way to correct it is to say what we believe is correct, and we are told we cannot do that," Feinstein said.