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McCain hits terms in federal budget plan on CIA's drone use

| Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sharply criticized congressional appropriators on Thursday for secretly slipping language into the omnibus spending bill that preserves the CIA's role in lethal counterterrorism operations.

McCain was responding to a report in Thursday's Washington Post that revealed that Congress is on the verge of blocking President Obama's plan to shift control of the drone campaign from the CIA to the Defense Department.

The measure, buried within the 1,500-page, $1.1 trillion federal budget plan, would restrict the use of any funding to transfer unmanned aircraft or the authority to carry out drone strikes from the CIA to the Pentagon, officials said.

Waving a copy of The Post while speaking on the Senate floor, McCain blasted his colleagues on the Senate and House Appropriations committees for making such a key decision without formally and publicly consulting the authorizing committees for the CIA and Defense Department.

“The Appropriations Committee has no business making these decisions,” the senator said. “The job of the Armed Services Committee and the job of the Intelligence Committee is to authorize these things. There was no hearing on the Intelligence Committee. There was no hearing on the Armed Services Committee.”

Indeed, the provision regarding drones is an unusually direct intervention by lawmakers into the way covert operations are run and will likely impede the administration's plans to return the CIA's focus to traditional intelligence gathering and possibly bringing more transparency to drone strikes.

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