Trump cancels report on civilian deaths in drone strikes
WASHINGTON — President Trump revoked a requirement that U.S. intelligence officials publicly report the number of civilians killed in drone strikes and other attacks on terrorist targets outside war zones.
Trump formally ended the requirement with an executive order on Wednesday, months after signaling such a move. The administration last year ignored a May deadline for an annual accounting of civilian and enemy casualties required under an order signed in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama. The order was part of an accountability effort to minimize civilian deaths from drone strikes.
U.S. drone strikes are a long-standing grievance in many Middle Eastern countries and a recurring propaganda theme of Islamist extremists. Human rights groups also have criticized the U.S. for conducting drone strikes without sufficient regard for civilians.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, called Trump’s move “a troubling retreat from transparency.” He said in a statement that he’ll seek to reimpose the intelligence community’s reporting on civilian casualties through a provision in this year’s Intelligence Authorization Act.
A law Congress passed last year requires the Defense Department to provide Congress a report of civilian casualties, though parts of it may be classified. Trump’s action effectively removes casualties from any drone strikes by the CIA or other agencies outside the military from the reporting requirements.
Ned Price, a former intelligence analyst and Obama-era spokesman for the National Security Council who is now affiliated with the National Security Action policy advocacy group, said Trump’s move is “a shortsighted decision that will allow our enemies to be more effective at what they’ve long sought to do.”
Price said Obama’s order “allowed the United States to counter with facts and figures the misinformation and disinformation that terrorist groups and others issued to undermine our counterterrorism operations around the globe.”
The White House National Security Council said in a statement that Trump’s order removes “superfluous reporting requirements” that “distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission.”