Maryland's Congressional delegation, John Brennan and executive-branch drones

As Senate Intelligence Committee members file into room 216 of the Hart office building in Washington for a CIA confirmation hearing this afternoon, they will be under a spotlight much brighter than they anticipated last week.

That was before a Monday NBC report unveiled leaked documentation from the Obama administration strongly implying that extrajudicial drone killings of American citizens abroad are made casually, with little meaningful oversight or geographic restriction.

Media reaction was swift and harsh. An article on the Wired site was a fairly standard sample, asking "What do you call a country where an unelected bureaucrat has the ability to order the execution of its citizens? Answer: President Barack Obama’s America."  
New York Magazine took a dig at the administration's wide interpretation of what an "imminent" attack is, publishing a comment about how most lawmakers outside the executive branch "tend to use widely agreed upon definitions of words."

Into that environment comes the Senate committee, on which Maryland's Barbara Mikulski sits. Committee members are likely to have astringent questions today for proposed CIA head John Brennan regarding both the leaked drone information and the way that it was released -- a selective leak some think may be an intentional attempt at dulling some lawmakers' requests for wider transparency.

One national security official, for example, mentioned that the leak of the Justice Department memo may have been timed "to blunt such congressional demands for the release of additional documents," as a Reuters story puts it. It was reported Wednesday that Brennan had already received some questioning on his role in the leaks, which may not have even served their intended purpose: Amid increasing pressure, the Obama administration ultimately agreed Wednesday night to give the Senate committee access to requested classified documents in addition to the Monday's unclassified memo.

Meanwhile, the limited public information may be enough to move other lawmakers into action. On the House side of Maryland's Congressional delegation, Rep. Steny Hoyer has already spoken about the possibility of Capitol legislators formalizing limits on drone strikes.

On Tuesday, Hoyer told the Associated Press that the issue "deserves a serious look at how we make the decisions in government to take out, kill, eliminate, whatever word you want to use, not just American citizens but other citizens as well." He added that the country should examine its priorities.

The controversy comes during a key period for Marylanders' role in that self-examination.  Baltimore City Paper last week published a partial analysis of the military role played by Johns Hopkins' research on swarming, semi-autonomous drones. That publication followed an incident in May that saw an unmanned plane crashing on the state's Eastern Shore.

After that spring incident, The Sun published a map of permits for (mostly unarmed) domestic drones. That map can be viewed here.


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