Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the U.S. Defense Department and not the Central Intelligence Agency should run the drone program that kills suspected terrorists abroad.
Powell, a Republican who served in top positions in both the George Bush and George W. Bush administrations, said the CIA only began taking greater responsibility for targeted assassinations after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"The application of the state's military force should be done by the military leaders and the Department of Defense," he said during a May 26 interview with Bloomberg Television. "This doesn't mean the CIA has nothing to do with it. The intelligence will come from the CIA and other sources and then be fed into the Department of Defense."
Powell praised President Barack Obama's speech last week that defended the use of drone strikes in part for their precision, even though newly declassified information revealed that three of the four Americans who died in such attacks since 2009 were killed accidentally.
"It was a very balanced speech," Powell said. "He made it clear that there are still enemies out there that we have to deal with but we have to be more careful in the use of force, especially with respect to drones. Drones are a very, very effective weapon and we will continue to use them but in a more circumscribed manner to make sure that we are going after high-value targets that present a real immediate threat to us."
Obama called for tighter criteria for using drones as part of an updated counter-terrorism policy. Before any strike, "there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured," he said in his remarks.
During a background briefing with reporters before the address, senior administration officials said the policy change includes a preference for the U.S. military rather than the CIA to take the lead on strikes involving unmanned aircraft.
Congress should also review criteria for the use of lethal force, Powell said.
"One of the problems with using drones too widely was sort of laid out to me by a Pakistani senior officer," he said. "He said if you make a mistake and you end up killing 10 or 15 villagers or 20 villagers, in addition to the person you were after, you have created 20 new enemies for the United States of America. Their families will seek revenge. And, he said, the Pakistani Army gets blamed for being complicit in all of this."