For about the last seven months, people have celebrated reports that America's drone program would be handed-off from the CIA to more transparent Defense Department. Well, here's the thing: the transition process is going to take a lot longer than first expected.
Months later, we're learning the celebrated policy switchover will take a while. "This is the policy, and we're moving toward that policy, but it will take some time," an intelligence official told Foreign Policy's Gordon Lubold and Shane Harris. The CIA to DoD switch was first announced at the end of March. The switch was made to consolidate military operations against wanted terrorists under one roof, but also, once the drones were under DoD control, to add new layers of transparency to the one of the administration's most controversial programs. Whispers followed that the DoD was going to scale back on drone strikes completely.
Officials want to make sure the program stays active during the transition, and the President's directive took many by complete surprise. Unsurprisingly, the logistics of moving an active drone program from one department to the other is not an overnight process, even if it had been carefully planned out in advance. But others question the Defense Department's ability to stomach the drone strike program at all:
But the pitfalls of transferring operations reside in more practical concerns. The U.S. official said that while the platforms and the capabilities are common to either the Agency or the Pentagon, there remain distinctly different approaches to "finding, fixing and finishing" terrorist targets. The two organizations also use different approaches to producing the "intelligence feeds" upon which drone operations rely. Perhaps more importantly, after years of conducting drone strikes, the CIA has developed an expertise and a taste for them. The DOD's appetite to take over that mission may not run very deep.
Former CIA officials who don't want their drone program given over to the military — where a shroud of official "covert" secrecy can't protect military officials from Congressional hearings — are pushing back against the switch. "The agency can do it much more efficiently and at lower cost than the military can," one former intelligence official told FP.
But plans to hand over drones to the military are apparently still full steam ahead. It's just going to take some time for the little drone that could to get over the hill.