(Reuters) – The Senate Intelligence Committee has quietly approved a plan to step up both public and internal government oversight of the use of armed drones to kill suspected militants overseas, including American citizens.
The committee voted in closed session earlier this week to approve legislative language that would require U.S. spy agencies to make public statistics on how many people were killed or injured in missile strikes launched from U.S.-operated drones.
The committee also approved language intended to bolster scrutiny of secret spy agency deliberations over decisions about targeting U.S. citizens or residents for lethal drone strikes overseas.
The Obama administration has been under heavy pressure from foreign governments, the United Nations and human rights groups to be more transparent and rigorous in accounting for the civilian casualties caused by drone strikes.
Though the committee did not release full details of its deliberations on the measures, sources familiar with the discussions said that some committee Republicans were opposed to the drone-related clauses in the bill, which would authorize intelligence activities for the current government fiscal year which began on October 1.
Ultimately, according to a press release issued by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat who chairs the intelligence panel, the committee approved the bill by a vote of 13-2. The two senators who voted against it were Republicans, a congressional source said.
The press release makes no mention of the language in the bill about drones. An official familiar with the matter said that this was because some Republicans argued that, since drone attacks are officially covert actions by the U.S. government, it would be inappropriate to set rules for such operations in a public law.
The Obama administration drastically increased the number of drone strikes after it took office in 2009 but attacks have dropped off in the last year.
Pakistan’s North Waziristan is the area of the most intensive U.S. drone campaign in the world. The United States has also attacked militants in Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia with drones.