January 31st, 2012
05:27 PM ET

Dronegate: McCain, not Carney, offers best defense

By Adam Levine

The White House awkwardly tried to explain away the fact that the president publicly talked about U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, a covert program that officials never publicly acknowledged previously, during an online chat.

In a surreal White House press conference, spokesman Jay Carney tried to play down Obama's comments but at the same time the way he answered demonstrated that sensitive information was indeed at stake.

In multiple questions, Carney would not even say the word drone, instead referring to the "supposedly covert programs"

Carney would only answer the question based on a statement he had printed out. The statement reiterated president's comment that the strikes were surgical and avoided civilian risk, but did not speak to the issue of revealing what had been information that the administration was loathe to talk about.

"Everything I can tell you about it is on this piece of paper," Carney said. Earlier in the day, an administration official insisted to Dan Lothian that Obama's comment was "not a slip up."

Asked by CBS reporter Bill Plante "If the president acknowledged the drones, why can't you?," Carney said he would not discuss the issue any further.

CNN's Brianna Keilar asked Carney if the president made a mistake in stating the U.S. is flying drones into Pakistan to go after terrorists.

"He's the commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States, he's the president of the United States," Carney said.

Republican Senator John McCain, Obama's 2008 presidential opponent and the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, had no issue with what Obama said.

“I think the Pakistani’s already knew. I think there are bigger issues between us and Pakistan than that. The biggest issue between us and Pakistan is that ISI continues to coordinate and work with the Haqqani network which is killing Americans," the Arizona senator told CNN's Ted Barrett.

"So you’re not necessarily critical of him discussing this publicly?," Barrett asked.

"No I’m not too much. No, I’m not really," McCain replied.

The chairman of the Armed Services committee was equally non-plused by the revelation.

“Everyone knows they’ve taken place. Heck the Pakistanis have been told it’s taken place. I’m not sure what the secret is," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, told Ted Barrett. "I’m surprised that was the first time he said it because the Pakistanis have said it repeatedly."

Levin then took a dig at the press.

"I don’t even know why it’s newsworthy. I’m surprised it is. I guess it is, right? I guess it came as a surprise to at least some news people," Levin said.

But Levin's democratic colleague on the Senate Select Intelligence committee, Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, appeared to take a swipe at Obama, prefacing a comment about drone strikes by saying that "once again this committee has been put in a difficult position of trying to avoid any mention of classified matters when various parts of the executive branch may be doing somewhat the opposite," Feinstein said during a Tuesday hearing.

"I ask members to be careful in their questions and statements and to remember that public discussion of some intelligence programs and assets can lead to them being compromised," Feinstein added.

A statement from Feinstein emailed to Politico said she was "not criticizing the president."

Over at the Pentagon, nobody would speak on the record, but a US official told Barbara Starr that “the President’s remarks on drones cause no problems. If anyone has missed drone strikes in Pakistan over the last decade they are Rip Van Winkle."

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Filed under: CIA • drones • Levin • McCain • Pakistan • Security Brief
soundoff (9 Responses)
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    October 26, 2013 at 5:49 am | Reply
  2. Gop21

    This is not the republicans this is the white house trying to strain relations with Pakistan. It no secret that we have been using drone there. I expect real news from CNN.

    February 1, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Reply
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      August 3, 2012 at 1:17 am | Reply
  3. Peg - Az

    It has been in the news for years – this should be no secret to anyone who watches the news in the US

    February 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Reply
  4. Gop21

    @voice of reason: I like your reasoning. I also think that ppl who think that the drone strikes are unethical. What about blowing yourself up for some fuck who dont care preaching false ideals to them. Waste of youth if you ask me all we are doing is being smarter look at the overall civilian casualties with are drone strikes and their suicide bombings

    January 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  5. coldwarwarrior

    It is one thing is to have a not so secret drone program attacking targets in Pakistan which Pakistan openly protests but secretly cooperates with.

    It is another thing to have the President admit to it. Such an admission may, or may not, have real consequences. There are various activists, lawyers and politicians trying to stop the drone strikes in various countries thourgh various means (courts, public opinion, etc.)

    Just as the act of writing an memo stating that a questionable act which some may be considered torture is not wise, it is also unwise to admit to a questionable acts which some may consider to be extrajudicial killings or violations of sovereignty.

    January 31, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Reply
    • Voice of Reason

      There has also been a good number of courts that have tried to Indict a number of soldiers formerly in Iraq and in Afghanistan that have gone nowhere as well. Cry all they want, if they don't want them, they are more than welcome to publicly protest and try to shoot them down, but so far, i haven't heard many protests outside of the hippie faction. And since Al-Qaeda is an internationally recognized terrorist group, its affiliates are enemy combatants. This is why civilians need to stay out of war, because the first casualty is truth followed shortly thereafter by order. War is pure chaos, trying to put rules to it is like sticking your hand in to stop a blender, it never ends pretty.

      January 31, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply
    • Peg - Az

      No one has been trying to keep it a secret – it has been in the news and on TV for years – with photos – so this whole manufactured issue about revealing secrets is really dumb – can't get any more transparent as to how truly ridiculous this is – seems like the republicans don't think their supporters are very smart if they think they would buy this one

      February 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Reply

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