The White House’s counterterrorism “playbook” is near completion

Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, and Karen DeYoung report on the White House’s institutionalization of targeted killings and other counterterrorism tactics.

John Brennan, the future CIA director, was a pivotal figure in centralizing the diverse “disposition” techniques across the Pentagon, CIA, and State Department into a single “playbook”. While this manual is near completion, the CIA will be exempt from the bureaucratic procedures for at least another year.

The playbook has adopted that tighter standard and imposes other more stringent rules. Among them are requirements for White House approval of drone strikes and the involvement of multiple agencies — including the State Department — in nominating new names for kill lists.

None of those rules applies to the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan, which began under President George W. Bush. The agency is expected to give the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan advance notice on strikes. But in practice, officials said, the agency exercises near complete control over the names on its target list and decisions on strikes.

For many, such a manual is a symbol of the institutionalization of targeted killings in the heart of the U.S. government–an executive branch that is exceeding a remit that seemed far more modest before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And while some will welcome the reigning in of such controversial practices as “targeted killings”, the very “reigning in” is also a method of “shoring up” the power of the executive.

In short, the playbook is a bureaucratic technology representative of a permanent, borderless war–one that will undoubtedly continue regardless of the humans sitting in the West Wing.

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