The CIA can now kill potential terror suspects with drone strikes after being granted new powers by President Donald Trump, according to a new report.
The new authority – said to have been granted shortly after Mr Trump’s inauguration – takes drone strikes out of the sole control of the military, sparking fears about accountability.
Under the drone policy of the Obama administration, the CIA could find a suspect, but the armed forces would carry out the actual strike.
Unlike the Pentagon, the CIA does not need to disclose drone strikes — or any resulting civilian casualties.
Under the intelligence agency’s new powers, a high-level al-Qaeda leader in Syria, Abu al-Khayr al-Masri was killed in Syria in February, unnamed officials told the Wall Street Journal.
They said the CIA’s new powers could likely be used outside of Syria as well.
The CIA, the White House, and the US Department of Defence did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“There are a lot of problems with the drone program and the targeted killing program, but the CIA should be out of the business of ordering lethal strikes,” said the deputy director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, Christopher Anders.
He said that while the CIA may have a role in determining the location of a strike, “that decision on whether to strike or not to strike and that order should be coming from through the military chain of command”.
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The United States was the first to use unmanned aircraft fitted with missiles to kill militant suspects in the years after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Strikes by missile-armed Predator and Reaper drones against targets overseas began under former President George W Bush and proliferated under Mr Obama.
During the Obama administration 563 strikes, largely by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, compared to 57 strikes under George W Bush, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Critics of the targeted drone program question whether the strikes create more militants than they kill. They cite the spread of jihadist organisations and militant attacks throughout the world as evidence that targeted killings may be exacerbating the problem.
In July, the US government accepted responsibility for inadvertently killing up to 116 civilians in strikes in countries where America is not at war. That number is a fraction of those recorded by human rights organisations.