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McCain responds angrily to report on drones

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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sharply criticized congressional appropriators Thursday for secretly slipping language into the omnibus spending bill that preserves the CIA’s role in lethal counterterrorism operations.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) read from a Washington Post story on the Senate floor Thursday, slamming the Senate and House Appropriations committee for amending a spending bill so that it would affect policy with regard to drones. (Video: The Associated Press)

McCain was responding to a report in Thursday's Washington Post that revealed that Congress is on the verge of blocking President Obama’s plan to shift control of the U.S. drone campaign from the CIA to the Defense Department. The measure, buried within the 1,500-page, $1.1 trillion federal budget plan, would restrict the use of any funding to transfer unmanned aircraft or the authority to carry out drone strikes from the CIA to the Pentagon, officials said.

Waving around a copy of The Post while speaking on the Senate floor, McCain blasted his colleagues on the Senate and House Appropriations committee for making such a key decision without formally and publicly consulting the authorizing committees for the CIA and Defense Department.

“The Appropriations Committee has no business making these decisions," he said. "The job of the Armed Services Committee and the job of the Intelligence Committee is to authorize these things. There was no hearing on the Intelligence Committee. There was  no hearing on the Armed Services Committee."

"The appropriations have gotten into the business of the authorizing committees," he added later. "That is a violation of every procedure and process that this Senate is supposed to be pursuing."

Indeed, the provision regarding drones is an unusually direct intervention by lawmakers into the way covert operations are run and will likley impede the administration's plans to return the CIA’s focus to traditional intelligence gathering and possibly bringing more transparency to drone strikes.

Several lawmakers on the intelligence panels and their aides declined to confirm or comment publicly on the move in recent days.