Daniel Klaidman Comments on CIA General Counsel Speech

Daniel Klaidman Comments on CIA General Counsel Speech

Daniel Klaidman, the journalist whose June 2012 book “Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency” looks to be a must-read, has sent in a guest post to Lawfare discussing how the Stephen Preston speech came about and a bit of the inside maneuvering around the succession of speeches by Eric Holder, Harold Koh, Jeh Johnson, John Brennan, and now Stephen Preston.  (We should not neglect Harold Koh’s second statement, either – a guest post here at OJ.)

What is not widely knows is that Preston, a self-effacing lawyer with something of a patrician air, played a key behind-the-scenes role in pushing for the Obama administration to go public. The CIA was opposed to the more expansive disclosures advocated by Koh.  It did not want any mention of Awlaki or the kill operation, which was carried out under the agency’s covert drone program.  But Preston, along with the Pentagon’s Johnson and Koh, were the primary instigators for approving the more narrowly drawn speech that Holder ultimately gave in April.  Preston, who’d joined the CIA at the outset of the Obama administration, weighed in strongly with his new boss, David Petraeus.  The proposal gained serious momentum at a November, 2011 meeting of President Obama’s top national security advisers, when Petraeus forcefully backed the idea.  But then the initiative languished in the White House for a period of months.  With Preston’s encouragement, Petraeus continued to push for final White House approval of the speech, which came in late January.

(I’ve said that I will finally find a moment to comment on this speech, but it won’t be today, as I’m drafting final exams.)

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