Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair offered confirmation on Wednesday that the U.S. intelligence community is authorized to assassinate Americans abroad who are considered direct terrorist threats to the United States.
"We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community," Blair told lawmakers at a House Intelligence Committee hearing. "If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that."
Blair, who was on Capitol Hill Wednesday to give an annual threat assessment, also confirmed al Qaeda's continued ambitions to carry out another attack on American soil.
This latest information comes in the wake of a string of terrorist plots that have reportedly stemmed from radicalized Americans overseas.
The Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al Awlaki, a former imam at a mosque in Falls Church, Va., was in contact with both Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the perpetrator of the failed Christmas airline bombing, as well as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the officer accused of killing 13 people at Ft. Hood, Tex. in November.
Last month, the FBI charged American David Coleman Headley both as an accessory in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and as a plotter in attacks on a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.
Blair's latest disclosure follows last week's Washington Post report that recent military action in Yemen, which had been successful in killing many top al Qaeda officials, but not al Awlaki, was approved by President Obama. Al Awlaki is one of a handful of Americans that has been determined by the National Security Council and the Justice Department to be a U.S. intelligence target.
Some House members raised concerns about these latest developments. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who criticized the intelligence community this week for misconduct surrounding the 2001 attack on a plane piloted by American missionaries in Peru, questioned the policy.
"The targeting of Americans -- it's a very sensitive issue, but again there's been more information in the public domain than what has been shared with this committee," Hoekstra said. "There is no clarity...what is the legal framework?
Glenn Greenwald penned an op-ed on Thursday criticizing the intelligence community's newly revealed authority to kill Americans abroad. Greenwald argues that "special permissions" for assassinations should not serve as sufficient credentials for murder. Without any judicial approval or oversight, Greenwald says, this process is "basically giving the President the power to impose death sentences on his own citizens without any charges or trial."