President Barack Obama tightened rules for the US' drone programme but secretly approved a waiver giving CIA more flexibility in Pakistan than anywhere else to strike suspected militants, a media report has said.
Obama tightened the rules for the US drone programme in 2013 to reduce the risk of civilian casualties but secretly exempted the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from carrying out adequate intelligence-gathering missions in Pakistan before conducting drone strikes, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Obama, in his directive, stated that proposed targets should pose an imminent threat to the US but the waiver exempted the CIA from this standard in Pakistan.
Last week, the US officials said that two Western hostages, US and Italian aid workers Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, were killed on January 15 by a US drone strike aimed at al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan.
If the exemption had not been in place for Pakistan, the CIA might have been required to gather more intelligence before that strike, the report said.
And though support for the drone programme remains strong across the US government, the killings have renewed a debate within the administration over whether the CIA should now be reined in or meet the tighter standards that apply to drone programmes outside of Pakistan, the report said.
Last week, Obama apologised for the killings and took personal responsibility for the mistake. Obama in a 2013 speech at the National Defense University spelled out some rules governing drone strikes, which he codified in a "presidential policy guidance" directive.
Among them were that the threat needed to be imminent and that the US had to have "near-certainty" no civilians would be killed or injured. Under a classified addendum to the directive approved by Obama, however, the CIA's drone programme in Pakistan was exempted from the "imminent threat" requirement, at least until US forces completed their pullout from Afghanistan, the report said.
The waiver gave the CIA more flexibility in Pakistan than anywhere else, including Yemen where both the CIA and the US military conduct drone strikes, and Somalia, where the military has its own targeted killing campaign, it said.