Rand Paul Threatens Block Of New FBI Director Over Drone Issue

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) stood for thirteen hours on the Senate floor to filibuster the confirmation of CIA head John Brennan over the issue of the use of drones to target American citizens. Now he’s threatening to block Senate confirmation of James Comey as the new head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who has been nominated to replace outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Senator Paul threatened to block the confirmation after Mueller remained silent on the domestic use of drones for surveillance past a deadline the Kentucky senator had set. Paul’s deadline was July 1, 2013.

Back on June 20, Paul wrote to Mueller in a first letter requesting that he supply answers to 11 questions he posed regarding how the FBI uses drones for surveillance of American citizens. Paul reminded Mueller that he had confirmed they did use drones for such actions during his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 19, 2013.

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“I am disturbed by the revelation that the FBI has unilaterally decided to begin using drone surveillance technology without a governance policy, and thus without the requisite assurances that the constitutional rights of Americans are being protected,” he wrote.

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He asked the following questions of the FBI Director:

1) How long has the FBI been using drones without stated privacy protections or operational guidelines?

2) Why is the FBI only now beginning to develop guidelines for the use of drone surveillance?

3) Is the FBI working in consultation with Congress in developing operational guidelines for drone surveillance?

4) What measures do you intend to adopt to protect Fourth Amendment and privacy rights?

5) Will the FBI make publicly available all rules, procedures and operational guidelines for drone use?

6) Given that they have already been used, what has the FBI done with information already collected by drones? What are the rules governing storage of information collected via drone?

7) In what circumstances would the FBI elect to use drone surveillance? Does this surveillance require a warrant?

8) How many drones does the FBI possess? Is the FBI seeking to expand its inventory of drones?

9) Are these drones armed? Do they have the capacity to be armed? If so, what guidelines will be put in place regarding the arming of drones and the use of armed drones?

10) Is there ever a scenario you can envision where the FBI would seek to arm its drones?

11) Does the FBI currently prohibit federal grant funds under its jurisdiction from being used by recipients to purchase drones?

On Tuesday, Senator Paul fired off another letter to Mueller writing, “Unfortunately, I have not received any answers to my questions, and I have not been informed as to when I should expect a reply.”

Comey was also questioned on Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee on his positions on torture, the Boston Marathon bombings and the surveillance apparatus of the Federal government.

“Given that drone surveillance over American skies represents a potentially vast expansion of government surveillance powers without the constitutionally-guaranteed protection of a warrant, it is vital that the use of these drones by the FBI be fully examined in an open and transparent manner,” Paul wrote. “The American people have a right to know the limits that the federal government operates under when using these drones, and whether further action by Congress is needed to protect the rights of innocent Americans.”

Paul, in indicating that the Senate could consider Comey’s nomination later this month, warned Mueller, “Legitimate questions on important government functions should not be ignored.  These questions are easily answerable and primarily questions of fact, so I respectfully request again that you provide answers to these questions….Without adequate answers to my questions, I will object to the consideration of that nomination and ask my colleagues to do the same.”

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