President Obama's press conference pledge last Friday to enact changes to oversight of the NSA's surveillance system was noticeably similar to his speech in May outlining changes to government drone usage. A New York Times report on Monday indicates that the NSA press conference neatly coincided with a reversal on his drone proposals. In May, Obama suggested new limits on when the government could strike. In Yemen last week, those rules got more lax.
That May speech on drones, at the National Defense University, was the administration's first acknowledgement of its use of drones, and included information only recently declassified on past strikes. Clearly stemming from critique of the program, the president used the speech to outline how the military used drones as a tactic in the war against al Qaeda — which, he said, "is on a path to defeat" in in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "America does not take strikes to punish individuals," he argued, "we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people."
In an ancillary statement released to the media, the president explained how that process would change to better limit the use of drone strikes against targets.
First, there must be a legal basis for using lethal force, whether it is against a senior operational leader of a terrorist organization or the forces that organization is using or intends to use to conduct terrorist attacks.
Second, the United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons. It is simply not the case that all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States will not use lethal force.
The list went on, including a range of other assurances, including that capture or "other reasonable alternatives" to the strikes didn't exist.