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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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March 21st, 2013
05:50 PM ET

White House may move drone program from CIA to Pentagon

U.S officials tell CNN that the White House is thinking about moving the drone program away from the CIA and into hands of the Pentagon. It could lead to more transparency in the controversial program, which has up until now been shrouded in the shadows.

Unmanned killing machines in the sky have been the weapon of choice for the Central Intelligence Agency for years, as a method of combating terrorism. The drone kill count is formally classified, but could be as high as 4,700. Included in that number are the deaths of high profile terrorists like American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his son.

It was the extra judicial targeted killing of enemy combats - most notably the two American citizens - that drew the sharpest criticism. John Brennan was battered in his nomination hearings to head the CIA by both Republicans and Democrats over the use of drones. Brennan expressed a desire to get out of the killing business and back to intelligence collection.

"The CIA should not be doing traditional military activities and operations," Brennan said.

The program has also divided Republicans. Hawks like Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., support it. But the drone strikes kept Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., talking all night on the Senate floor earlier this month.

"I wanted everybody to know that our Constitution is precious and that no American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime," Paul later told CNN.

Officials say the shift will be slow, but under the new plan the military would fly the drones and pull the trigger, working in concert with the spy agency to pick targets.

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