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

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February 10th, 2014
06:28 PM ET

The ethics of droning an American terrorist

(CNN) - The Obama administration is in high-level discussions about staging an operation to kill an American citizen involved with al Qaeda and suspected of plotting attacks against the United States, a senior U.S. official tells CNN.

The official, who declined to disclose any specific information about the target or the country the suspect presides in, was confirming information first reported by The Associated Press.

The target could be in a number of countries where the U.S. has been conducting drone strikes for more than a decade, says journalist Jeremy Scahill, who investigated the U.S. drone program in the documentary Dirty Wars.

"This individual may actually be in a country that does in fact allow some degree of U.S. military or paramilitary activities," Scahill told CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

"It could be Pakistan, where the U.S. has a very two-sided relationship with the intelligence services there. It could also be Yemen, it could be Iraq, it also could be a country a little bit off the map like Mali, or Somalia," said Scahill.

President Barack Obama has said in the past that he does not support using drones to kill Americans, but Americans should not use their citizenship as a shield if they travel abroad and take up arms against the United States and its interests.

If this American is a threat, and a drone strike is the only way to handle the threat, shouldn't it at least be considered?

"(Obama and the Justice Department) has laid out that the threat should be imminent, that capture is not feasible, and that the individual is known to be participating in active terrorist threats against the United States," said Scahill.

"In some of the cases where we've seen American citizens killed, it's unclear that that standard was met," said Scahill.

Many of the Americans who take up with terrorist groups abroad are used for propaganda, says Scahill.

"The U.S. does not go far enough in trying to apprehend these individuals, in some cases they don't even charge them with a crime before they're effectively sentenced to death," said Scahill.

For more of our interview with Jeremy Scahill, including his new report on phone data is being used to find drone targets, check out the video above. Scahill recently launched "The Intercept" with journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. They have extensively covered the Edward Snowden documents.

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