The younger Awlaki was the third U.S. citizen killed by the U.S. government in Yemen in recent weeks. The Obama administration has said that U.S. citizens do not have immunity from being targeted for death if they are al-Qaeda members. In addition to the elder Awlaki, the Sept. 30 CIA drone attack killed Samir Khan, an al-Qaeda propagandist from Charlotte.
All individuals targeted by the JSOC must be approved in advance by the National Security Council, said a senior U.S. official. Afterward, the JSOC files detailed reports through the Special Operations Command and then to the Joint Staff in the Pentagon.
By comparison, the CIA’s covert armed drone program has come to be treated as an open secret in Washington — not formally acknowledged, but defended and described in abundant detail by U.S. officials in unofficial conversations.
Congressional officials said that if the Oct. 14 strike had been executed by the CIA, the Senate and House intelligence committees would likely have been notified right away. On Thursday, military officials presented a closed briefing on the JSOC airstrike to members of the Senate Armed Services committee. Members of the panel declined to discuss details.