Administration Told Gibbs of Drone Program: 'You’re Not Even to Discuss That It Exists'

February 25, 2013 - 9:32 AM

Gibbs

Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Feb. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) – Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said before he became spokesman for the Obama administration he was told to “not even acknowledge the drone program…you’re not even to discuss that it exists.”

The administration’s drone program has come under scrutiny since a confidential Justice Department memo -- leaked earlier this month -- detailed the basis for drone strikes against alleged al-Qaeda operatives, including U.S. citizens.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Up with Chris Hayes” on Sunday, Gibbs was asked if he believes the White House has been “sufficiently forthcoming” about its drone-strike program.

“Well, I think you’ve seen recently the president discuss the need and desire to be more forthcoming,” Gibbs said.  “I certainly think there are aspects of that program that are and will remain highly sensitive and very secret.”

“But let me give you an example here Chris,” Gibbs said. “When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the things, one of the first things they told me was, ‘You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists.'”

“So I would get a question like that—literally I couldn’t tell you what Major [Garrett] asked, because once I figured out it was about the drone program I realized I’m not supposed to talk about it,” Gibbs said.

“But here’s what’s inherently crazy about that proposition,” he added.  “You’re being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists.  So you’re the official government spokesperson acting as if the entire program—pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

Gibbs said denying the drone program, as he was told to do, “undermines people’s confidence” in government.

"I think in many ways, and I think what the president has seen--and I have not talked to him about this, so I want to be careful, this is my opinion,” he said.  “But I think what the President has seen is, is our denial of the existence of the program when it’s obviously happening, undermines people’s confidence overall in the decisions that their government makes."

The Justice Department memo, released by NBC News on Feb. 4, reveals that American citizens can be the target of a drone strike if an “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government determines they have “recently” been involved in “activities” posing a threat of violent attack, though the terms remain undefined.