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Has Rand Paul Done a Major Flip-Flop on Drones?

Has Rand Paul Done a Major Flip-Flop on Drones?

Has Rand Paul learned to stop worrying and love the drone?

The Drudge Report on Tuesday posted the following front page splash:

The news aggregation website links to an article that claims “Ron Paul fans are furious” with the Kentucky senator for supposedly flip-flopping on drone strikes.

So what's the full story here?

The Rand-loves-drones story is based on the senator telling Fox News’ Neil Cavuto on Monday: “If there is a killer on the loose in a neighborhood, I’m not against drones being used to search them.”

“Here’s the distinction — I have never argued against any technology being used against having an imminent threat an act of crime going on,” Paul added.

“If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash, I don’t care if a Drone kills him or a policeman kills him, but it’s different if they want to come fly over your hot tub, or your yard just because they want to do surveillance on everyone, and they want to watch your activities.”

Watch the senator’s comments here:

What gives? Has Sen. Paul really flipped on drone strikes? Was his 13-hour filibuster just a bunch of stuff (or malarkey)?

"My comments last night left the mistaken impression that my position on drones had changed," the senator said in a statement responding to the story touted by Drudge.

"Let me be clear: it has not. Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations. They only may only be considered in extraordinary, lethal situations where there is an ongoing, imminent threat," the statement adds. "I described that scenario previously during my Senate filibuster."

It continues:

Additionally, surveillance drones should only be used with warrants and specific targets.

Fighting terrorism and capturing terrorists must be done while preserving our constitutional protections. This was demonstrated last week in Boston. As we all seek to prevent future tragedies, we must continue to bear this in mind.

Obviously, Paul saying he has been consistent is not enough. For a closer look at the Kentucky senator's stance on drone strikes, we turn to the The American Conservative's Jordan Bloom.

“To be fair [to people upset with the senator], Paul wasn’t as clear as he should have been,” Bloom writes. “It seems like he’s trying to describe a firefight in which the cops are forced to neutralize a thief robbing a liquor store, but the way he actually describes it sounds far more innocuous; he doesn’t mention the thief posing any threat.”

And to those who are taking Paul at his word, Bloom writes:

But does anyone actually believe he’s endorsing the use of a hellfire missile to take out a thief that presents no threat? If he thought that was OK, do you think he might have allowed for it in the bill he introduced banning domestic drone strikes?

The important thing to remember, he continues, “is that any politician is unlikely to unequivocally oppose law enforcement techniques that would allow officers to do their jobs out of harm’s way, up to and including using robots to kill criminals.”

“It seems like a lot of libertarians are opposed to any drone use by law enforcement. While I can’t fault them on principle, it seems like an untenable position, and anyway that ship has sailed,” he adds.

But let's not lose sight of the fact that Paul has made these kind of statements before!

Indeed, what he said on Cavuto he must have said at least a dozen times during his 13-hour filibuster of the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan.

Also, there's this June 2012 CNN interview:

Costello: What about in this instance? One Texas sheriff told reporters his agency is considering arming his drones with rubber bullets and tear gas. Let’s say there’s a large crowd gathering and you need some crowd control. This type of drone might be able to diminish any problems on the ground. Would that be allowed under your bill?

Paul: Anything that would require a warrant. It would have to have a warrant. And I’m concerned about obviously arming drones. But I don’t want to say that I’m arguing against technology. For example, there’s a bomb in a car, I’m very happy that we have automated robots that can go up to the car and investigate the bomb and we don’t have to risk a human. Same with drones. If they can save lives, that’d be one thing. Arming drones obviously sends up pictures of the military and I don’t think domestically armed drones are a good idea. What I would say is that drones could be used if you have a proper warrant. But that means you go through a judge.

“The senator has always been open to the idea of drones being used, with a warrant, in the process of a police investigation. And, as a practical matter, if that could have meant, say, a hundred fewer Boston doors knocked on by SWAT teams, isn’t that a net victory for civil liberties?” Bloom asks.

True, Bloom concedes, Paul saying he doesn’t care whether a drone or a police officer offs the perp is stronger than his usual rhetoric, but “for better or worse, the senator has been consistent in his thinking.”


Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

Featured image Getty Images.

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