Executive Order 12333 Controversy

It appears that my article concerning Executive Order 12333 has generated some controversy. Here is the section of EO 12333 that was in question:

Executive Order 12333–United States intelligence activities

Source: The provisions of Executive Order 12333 of Dec. 4, 1981, appear at 46 FR 59941, 3 CFR, 1981 Comp., p. 200, unless otherwise noted.

2.11Prohibition on Assassination. No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.

Some people took exception to it by reading more into it than what the article’s point was meant to be. We have to start using our critical thinking skills to survive individually and as a nation.

We will start with the Church Committee:

The Church Committee took public and private testimony from hundreds of people, collected huge volumes of files from the FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS, and many other federal agencies, and issued 14 reports in 1975 and 1976. Since the passage of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act in 1992, over 50,000 pages of Church Committee records have been declassified and made available to the public. These files contain testimony and information on U.S. attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, on the Church Committee’s investigation of the intelligence agencies’ response to the JFK assassination, and related topics.

Although I am only putting excerpts in this article from a legal review from Boston College, I encourage everyone to read more opinions outlining why the assassination of foreign leaders and enemies was made illegal.


Especially disturbing to the Church Committee were the internal machinations that produced these plots. On several occasions its members were unable to determine where the authorization to begin an operation had actually originated. Government officials maintained “plausible deniability” against internal investigations by using ambiguous and often evasive language to discuss sensitive operational matters and by employing broad imprecision in the wording of their orders. The Committee concluded that these sorts of practices led to confusion about the original intent behind the mission goals and created a breakdown in the accountability of elected government and appointed officials.120 This deliberate obfuscation of the evidence, they continued, was detrimental to the legitimate process of authorization and undermined principles of democratic accountability.121 In the intelligence community, the problem was serious enough that an assassination plot could be proposed, developed, and carried out without ever receiving presidential authorization.

In their findings, the Church Committee stated that in the absence of war, assassination should be rejected as a tool of American foreign policy. The practice was “incompatible with American principle, international order, and morality,”122 it reasoned, and violated the “moral precepts fundamental to our way of life.”123The Committee also suggested that it was probably inevitable that any plot hatched by U.S. officials would eventually be revealed because of the demonstrated inability of a democratic government to keep secrets.124 Regardless of the success of the actual plot, such a disclosure would seriously harm U.S. foreign relations and incite retaliatory attempts on the lives of U.S. officials.125 The Committee concluded that the dam[*PG21]age from such revelations “to American foreign policy, to the good name and reputation of the United States abroad, to the American people’s faith and support of its foreign government and its foreign policy, is incalculable.”126 The Committee hinted, however, that in cases of imminent danger threatening the nation, assassination could still be considered a viable option.127 The Committee found that of all the targets plotted against by the CIA, only Castro ever posed such a threat, and only then, during the Cuban missile crisis.128

IV.  Policy Considerations

Any suggestion that the United States’ formal ban on state-sponsored assassinations should be revoked must address the potential policy ramifications that such change would bring. The United States presents itself to the world as a “nation of laws, not men,” and actively promotes the democratic process both at home and abroad. American society cherishes the sanctity of life and punishes the use of violence to resolve disputes. Assassination, in contrast, was found by the Church Committee to be a brutal tool for projecting force that was incompatible with the basic democratic values upon which our country is built.193 The practice is also widely held by the world community to be immoral and dangerous to the greater international order. A public repudiation of the assassination ban—despite its mostly symbolic nature—would be latched onto by the world press and would carry the clear message that the methods of the United States are not as noble as the democratic principles it purports to advance.

This adverse reaction would impair the United States’ ability to engage in coalition building. In many of the conflict scenarios examined in this paper, the United States engaged in extensive diplomatic campaigns before initiating any military action. Such efforts are a crucial foundation for any war-fighting effort—without international acceptance and the direct support of other nations in the area of the [*PG32]conflict, the ability of our military forces to secure their objectives would be greatly diminished.

Surprisingly, no one ever answered the original question of the article which was:

What Happens When You Violate An Executive Order?

Here is the answer and some concluding commentary:


The removal of Executive Order 12333 is not a practical option because the Order does not pose any substantive legal restrictions to the military options of the United States, and its repeal would publicly damage the reputation of the United States abroad for little gain. Executive Order 12333 effectively allows the United States “to have its cake, and eat it too,” giving the nation a symbol of its intent to wage a jus ad bellum, but also effectively giving the President the flexibility to employ the most brutal of tactics should he deem them necessary. Critics who suggest the United States should revoke the Order—presumably because of their belief that it unduly restricts the government’s options in countering threats to national security—miss the reality that there are in fact very few legal impediments to the use of assassination. Neither Executive Order 12333 nor customary international and treaty law are likely to forbid the use of state-sanctioned killing in most of the scenarios that the United States would consider using it.

Executive Order 12333 was signed to show that the United States is a nation of laws, not men. Waving the flag and citing national security considerations does not answer the question that the previous article posed. This executive order is meant to protect our values and national image as stated in the above analysis.

Based on the responses by certain individuals, the “ends justifying the means” is more important than using critical thinking skills to address the original question. How can we fight for our country if we cannot address even one question that should be a national issue?

David DeGerolamo

Related Article:

What Happens When You Violate An Executive Order?

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9 years ago

The conclusion suggests there is nothing illegal being done by the US, so what’s the beef?