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Jul 13th, 2009

Calls Grow for Probe of CIA al-Qaida Program


CIA under scrutiny for plans to kill bin Laden (NBC Nightly News, July 13, 2009) — New details emerged on Monday about a CIA plan to try to capture and kill al-Qaida members that was withheld from Congress at the direction of former Vice President Dick Cheney. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports. (02:44)

July 13, 2009

WASHINGTON — Congressional demands for an investigation grew on Monday over new disclosures that a secret CIA program to capture or kill al-Qaida leaders was concealed from Congress for eight years, perhaps at the behest of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The program, which never got off the ground and remains shrouded in mystery, was designed to target leaders of the terrorism network at close range, rather than with air strikes that risked civilian casualties, government officials with knowledge of the operation said Monday.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. The program was canceled last month by CIA Director Leon Panetta shortly after he himself first learned of it.

Some Democratic lawmakers suggested the failure to notify the congressional intelligence committees violated the oversight laws, which require the intelligence community to keep Congress informed of its activities. …

‘Deep concerns about the program’

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., joining the ranks of those calling for a thorough investigation, said, “Individuals who ordered that Congress be kept in the dark should be held accountable.” Feingold said he had “deep concerns about the program itself,” adding that he had written to President Barack Obama to ask for the probe. …

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said that being kept in the dark by the CIA broke the law and “should never, ever happen again.” But defenders of Cheney suggested that no laws were broken because the counterterrorism program never got beyond the talking stage.

However, the issue might come down to whether any tax dollars were spent on the planning — and thus subject to congressional scrutiny.

“There are points governed by law at which the executive branch is obligated to notify Congress of an anticipated intelligence activity,” said Vicki Divoll, a former deputy counsel to the CIA Counterterrorist Center who was general counsel of the Senate Intelligence Committee from 2001 to 2003.

“Even if arguably those points weren’t reached, the executive branch may not spend money developing a program if those funds had not been appropriated and authorized by Congress,” said Divoll, who teaches government at the U.S. Naval Academy.

It presented a delicate dilemma for the Obama administration, which so far has steered clear of joining congressional calls for thoroughly investigating controversial intelligence-community actions under President George W. Bush and Cheney and prosecuting those who broke the law. …

Panetta canceled CIA program on June 23 after learning of its existence, its failure to yield results, and the fact that Congress had been unaware of it since its inception soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, according to one official with direct knowledge of the plan.

That official said Bush authorized killing al-Qaida leaders and that Congress was made aware of that. However, the official said, Panetta also told members of Congress that, according to notes that he had been given on the early months of the program, Cheney directed the CIA not to inform Congress of the specifics of the secret program. …

Congress has a right to know everything the CIA does, but the president can by law limit those told about covert operations to just the top four members of the House and Senate from the two parties and the senior members of the intelligence committees. …

2 Responses to “Concern About Secret CIA Program”
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