According to the New York Times, former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to keep a counter-terrorism program secret from Congress — for eight years. CIA Director Leon Panetta informed the House and Senate Intelligence committees about the program after he learned of it on June 23,
and shut down the program immediately. The purpose and activities of the program remain secret.
The law requires the president to make sure the intelligence committees “are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.” But the language of the statute, the amended National Security Act of 1947, leaves some leeway for judgment, saying such briefings should be done “to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters.”
In addition, for covert action programs, a particularly secret category in which the role of the United States is hidden, the law says that briefings can be limited to the so-called Gang of Eight, consisting of the Republican and Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress and of their intelligence committees.
Cheney’s involvement in the secret counter-terrorism program came to light through the inspector general’s report, which featured the former vice president’s primary role in keeping secret the NSA’s eavesdropping activities from all but a small number of government officials.
Intelligence and Congressional officials have said the unidentified program did not involve the C.I.A. interrogation program and did not involve domestic intelligence activities. They have said the program was started by the counterterrorism center at the C.I.A. shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but never became fully operational, involving planning and some training that took place off and on from 2001 until this year.
The secret program, begun just days after September 11, 2001, was so secret, so closely held to the vest by the Bush administration, that it’s effectiveness was questionable at best.
A report released on Friday by the inspectors general of five agencies about the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program makes clear that Mr. Cheney’s legal adviser, David S. Addington, had to approve personally every government official who was told about the program. The report said “the exceptionally compartmented nature of the program” frustrated F.B.I. agents who were assigned to follow up on tips it had turned up.
House Rep Jan Schakowsky has written to the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Rep Silvestre Reyes, demanding an investigation, and Rep Pete Hoekstra doesn’t want to be too “harsh” in his judgment of the agency.
In Newsweek, there’s a statement by the CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, regarding the demand of seven House members that Director Panetta correct his previous testimony to the Intelligence Committee, in the light of this newly-discovered secret program:
Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman, said Panetta has nothing to correct: “Director Panetta took the initiative to raise the issue with the Hill. He did so promptly and clearly, as the oversight committees themselves recognize. He stands by his statement that it is neither the policy nor the practice of the CIA to mislead Congress. He believes, as his actions show, in the importance of a candid dialogue with Congress.” (Emphasis added)
Well, of course it’s not the official policy of the CIA to lie to Congress. No one is going to put that kind of thing in writing, right? But in practice, clearly the CIA has lied to Congress time after time after time. For Director Panetta to stand by his statement that “it is neither the policy nor the practice of the CIA to mislead Congress” is ridiculous on it’s face — and frankly, insulting.
Going back to the fact that the law requires that the president make sure that the intelligence committees “are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity,” but keeping in mind that the language of the law was amended to say that the briefings should be done “to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters,” it’s clear to me that President Obama needs to yank Director Panetta’s chain. Panetta’s semantic quibbling reflects badly on the Obama administration, and works further toward chipping away at candidate Obama’s promise of “transparency.”
After Nancy Pelosi’s contentious and on-going fight over what she was told and when, and former Senator Bob Graham’s revelation that the CIA was wrong (lied) about the number of briefings they gave him, it’s obvious that the “Gang of Eight” briefings are a joke.
From the New York Times article:
Democrats in Congress, who contend that the Bush administration improperly limited Congressional briefings on intelligence, are seeking to change the National Security Act to permit the full intelligence committees to be briefed on more matters. President Obama, however, has threatened to veto the intelligence authorization bill if the changes go too far, and the proposal is now being negotiated by the White House and the intelligence committees. (Emphasis added)
This is dangerous ground, President Obama. Appearing to be against briefing the full intelligence committees on more security matters raises questions about your commitment to “change.” You have tipped your hand, and now must define “too far.”
I began this post with the news that Dick Cheney had ordered the CIA to keep a counter-terrorism program secret from Congress for almost eight years. This matter must be investigated by a Special Prosecutor, who’s encumbered by no limitations whatsoever. It will be expensive, and it will be painful, but it is our only course if “no one is above the law,” and if we are interested the rule of law.
Having said that, Barack Obama is president now, and it’s his responsibility to guide this country toward greatness — even if it’s expensive, even if it’s painful. Moving forward does not include forgetting the past.
President Obama, this is your moment — one of many, many moments — make the most of it. For us.
UPDATE: From The Raw Story
The controversy over claims the CIA lied to Congress by withholding information about a counter-terrorism program centers around an “attempt” by the agency to seize and kill Al Qaeda leaders in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
According to the story, the CIA program that agency director Leon Panetta learned of last month, and then disclosed to the House Intelligence Committee, was “an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives.”
The Journal cites unnamed “current and former government officials” who reportedly said the program had never become fully operational before Panetta ordered it shut down last month.
Cryptically, the paper states: “Republicans on the panel say that the CIA effort didn’t advance to a point where Congress clearly should have been notified.” No explanation is given as to why only Republicans on the committee would have been privy to this information. (Emphasis added)
Very interesting — especially the part about only Republicans being privy to this information.
Appoint a Special Prosecutor now, Mr Holder!
HT: Max Anax junius -1 on ThinkProgress