Cheney ordered CIA program kept secret (Updated)

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,

Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney

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?  Continue reading