The CIA not-briefing-Congress-death-squad-Cheney-Panetta-Pelosi story.
Since 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency has developed plans to dispatch small teams overseas to kill senior Qaeda terrorists, according to current and former government officials.
The plans remained vague and were never carried out, the officials said, and Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, canceled the program last month.
Officials at the spy agency over the years ran into myriad logistical, legal and diplomatic obstacles. How could the role of the United States be masked? Should allies be informed and might they block the access of the C.I.A. teams to their targets? What if American officers or their foreign surrogates were caught in the midst of an operation? Would such activities violate international law or American restrictions on assassinations overseas?
We know that the CIA and others did try, successfully, to capture some al Qaeda leaders, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This presumably was done pursuant to Presidential authority. That being the case, it’s unclear what the Journal’s sources mean when they say that Bush’s directive was never implemented. It would seem that some more specific “program” must have been contemplated. As for the Democrats, it’s hard to understand how they can complain that no one told them the Bush administration was trying to kill or capture al Qaeda leaders like KSM. After all, it was in all the newspapers. But maybe they weren’t paying attention.
David Kurtz at TPM:
So regardless of how you might feel about targeted assassinations, it’s not at all clear why this particular program would be so radioactive — compared to what the U.S. was, and still is, doing more or less openly — that (1) Cheney would demand the CIA not brief Congress about it for eight years; (2) Panetta would cancel it immediately upon learning of it; and (3) Democrats would howl quite so loudly when finally informed.
Or to think about it another way, put yourself in the seat of a Democrat on one of the intel committees after 9/11. If you had any doubt about whether the intel agencies were targeting al Qaeda leaders, wouldn’t you have demanded that they show you proof they were? And if you didn’t have any doubt that they were, why are you complaining now about not being briefed?
It doesn’t add up. There’s more to this story to be told.
Karl at Hot Air
Could it be that CIA Director Panetta does not have a good grip on the history of his agency’s post-9/11 efforts? Could it be that his Democratic colleagues have such a knee-jerk hostility to the CIA that they would jump on bad info to attack the CIA and Fmr. Vice-Pres. Cheney as a modified limited defense of Speaker Pelosi’s prior bogus attacks on the CIA regarding briefings on interrogation tactics? Could it be that the geniuses of the NYT forgot they already blew the program?
(Hint: Yes, Yes and Yes.)
First, there must be something more. Aside from the near ubiquitous drone strikes, which seem to be fully acknowledged and non-controversial, there have been enough personal strikes against al Qaeda figures that appear likely to have been assassinations, that for all intents and purposes, it appears we are assassinating al Qaeda figures.
It may be, for example, that the conflict reported by Sy Hersh is the problem–that Special Ops has the mandate to kill but CIA is being dragged into those assassinations.
[...] But even that can’t be it. While the conflict Hersh reported pertained to Iran, not al Qaeda, Congress clearly knows about this conflict–they’ve even drafted legislation to curb it. Nevertheless, you’d think that if Congress saw this going on with regards to Iran, it’d worry them more than the same practice going on with al Qaeda.
Second, just to pre-empt the inevitable discussion of “law” every time this comes up. Yes, EO 12333 still appears to ban assassinations.
[...] So for those who will, inevitably, immediately invoke EO 12333 in arguing that assassination is “illegal,” please do your homework. EO 12333 apparently prohibits assassinations, but there’s no way we can guarantee that Bush didn’t pixie dust the EO back in 2001 when he set up his little assassination squad. Furthermore, an EO is just that, an EO, one that a President can change at will without even publicly informing Congress or the American people. While it counts as law for the Executive Branch, it is not the same as a law passed by Congress, and treating it as if it is is simple foolishness at this point.
I assume we’ll learn more about this in coming days. But thus far, I’m not convinced this is the whole of the story yet.
Peter Brookes at Heritage:
We don’t need the CIA or others to become risk-adverse in these dangerous times, but instead be willing to take on the “hard targets,” like catching Osama bin Laden and collecting intelligence on the troubling Iranian and North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs. If we’re not careful, we could end up tying up senior intelligence officials and resources in inconclusive, politically-motivated investigations, rather having them expend their time and efforts in directing our first line of defense—the intelligence community.
Our national security is earned one tough day at a time by brave, well-intentioned Americans. We can’t allow some on the Left to kick around their efforts like a political football, keeping them from the important tasks at hand.
If we do, there’s sure to be a serious price to be paid.
Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:
“Killing people during war is different from the U.S. government targeting specific persons, outside a battle zone, for killing,” said Vicki Divoll, a former lawyer for both the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “And even in the so-called war on terror, most lawyers who study this issue believe that targeted killing of a named terrorist falls within the ban in a presidential executive order that has been around since the Ford administration.”
The executive order Divoll referred to has come to be known as EO 12333, which President Reagan issued in 1981, building on the efforts of Presidents Ford and Carter. It states, “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”
Very little has been revealed about this new program, but the drone strikes appear to be entirely separate from it. On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the program Panetta shut down was an inchoate effort to hunt and assassinate terrorist leaders that did not progress far beyond the planning stages. The Guardian added on Monday that the effort was geared toward al-Qaeda members taking refuge in U.S.-allied countries, where the use of military force — and in some cases, the cooperation of domestic law enforcement or intelligence — could not be contemplated. Neither the CIA nor the White House would comment on the program.
UPDATE: From The Corner:
Karen Tumulty in Swampland
UPDATE #3: Joseph Bottum at First Things
John Schwenkler on Bottum
Rod Dreher on Bottum
In Foreign Policy:
At New Majority, Sean Linnane