Something Worse Than Torture?
The scariest thing about this Congress/CIA dispute is that whatever Leon Panetta admitted that the agency hid from Congress isn't yet known.
Four months after he was sworn in, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta learned of an intelligence program that had been hidden from Congress since 2001, a revelation that prompted him to immediately cancel the initiative and schedule a pair of closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill.
The next day, June 24, Panetta informed the House and Senate intelligence committees of the program and the action he had taken, according to Democratic and Republican members of the panels.
The incident has reignited a long-running dispute between congressional Democrats and the CIA, with some calling it part of a broader pattern of the agency withholding information from Congress. Some Republicans, meanwhile, privately questioned whether Panetta -- who has stood with CIA officers in a dispute with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- was looking to score points with House Democrats.
The program remains classified, and those knowledgeable about it would describe it only vaguely yesterday. Several current and former administration officials called it an "on-again, off-again" attempt to create a new intelligence capability and said it was related to the collection of information on suspected terrorists that was instituted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Congressional Republicans said no briefing about the program was required because it was not a major tool used against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. They accused Democrats of using the matter to divert attention away from Pelosi's accusation that CIA officials intentionally misled her in 2002 about the agency's interrogations of suspected terrorists.
You have to love the good Germans in the Congressional GOP. As long as it had nothing to do with terrorism, it could be concealed from federally mandated oversight? First of all, that doesn't even seem right, given the hints in the article by officials that the secret program was run out of the CIA Counterterrorism Center. Second, whatever you want to say about Democrats, at least they know when to be outraged. Clearly, Republicans don't want to admit the wholly unsurprising conclusion that the CIA lies to Congress, because then Nancy Pelosi might be in for an apology. So they soft-pedal the program, which, since it's classified, cannot be revealed.
Sam Stein speculates that maybe we're talking about Seymour Hersh's executive assassination ring:
So what are the "significant actions" that these seven lawmakers insist were kept from Congress? Another theory being bandied about concerns an "executive assassination ring" that was allegedly set up and answered to former Vice President Dick Cheney. The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, building off earlier reporting from the New York Times, dropped news of the possibility that such a ring existed in a March 2009 discussion sponsored by the University of Minnesota.
"It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently," Hersh said. "They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. ...
"Congress has no oversight of it," he added. "It's an executive assassination ring essentially, and it's been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That's been going on, in the name of all of us."
I do not believe that something which the CIA's own leadership didn't tell Panetta about until months into his tenure is simply benign. And at some point, this fresh horror will get out, another stain from the Bush regime. The White House cannot just ignore all this and expect it to go away.