It's Time for a Special Prosecutor
by Charles Lemos, Sat Jul 11, 2009 at 04:39:11 PM EDT
The plot thickens, as they say. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been linked to a decision within the Bush Administration to conceal a still-unidentified CIA program from Congress. The New York Times has the story:
The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency's director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said Saturday.
The report that Mr. Cheney was behind the decision to conceal the still-unidentified program from Congress deepened the mystery surrounding it, suggesting that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.
Mr. Panetta, who ended the program when he first learned of its existence from subordinates on June 23, briefed the two intelligence committees about it in separate closed sessions the next day.
Leon Panetta was sworn in as Director of the CIA on February 20, 2009. Why did it take four months for subordinates to inform the CIA Director of an on-going program? While intelligence and Congressional officials have said the unidentified program did not involve the CIA interrogation program and did not involve domestic intelligence activities, the exact nature and purpose of the program remains unknown.
Intelligence officials have said the program was started by the counterterrorism center at the CIA 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. It remains unclear whether the program was conceived by the intelligence community or by the Vice President's office.
More from the New York Times story:
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.
The disclosure about Mr. Cheney's role in the unidentified C.I.A. program comes a day after an inspector general's report underscored the central role of the former vice president's office in restricting to a small circle of officials knowledge of the National Security Agency's program of eavesdropping without warrants, a degree of secrecy that the report concluded had hurt the effectiveness of the counterterrorism surveillance effort.
Four knowledgeable sources have told Newsweek that Attorney General Holder is leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate Bush-era torture policies and programs. The Attorney General may be in politically tough spot given the Obama Administration's penchant for looking forward and not backwards but the Attorney General also has the responsibility of enforcing the nation's laws. It's time for the Attorney General to appoint a Special Prosecutor.