Congress Should Have Been Briefed
by Charles Lemos, Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 10:19:07 PM EDT
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace that the Bush Administration should the Congress should have been told about the secret CIA program to kill Al-Qaeda operatives that Vice President Cheney ordered kept undisclosed. Here's the exchange between Senator Feinstein and Chris Wallace:
WALLACE: In our final moments, I want to turn to another subject, and this involves your role, Senator Feinstein, as chair of the Intelligence Committee.
CIA director Panetta briefed you recently on an 8-year-old program that he had stopped but that Congress had never been told about. Now there are reports that Vice President Cheney ordered the CIA not to tell Congress about it.
One, should Congress have been told about this program, which apparently was never fully implemented? And what do you make of the vice president's apparent role in telling the CIA not to brief Congress?
FEINSTEIN: The answer is yes, Congress should have been told. We should have been briefed before the commencement of this kind of sensitive program.
Director Panetta did brief us two weeks ago -- I believe it was on the 24th of June -- said he had just learned about the program, described it to us, indicated that he had canceled it and, as had been reported, did tell us that he was told that the vice president had ordered that the program not be briefed to the Congress. This is...
WALLACE: And what do you think of that?
FEINSTEIN: Oh, I think this is a problem, obviously. This is a big problem, because the law is very clear. And I understand the need of the day, which was when America was in shock, when we had been hit in a way we'd never contemplated, where we had massive loss of life, where there was a major effort to be able to respond and -- but this -- see, I don't -- I think you weaken your case when you go outside of the law.
And I think that if the Intelligence Committees had been briefed, they could have watched the program. They could have asked for regular reports on the program. They could have made judgments about the program as it went along. That was not the case because we were kept in the dark. That's something that should never, ever happen again.
CIA Director Leon Panetta briefed Congress about the still classified program on June 24, a day after learning about it and immediately canceling the program. Intelligence sources noted that the program never got off the ground and hadn't been fully instituted.
Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal reported that program apparently involved targeting high level Al Qaeda operatives.
A secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter.
The precise nature of the highly classified effort isn't clear, and the CIA won't comment on its substance.
According to current and former government officials, the agency spent money on planning and possibly some training. It was acting on a 2001 presidential legal pronouncement, known as a finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts. The initiative hadn't become fully operational at the time Mr. Panetta ended it.
In 2001, the CIA also examined the subject of targeted assassinations of al Qaeda leaders, according to three former intelligence officials. It appears that those discussions tapered off within six months. It isn't clear whether they were an early part of the CIA initiative that Mr. Panetta stopped.
While I understand the program involved assassinations of Al-Qaeda figures and is thus highly sensitive, isn't it common knowledge that the United States was targeting Al-Qaeda operatives? There has to be more to this story than just this.
Other Senators also weighed in. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second ranking Democrat in the Senate, called the failure to inform Congress "illegal."
"We have a system of checks and balances. There is accountability in our Constitution. The executive branch can not create these kind of programs ... and leave Congress in the dark. (It) is not only inappropriate, it is illegal," Senator Durbin told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he didn't know the details of the situation, but suggested that former Vice President Cheney should respond since the accusations are aimed squarely at him. He added that while it's too early for him to reach any conclusion on the claims, he's certain he'll hear more about it soon.
"If I know Washington, this is the beginning of a pretty involved and detailed story," he said.
And the Congress should act to determine if laws were broken. Congressional hearings on this matter are in order.