No Comment — July 16, 2009, 11:39 am

WaPo: Snuff Program Was Close to Activation

This morning the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick offers an account of the Cheney-linked covert CIA program drawing on “two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.”

CIA officials were proposing to activate a plan to train anti-terrorist assassination teams overseas when agency managers brought the secret program to the attention of CIA Director Leon Panetta last month, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The plan to kill top al-Qaeda leaders, which had been on the agency’s back burner for much of the past eight years, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of proposals to initiate what one intelligence official called a “somewhat more operational phase.” Shortly after learning of the plan, Panetta terminated the program and then went to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers, who had been kept in the dark since 2001.

Agency leaders are at this point obviously focused on damage control and desperate to ward off still more demands for a criminal inquiry. That helps explain the defensive line in this report: namely, this was all talk about a potential program, nothing that had actually been put in place. This could be true, but it’s a pretty simplistic dodge, and the evidence that a targeted killing program was operational is mounting. It is noteworthy, however, that most of the evidence for that program puts it squarely under the aegis of JSOC, the military’s special forces command, and not the CIA. Documents that have emerged in the course of the torture investigation point repeatedly to high-level coordination of JSOC and CIA operations, however, and they point to friction as CIA seniors sensed their prime role in intelligence black operations was being usurped by Stephen Cambone and his pet project at the Pentagon.

Still, the internal merits of the targeted killings program are far less interesting in my mind than the oversight issue. This points to a systematic circumvention of Congressional oversight of the intelligence community. And contemporary statements by Dick Cheney in which he intimated his distrust of Congressional oversight (reflected in Karl Rove’s revealing statement on Fox News that “it’s so dangerous to give Congress information”—this from a man who’s been dodging a congressional subpoena for two years) make plain that the failure was calculated. Dennis C. Blair discusses the matter in jarring terms: “We believe in erring on the side of working with the Hill as a partner,” he says, implying like Rove and Cheney that sharing information with Congress could be a “mistake.”

What lies under the surface here is an ancient squabble between Congress and the Executive over access to classified information that is particularly acute in the field of covert operations. The Cheney-Addington view is that Congress has no right to such information; that the Executive shares the information to assist lawmakers in performing their proper constitutional function, but also has the right to withhold information as it sees fit in the interests of national security. The provision of the National Security Act of 1947 that mandates the sharing of such information is, in their view, an unconstitutional intrusion upon presidential authority. (That view runs, for instance, through the November 1987 Iran-Contra House minority report in which both were involved.) Admiral Blair’s comments may echo this view, which was also advanced by President Nixon. The real question is whether Congress is prepared to stand up and assert its right of oversight. If it retreats in the face of these claims, Congress will effectively be acknowledging the president’s claims and undercutting its own oversight authority.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2016

Prose by Any Other Name

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The New Red Scare

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Separated at Birth

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Priest in the Trees

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Lightness

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

With Child

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
With Child·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Photograph (detail) by Lara Shipley
Article
Swat Team·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As we shall see, for the sort of people who write and edit the opinion pages of the Post, there was something deeply threatening about Sanders and his political views."
Illustration (detail) by John Ritter
Article
Escape from The Caliphate·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"When Matti invited me on a tour of the neighborhood, I asked about security. 'The message has already been passed to ISIS that you’re here,' he said. 'But don’t worry. I guarantee I could bring even you in and out of the Islamic State.'"
Photograph (detail) by Alice Martins
Article
In This One·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Illustration (detail) by Shonagh Rae
Article
“Don’t Touch My Medicare!”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Medicare’s popularity, however, comes with almost no understanding of what the program is and how it works."
Illustration (detail) by Nate Kitch

Estimated number of people who watched a live Webcast of a hair transplant last fall:

8,000

A rancher in Texas was developing a system that will permit hunters to kill animals by remote control via a website.

A man in Japan was arrested for stealing a prospective employer’s wallet during a job interview, and a court in Germany ruled that it is safe for a woman with breast implants to be a police officer.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today