There's been a sudden flood of information about secret programs linked to the CIA and to Busg administration, especially vice president Dick Cheney. Indeed, the stories overlapped in a way that seemed to confuse the 24/7 news cycle with too much information. Specifically, we learned at the same time that the Bush White House had circumvented the normal channels -- using John Yoo as its point man -- to get the OK for a spying program that became known as the President's Surveillance Program, the details of which are largely unknown. Then we learned that the CIA had also been hiding from Congress information about a reported assassination squad that would target al-Qaeda leaders around the globe.
Over the last day or two, it's been the hit squad that's been getting the headlines. But you have wonder...why all the fuss about a plan to kill al-Qaeda leaders? Why would the Bush administration have thought there'd be such negative reaction from Congress, which was rubber-stamping everything with the word "terror" attached to it after 9/11, that it felt the need to essentially break the law by keeping it secret. As the New York Times correctly points out, we already have such a program that is widely known and has been supported by the Bush and the Obama administrations, but it involved firing missiles from unmanned drones rather than teams of trained CIA killers. Although clearly there were massive logistical and political issues (can you imagine the uproar in Saudi Arabia, which would be a logical staging area?), which is why the program never got off the ground, the idea was not on its face illegal; the much-discussed mid-1970s assassination ban by then-President Gerald Ford only covers foreign leaders, not terror suspects.
David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo is thinking what others are thinking, that something still isn't adding up:
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.
And here's an expert who agrees:
Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief, told TPMmuckraker that because we've been in a state of war against al Qaeda since just after September 11, there would have been no need for a secret CIA program that received special legal authorization.
He later adds:
As for what the program did involve, Cannistraro suggested that it involved Americans as targets, and that it went beyond surveillance, but declined to elaborate. He added that, though Cheney may have directly ordered the CIA to keep Congress in the dark, the veep wasn't acting alone. "The approval was from the president," said Cannistraro.
Look, the CIA is supposed to be very good at misinformation campaigns -- that's why we pay them the big bucks. And I can't help but wonder if that's not what's happening here ("The Cheney Deception," sounds like a Ludlum novel, doesn't it?). The programs that would have caused the greatest uproar among Congress and the American people would have involved domestic operations (which the CIA is supposed to be banned from carrying out) that would have entailed spying on U.S. citizens, or worse. Perhaps it's related to this President's Surveillance Program, perhaps not. I do think that the idea of a hit squad reporting to Cheney is a shiny metal object that can easily distract our ADD-addled media.
I also still think most Americans want the truth of what happened during the Bush years, whether that comes by means of a Truth Commission or criminal prosecutions or both. Some say that truth would undermine ongoing national security efforts, other say that looking backward would hurt Obama politically. Those arguments ignore the reality on the ground, that something resembling the truth is dribbling out, but wrapped in misleading packages. Getting the actual truth out there in one fell swoop would actually be the best way for America to move forward.