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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Cheney Linked to Terror Program Coverup

The New York Times is reporting that CIA director Leon Panetta has informed the House and Senate intelligence committees that the CIA hid from Congress a secret counterterrorism program by direct order of then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

This comes at the heels of a report from the inspectors general of the five primary U.S. intelligence agencies showing that Cheney's NSA wiretap program not only didn't work, but may have made America less safe, and that withholding notification for the program was a key reason why it was ineffective.

(As an interesting aside, a notably loud voice against the Bush administration's tendency to cover up these programs came in a protest vote against confirmation of Gen. Hayden as Director of Central Intelligence in '06 -- by then-Republican senator Arlen Specter.)

The current incident is on even shakier ethical and legal ground, however, as it can be seen as utterly violating the National Security Act of 1947, which requires Congressional notification for any existing or anticipated U.S. intelligence activity. The Times article notes that some leeway is granted in the Act -- but that leeway is expressly reserved for cases where some possibility of an information leak is suspected, and even then, for such covert operations, limited notification would still be required, in the form of notifying the chairs and ranking members of the congressional intelligence committees -- the Gang of Eight.

Interestingly, it was likely never really thought that notification of something like this could be limited at all, let alone to the Gang of Eight. That's because the Act does specify that such partial limitations are specifically for covert actions -- and that has always implied covert foreign actions. After all, a domestic covert op was considered pretty much unthinkable, as fundamentally opposed to the sort of transparency that a representative democracy calls for.

Operative word there clearly being "was."

Re: Cheney Linked to Terror Program Coverup

According to reports today, the CIA withheld information about a secret counter terrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney. 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.” He points out that the CIA already encourages every one of its agents to take out personal liability insurance, just in case they're prosecuted, if one White House decides whatever the cash advance last one authorized was illegal.

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