This story is BIG and still developing.
The CIA withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress during the Bush administration on direct orders from then-Vice President Dick Cheney, current CIA director Leon Panetta told members of Congress, a knowledgeable source confirmed to CNN.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly ordered the CIA to withhold information about counterterrorism.
The disclosure to the House and Senate intelligence committees about Cheney’s involvement by Panetta was first reported in the New York Times. Efforts to contact Cheney for reaction were unsuccessful late Saturday.
The source who spoke to CNN did not want to be identified by name because the matter is classified, and CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano declined comment on the report.
The fact that Panetta recently briefed lawmakers on an unspecified counterterrorism program was first revealed Wednesday, when a letter from seven House Democrats to Panetta was made public.
More below the fold.From NYT:
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.
The question of how completely the C.I.A. informed Congress about sensitive programs has been hotly disputed by Democrats and Republicans since May, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the agency of failing to reveal in 2002 that it was waterboarding a terrorism suspect, a claim Mr. Panetta rejected.
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.
And for super-duper ultra-covert programs, the Gang of Eight can be eliminated too, huh?
So what was this “secret program”, anyways?
No one is answering the question, citing the sensitivities that come when discussing classified intelligence matters. But in various conversations with sources on and off the Hill, two general theories have emerged.
The first is that the CIA was keeping quiet about the use of waterboarding on terrorist suspects. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she was misled by the intelligence agency on that very subject. It’s also the story told to the Huffington Post by a source with knowledge of the letter the seven House Democrats penned to CIA chief Leon Panetta, in which they complained about being misled.
But the dates don’t line up. In their letter, the lawmakers note that members of Congress were “misled” for “a number of years, from 2001 to this week.” Pelosi, however, contended that the CIA lied to her about the use of harsh interrogation techniques during the fall of 2002.
Another theory being bandied about concerns an “executive assassination ring” that was allegedly set up and answered to former Vice President Dick Cheney. The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, building off earlier reporting from the New York Times, dropped news of the possibility that such a ring existed in a March 2009 discussion sponsored by the University of Minnesota.
Seems the smokescreen may be clearing… and the reveal is very ugly indeed.
This will bear watching, but watch the Sotomayor hearings and the redirect surrounding her nomination to be loudly amplified by the GOP as to further hide Darth Cheney’s evil misdeeds.