So this was the reason for all the hub-bub?
On June 23, 2009, Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta learned of a highly compartmentalized program to assassinate al Qaeda operatives that was launched by the CIA in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. When Panetta found out that the covert program had not been disclosed to Congress, he canceled it and then called an emergency meeting June 24 to brief congressional oversight committees on the program. Over the past week, many details of the program have been leaked to the press and the issue has received extensive media coverage.
That a program existed to assassinate al Qaeda leaders should certainly come as no surprise to anyone. It has been well-publicized that the Clinton administration had launched military operations and attempted to use covert programs to strike the al Qaeda leadership in the wake of the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings. In fact, the Clinton administration has come under strong criticism for not doing more to decapitate al Qaeda prior to 2001. Furthermore, since 2002, the CIA has conducted scores of strikes against al Qaeda targets in Pakistan using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like the MQ-1 Predator and the larger MQ-9 Reaper.
These strikes have dramatically increased over the past two years and the pace did not slacken when the Obama administration came to power in January. So far in 2009 there have been more than two dozen UAV strikes in Pakistan alone. In November 2002, the CIA also employed a UAV to kill Abu Ali al-Harithi, a senior al Qaeda leader suspected of planning the October 2000 attack against the USS Cole. The U.S. government has also attacked al Qaeda leaders at other times and in other places, such as the May 1, 2008, attack against al Qaeda-linked figures in Somalia using an AC-130 gunship.
A program being set in place to kill the leadership of our enemy….and somehow, someway, this is shocking to people. Why in the world would we NOT have a program like this set up?
As early as Oct. 28, 2001, The Washington Post ran a story discussing the Clinton-era presidential finding authorizing operations to capture or kill al Qaeda targets. The Oct. 28 Washington Post story also provided details of a finding signed by President George W. Bush following the 9/11 attacks that reportedly provided authorization to strike a larger cross section of al Qaeda targets, including those who are not in the Afghan theater of operations. Such presidential findings are used to authorize covert actions, but in this case the finding would also provide permission to contravene Executive Order 12333, which prohibits assassinations.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Bush and the members of his administration were very clear that they sought to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and the members of the al Qaeda organization. During the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections in the United States, every major candidate, including Barack Obama, stated that they would seek to kill bin Laden and destroy al Qaeda. Indeed, on the campaign trail, Obama was quite vocal in his criticism of the Bush administration for not doing more to go after al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan. This means that, regardless of who is in the White House, it is U.S. policy to go after individual al Qaeda members as well as the al Qaeda organization.
But now a real lightweight scared little politician, in one Leon Panetta, has blown the whistle and caused it’s demise. And we fall farther back into the realm of September 10th, 2001. Just asking to be attacked.
Hell, even Time writer Robert Baer, a CIA veteran, is calling this controversy bulls&*t:
But like many of these stories, there’s less to it than meets the eye. The unit conducted no assassinations or grabs. A former CIA officer involved in the program told me that no targets were picked, no weapons issued and no one sent overseas to carry out anything. “It was little more than a PowerPoint presentation,” he said. “Why would we tell Congress?”
That’s a good question, especially since the program was an open secret. On Oct. 28, 2001, the Washington Post ran an article with the title “CIA Weighs ‘Targeted Killing’ Missions.” And in 2006, New York Times reporter James Risen wrote a book in which he revealed the program’s secret code name, Box Top . Moreover, it is well known that on Nov. 3, 2002, the CIA launched a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone over Yemen, killing an al-Qaeda member involved in the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. And who knows how many “targeted killings” there have been in Afghanistan and Iraq?~~~
So why all the fuss? Very likely because of that word assassination. I found out the weight of the term in Washington when I was still in the CIA. In the spring of 1995 I was in charge of a small unit in northern Iraq. It was a time when it appeared that with only a little push, Saddam Hussein would fall. There were plans for a military coup, which were quickly twisted into rumors of a plan to assassinate Saddam. The Clinton White House picked up the assassination part and called the CIA to check. My team and I were pulled back to Washington. The FBI investigated, decided no one had planned to assassinate anyone, and dropped the matter. Eventually the Department of Justice sent a letter to the CIA “declining” to prosecute us for attempted murder.
And now this may very well kill the CIA, and our security with it:
I think we’re going to find out that the CIA’s assassination program was dealing in pure hypotheticals, ones it intended to tell Congress about if they became real possibilities. (I won’t try to guess what Cheney would have done.) Yet however overblown the story, if a full-fledged investigation into it does occur, it could be the last nail in the CIA’s coffin. This Congress could succeed where the Church Committee failed. Even if things are not that dire — people are always talking about abolishing the CIA — it will undermine morale for years.
The mind boggles. Everyone, even the far left, whined that we had not assassinated Osama. When was it going to happen they asked. Why hadn’t Bush got it done they whined.
But now that a program existed, and which may have become operational sometime soon, it’s trashed….and the CIA with it.
Stratfor explains why this program was so compartmentalized:
Because of the physical risk to the officers involved in such operations, and the political blowback such operations can cause, it is not surprising that the details of such a program would be strictly compartmentalized inside the CIA and not widely disseminated beyond the gates of Langley. In fact, it is highly doubtful that the details of such a program were even widely known inside the CIA’s counterterrorism center (CTC) — though almost certainly some of the CTC staff suspected that such a covert program existed somewhere. The details regarding such a program were undoubtedly guarded carefully within the clandestine service, with the officer in charge most likely reporting directly to the deputy director of operations, who reports personally to the director of the CIA.
As trite as this old saying may sound, it is painfully true. In the counterterrorism realm, leaks destroy counterterrorism cases and often allow terrorist suspects to escape and kill again. There have been several leaks of “sources and methods” by congressional sources over the past decade that have disclosed details of sensitive U.S. government programs designed to do things such as intercept al Qaeda satellite phone signals and track al Qaeda financing. A classified appendix to the report of the 2005 Robb-Silberman Commission on Intelligence Capabilities (which incidentally was leaked to the press) discussed several such leaks, noted the costs they impose on the American taxpayers and highlighted the damage they do to intelligence programs.
But as Baer said, it was a powerpoint presentation. They wanted it to move forward and it was moved up the chain of command, Panetta, and he kills it. Announcing to al-Qaeda that they no longer have to fear being killed.
The USA is once again a paper tiger.