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CIA Program Too Good to Be True?

What is so controversial about killing al-Qaida bigwigs and avoiding civilian casualties that the CIA would have to conceal such things from Congress? The usual anonymous officials have emerged to explain the secret CIA program Dick Cheney and the agency are supposed to have hidden, and something smells awfully fishy.

Here’s how the AP, relying on anonymous sources, describes the program:

The program, which never got off the ground and remains shrouded in mystery, was designed to target leaders of the terrorism network at close range, rather than with airstrikes that risked civilian casualties, government officials with knowledge of the operation said Monday. [Link]

First of all, since when has collateral damage been high on Dick Cheney’s priority list?

And what politician is going to object to either (a) killing al-Qaida leaders or (b) not killing civilians?

It’s not even clear that the program broke the law. One well-placed source told Associated Press that CIA Director Leon Panetta, a Democrat appointed by President Obama, had told congressional committees “there was no indication that there was anything illegal or inappropriate about the effort itself.”

And this from a CNN Internet item from 2002 titled “U.S. policy on assassinations”:

“According to an October 21, 2001, Washington Post article, President Bush in September of last year signed an intelligence ‘finding’ instructing the CIA to engage in ‘lethal covert operations’ to destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization.

“White House and CIA lawyers believe that the intelligence ‘finding’ is constitutional because the ban on political assassination does not apply to wartime. They also contend that the [1976 executive order banning political assassinations] does not preclude the United States taking action against terrorists.”

It has been widely publicized that the United States has either killed or tried to kill al-Qaida leaders with attacks from conventional aircraft or aerial drones. These air raids — which sadly have claimed many innocent victims — have occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.

According to the anonymous officials, the “embryonic” CIA program never got under way.

Apparently Intelligence Committee Democrats in both chambers of Congress are flipping out over a program that was, we are told, appealing, uncontroversial and nonexistent. Either the Democrats are upset for no good reason or Dick Cheney has friends in the leak business who are painting some rightly enraged legislators as wing nuts.

Could this program be the fabled Cheney hit squad Seymour Hersh once alluded to?

As with all secret programs, we are left guessing at shadows, wondering what our government has done in our name.

Related: Former CIA Director Michael Hayden tells NPR that Cheney never told him to keep details from Congress.

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