Monday, July 20, 2009

CIA and Dick Cheney Assassinations

by Maggie at Maggie's Notebook

Democrats in Congress are outraged that the Pentagon and CIA were developing a plan to "assassinate" al Qaeda in Iraq. The assassination teams would be CIA personnel, and not U.S. Military. Especially heinous to Congress is that the Pentagon did not brief appropriate Congressional members about the incomplete and unimplemented plan.

CIA



Americans are no longer shocked to hear that we have not always targeted all al Qaeda members, including leaders...especially leaders...since the war began after 9-11. We are no longer shocked at much we hear, because doing what makes no sense is exactly what Congress always does. Nevertheless, while not shocked, we are surprised, and along with our surprise comes puzzlement. Why would we need a secret program, even assuming Congress is briefed, to kill top al-Qaeda members?

Targeted killing of terrorists is prohibited by presidential orders banning assassinations that date back to the Ford administration. But the president can waive that order, said Vicki Divoll, a former CIA counsel, because there is no specific federal law that bans the practice.

There's also no legal difference, she said, between killing al Qaeda targets with a hit team or with an unmanned drone, because the "intent to kill a targeted person" defines an assassination.

The "air strikes" are what made this never-implemented plan different. According to officials, it was okay to target and kill al Qadea with air strikes, but not okay to target and kill al Qaeda "at close range," - what might include hand-to-hand combat. Killing "at close range" might risk "civilian casualties." For now, the CIA will have to be satisfied with Predator Drones - except that Congress can't keep it's mouth shut about them either. While Pakistan recently complained about Predator drones taking off and landing inside their borders, officials assured Pakistan that only surveillance drones are used inside the country, not the Predator which is capable of launching missiles.
Privately, though, Pakistani officials doubt that claim, especially after the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Diane Feinstein, (D-CA), suggested 10 days ago that the CIA Predator drones do indeed use Pakistani airfields and not necessarily Afghan airfields, as most assume.
According to an anonymous source at the CIA, Dick Cheney directed the agency not to inform Congress of the specifics of the secret program.
Panetta told the committees there was no indication that there was anything illegal or inappropriate about the effort itself, the official said.

CIA directors since 2001 agreed with Cheney's decision not to inform Congress because the highly classified operation, described as "sporadic" and "embryonic," never managed to turn up the intelligence needed to carry out a kill and was not considered a covert operation, according to a former intelligence official. That official also was not authorized to discuss the program and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Congress has a right to know everything the CIA does, but the president can by law limit those told about covert operations to just the top four members of the House and Senate from the two parties and the senior members of the intelligence committees. Democrats on the House intelligence committee are pushing for a legal provision that would require the president to brief both committees in their entirety more often, but the White House has threatened to veto the move.
DefenseTech.org reminds us of Sandi Berger letting Osama bin Laden escape in Afghanistan, rather than chance civilian casualties: Doesn't this sort of smack of Sandi Berger-esque national security policy?
We know from the 9-11 commission report that Berger got cold feet when he had bin Laden in his sights for a proxy raid in Afghanistan because he was afraid of collateral damage and blowback. Now some of the same national security policy minds are back in the driver's seat so we can cancel a program to kill bad guys using CIA assets.
Here is the directive for how and when the CIA program would have been implemented:

Had it become fully developed, the CIA's aborted plan would have been a covert-action program. At the outset, the potential operation wouldn't have been limited to particular countries. The use of hit teams was in accordance with the authority granted by the 2001 order, said a former national-security official familiar with it.

In the most recent iteration of the project, top CIA leaders instructed officers involved to narrow its focus and report the plans to Congress if they reached a critical point where moving forward would involve activities that, if discovered, could embarrass the U.S., according to a former senior intelligence official.

Among all the punditry on this subject, we've heard little to nothing about the distinction between targeting for air strikes or targeting for "close contact," but surprisingly to me, there is a U.S policy prohibiting the "assassination" of anyone, not just heads of State!

Targeted killing of terrorists is prohibited by presidential orders banning assassinations that date back to the Ford administration. But the president can waive that order, said Vicki Divoll, a former CIA counsel, because there is no specific federal law that bans the practice.

There's also no legal difference, she said, between killing al Qaeda targets with a hit team or with an unmanned drone, because the "intent to kill a targeted person" defines an assassination.

However, that is not the end of the story. The rest of the story involves the Joint special Operations Command (JSOC). The JSOC is a somewhat secret branch of the U.S. Special Operations Command. The Special Operations Command is made-up of "special mission units." Among these units are the Delta Force and Seal Team Six. During the Iraq War other elite groups were known as "Grey Fox," "Capacity Gear" and "Titrant Ranger."

Pulitzer Prize winning investigating "journalist," Sy Hersh has charged that during the Bush-Cheney years the JSOC reported directly to Dick Cheney and no one else. He termed it an "executive assassination ring." The New York Times columnist didn't make the accusations in the NYT, but from podiums on college campuses, at the ACLU and public radio. New York Magazine writer Chris Suellentrop calls Hersh "the runaway mouth of America's premier investigative journalist."Bill Roggio writing for the Weekly Standard Blog says the Hersh claims that the JSOC reports to no one, or only to Cheney during the Bush-Cheney years, is false; they report to the Secretary of Defense and also falls under congressional oversight.

From Marc Ambinder:

JSOC units are very active in Iraq and Afghanistan; in those countries, since the U.S. is formally at war, their conduct can't really be analogized to an extra-legal hit squad....What's objectionable, in theory, is that the President can designate anyone as a terrorist and task JSOC with finding and executing them -- even if the person is not living in the war theatre and has never been charged with a crime. In practice, that's what presidents from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton have believed (the following from a 2001 report).
Senior intelligence officials confirm that a secret finding recently signed by President Bush, building on an earlier one by President Clinton, grant the CIA legal authority to conduct assassination operations against individuals designated as terrorists. As a result, the CIA is devising strategy and policy to that end, and is developing assets for assassinations within both the CIA and "uniformed military units," as well as foreign agents in Middle Eastern countries.
The outrage is likely a convenient smoke screen designed to take the focus off of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's accusation that the CIA "lies all the time." Target Dick Cheney's so-called assassination plots and the Dems might think they have a winner. Complain that the CIA targets al Qaeda and the Dems might think they have a winner...but maybe not. Just maybe we expect Congress to support every tactic possible to win these wars.

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