The New York Times is also reporting now that the secret Bush-era CIA program kept from Congress and terminated last month by CIA Director Leon Panetta was a plan to assassinate top al Qaeda officials that was never implemented. This is additional confirmation of the Wall Street Journal story that essentially reported the same basic outlines of the still-classified program.
The Times compares the program to drone attacks against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “This was another effort that was trying to accomplish the same objective,” Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), ranking member on the Senate intel committee, tells the paper.
But as a former CIA counterterrorism chief told TPMmuckraker today:
“The CIA runs drones and targets al Qaeda safe houses all the time,” said Cannistraro, explaining that there’s no important difference between those kinds of attacks and “assassinations” with a gun or a knife.
So regardless of how you might feel about targeted assassinations, it’s not at all clear why this particular program would be so radioactive — compared to what the U.S. was, and still is, doing more or less openly — that (1) Cheney would demand the CIA not brief Congress about it for eight years; (2) Panetta would cancel it immediately upon learning of it; and (3) Democrats would howl quite so loudly when finally informed.
Or to think about it another way, put yourself in the seat of a Democrat on one of the intel committees after 9/11. If you had any doubt about whether the intel agencies were targeting al Qaeda leaders, wouldn’t you have demanded that they show you proof they were? And if you didn’t have any doubt that they were, why are you complaining now about not being briefed?
It doesn’t add up. There’s more to this story to be told.
David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.