CIA program targeted al Qaeda leaders for assassination or kidnapping
A secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter.
The precise nature of the highly classified effort isn't clear, and the CIA won't comment on its substance.
According to current and former government officials, the agency spent money on planning and possibly some training. It was acting on a 2001 presidential legal pronouncement, known as a finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts. The initiative hadn't become fully operational at the time Mr. Panetta ended it.
In 2001, the CIA also examined the subject of targeted assassinations of al Qaeda leaders, according to three former intelligence officials. It appears that those discussions tapered off within six months. It isn't clear whether they were an early part of the CIA initiative that Mr. Panetta stopped.
The revelations about the CIA and its post-9/11 activities have emerged amid a renewed fight between the agency and congressional Democrats. Last week, seven Democratic lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee released a letter that talked about the CIA effort, which they said Mr. Panetta acknowledged hadn't been properly vetted with Congress. CIA officials had brought the matter to Mr. Panetta's attention and had recommended he inform Congress. ...
One former senior intelligence official said the program was an attempt "to achieve a capacity to carry out something that was directed in the finding," meaning it was looking for ways to capture or kill al Qaeda chieftains.
The official noted that Congress had long been briefed on the finding, and that the CIA effort wasn't so much a program as "many ideas suggested over the course of years." It hadn't come close to fruition, he added.
Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said little had been spent on the efforts -- closer to $1 million than $50 million. "The idea for this kind of program was tossed around in fits and starts," he said.
Senior CIA leaders were briefed two or three times on the most recent iteration of the initiative, the last time in the spring of 2008. At that time, CIA brass said that the effort should be narrowed and that Congress should be briefed if the preparations reached a critical stage, a former senior intelligence official said.
Amid the high alert following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a small CIA unit examined the potential for targeted assassinations of al Qaeda operatives, according to the three former officials. The Ford administration had banned assassinations in the response to investigations into intelligence abuses in the 1970s. Some officials who advocated the approach were seeking to build teams of CIA and military Special Forces commandos to emulate what the Israelis did after the Munich Olympics terrorist attacks, said another former intelligence official.
The executive order I noted earlier forbids us from assassinating the heads of state around the world. Those would be people like Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Prince Abdullah from Saudi Arabia. That executive oder has been on the books for decades, and every president has upheld it. But the leaders of al Qaeda -- Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri aren't national leaders. They're terrorist leaders.
So who had a problem with this, as it's been revealed that the heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees were briefed on this proposed idea? President Bush and Vice President Cheney didn't want to go down this road. The Journal article doesn't note a reason why they were against it, nor do they cite them directly. They cite associates that were around them. And they also note that this was not a program or plan. The CIA was simply bouncing ideas around in the wake of the worst terrorist attack on US soil.
The bigger point of this story is that the Democrats -- Leon Panetta specifically -- killed this plan. This smells a lot more like giving Nancy Pelosi cover after her recent snafu of denying ever being briefed by the CIA on waterboarding.
No one in their right mind would have been against this had the CIA constructed a plan to kidnap or kill al Qaeda leaders, and had the plan be sound. I don't know of anyone who doesn't want these leaders killed. They planned and executed an attack that killed nearly three thousand innocent Americans. To us, it seems like the only ones who don't want these animals killed are the Democrats. We have the CIA on the ground in Afghanistan, and supposedly in Pakistan, too. Let's hope that if they ever have a chance to capture or kill bin Laden or Zawahiri that they take the opportunity no matter what Panetta says.