Cheney’s covert program, hidden from Congress, could have involved assassination squad

In March of this year, respected investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, speaking before an audience at the University of Minnesota, mentioned the existence of an “executive assassination ring” run out of the Vice President’s office in the White House. Here’s what he said:

“…After 9/11 – I haven’t written about this yet – but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. That does happen.

Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to (Cheney)…

Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that (one of) its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us…”

So, now, here we are a few months later, hearing from CIA Director Leon Panetta that, after taking control of the nation’s foreign intelligence organization, he learned of a secret program reporting directly to Cheney and shut it down. And, while it hasn’t yet been said publicly what this covert group operating outside normal CIA channels may have been used for, some are suggesting that perhaps it’s what Hersh was alluding to when he talked of an executive assassination ring in March. Here’s a clip from today’s New York Times:

…The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency’s director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said Saturday.

The report that Mr. Cheney was behind the decision to conceal the still-unidentified program from Congress deepened the mystery surrounding it, suggesting that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.

Mr. Panetta, who ended the program when he first learned of its existence from subordinates on June 23, briefed the two intelligence committees about it in separate closed sessions the next day…

Republicans in Congress, who you might think would be bit upset to learn of a secret program being run behind their backs, in violation of the Constitution, seemed generally OK with the idea today. On Face the Nation this morning, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions had the following to say… “I don’t know what the facts are. But I believe that Vice President Cheney served his country with as much fidelity as he could possibly give to it. And he tried to serve us in an effective way. And I hope that nothing like this would impact on his outstanding record.”

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, however, says, “No one is above the law.”

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see whether our Attorney General, Eric Holder, has the balls, and the public support, to see where all of this goes, and hold Cheney accountable.

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  1. Oliva
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    In January, Fred V. Malek, a longtime Republican kingmaker, held a dinner to introduce Ms. Palin to some of the party’s biggest names, prompted partly by what he saw as shabby treatment by the McCain campaign. Mr. Malek said she charmed former Vice President Dick Cheney at the dinner and bonded with Mr. Cheney’s daughter Liz over both raising five children.
    –JIM RUTENBERG and SERGE F. KOVALESKI, “Retracing Palin’s Long March to a Short-Notice Resignation,” NYT, 12 July 2009,

  2. Frogger
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Cheney said that the program existed in theory only. He said it never really got off the ground. Of course, he’s about as credible as OJ.

  3. Meta
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    From Think Progress:

    CHENEY’S ‘DIRECT ORDERS’: One day after the IG report was released, the New York Times revealed another example of the Bush administration’s efforts to keep Congress in the dark about the intelligence communities activities. Last week, seven House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee released a letter revealing that CIA Director Leon Panetta had “recently testified to Congress that the agency concealed information and misled lawmakers repeatedly since 2001” about an unidentified CIA operation that was an “on-again, off-again” effort until Panetta stopped it in June. The Times reported on Saturday that Cheney gave “direct orders” for the program to be concealed from Congress. Yesterday, an intelligence official hinted to the Washington Times that the program “involved assassinations overseas but declined to provide further details.” The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the now-terminated initiative “was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives.” The WSJ also reports that in 2001, the CIA “examined the subject of targeted assassinations of al Qaeda leaders,” but “it appears that those discussions tapered off within six months” and it “isn’t clear whether they were an early part of the CIA initiative that Mr. Panetta stopped.” Congressional Democrats are now calling for the program and the lack of congressional notification to be investigated. “The executive branch of government cannot create programs like these programs and keep Congress in the dark,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). Though some Republicans acknowledge that it’s “wrong if somebody told the CIA not to inform the appropriate members of Congress,” several GOP lawmakers have sought to defend Cheney and resist an investigation.

    TORTURE — HOLDER LEANS TOWARD APPOINTING CRIMINAL PROSECUTOR: In April, President Obama revised his position on whether to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s use of torture. After initially stating “that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” Obama said “that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws, and I don’t want to prejudge that.” Over the weekend, Newsweek’s Daniel Klaidman reported that Attorney General Eric Holder “is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation practices,” though a final decision has yet to be made. The Washington Post followed up on that story with sources saying that any investigation “would apply only to activities by interrogators, working in bad faith, that fell outside the ‘four corners’ of the legal memos.” Top administration aides have previously expressed concern that an investigation “might spawn partisan debates that could overtake Obama’s ambitious legislative agenda.” If the Post report is accurate, the investigation would not include high-level policymakers who authorized the torture tactics and provided the legal framework for America’s torture regime. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald writes that an investigation that fails to hold Bush administration officials accountable would be, in effect, the worst of both worlds, because it would “bolster the principal instrument of executive lawlessness — the Beltway orthodoxy that any time a President can find a low-level DOJ functionary to authorize what he wants to do, then it is, by definition, ‘legal’ and he’s immune from prosecution when he does it, no matter how blatantly criminal it is.” A final decision is expected “within the next few weeks.”

  4. Oliva
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    I quoted that thing about Cheney (and his daughter) digging Palin because it seems like the unrepentant bad man has no shame about finding a new GWB through whom to steer his black magic and outlaw ways. Now his daughter says she might run for office. Cruel jokes, the Cheneys. (Another Palin article said she phoned Cheney before stepping down as governor. Creepy, scary.)

  5. Meta
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Looks like Hersh was right. It’s being reported that the discontinued program did involved assassination squads.

  6. Meta
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:22 am | Permalink


  7. Billy
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Wow…the government kills people, to shape policy in foriegn countries?!? When did they start doing this?!? I’m just shocked that they didn’t turn up the secret program that collected the blood of innocent children, for Dickie boy’s consumption. I heard it’s like the morning coffee for him. that dude is one evil bastard….

  8. Robert
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Nothing to see here folks. Move along.

  9. Robert
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Oh, and Oliva, nice post. I told you folks McCain was a trojan horse.

  10. Sean
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    “Top administration aides have previously expressed concern that an investigation ‘might spawn partisan debates that could overtake Obama’s ambitious legislative agenda.'”

    This is serious business, folks. Given the way that Republicans have been lining up to lend their ideas and support to national single-payer health care, the economic stimulus, and other attempts by the administration to move the US forward, can we really afford to alienate them by prosecuting the illegal excesses of the Bush-Cheney administration?

  11. Tom
    Posted July 15, 2009 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    First, if anyone needs any indication why extralegal state programs are harmful to democracy, just look up “COINTELPRO.” Honestly, it should be no surprise that putting power into the hands of so few people will result in such things as FBI agents mailing an “anonymous” letter to MLK urging him to commit suicide.

    And second, I’m reminded of the Autobiography of Malcolm X. He warns the reader to guard against conservatives and liberals alike if one is to look for root causes of social problems. But if you’re not, then I guess you’d prefer to be content with the Big Bad Ol’ Dick Cheney story to provide comfort.

  12. Arun
    Posted July 16, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Things that make you go hmmm.,8599,480240,00.html
    Those three Saudi princes all perished within days of one another. On July 22, 2002, Prince Ahmed was felled by a heart attack at age 43. One day later Prince Sultan bin Faisal bin Turki al-Saud, 41, was killed in what was called a high-speed car accident. The last member of the trio, Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, officially “died of thirst” while traveling east of Riyadh one week later. And seven months after that, Mushaf Ali Mir, by then Pakistan�s Air Marshal, perished in a plane crash in clear weather over the unruly North-West Frontier Province, along with his wife and closest confidants, Posner writes.

  13. Robert
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Did you see Cheney on Fox Sunday over the weekend. He’s scared. He knows what’s coming. I have several bets out that he’s going to get the Michael Jackson treatment before years end. You know, “oooops, overdose of medication”…that sort of thing.

  14. Robert
    Posted November 25, 2009 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    …but Cheney keeps requesting extentions to his secret service protection, and getting it. His friends may still take a pop at him anyway. Stay tuned.

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