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WSJ: CIA Had Secret Al Qaeda Plan


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CIA Had Secret Al Qaeda Plan

Initiative at Heart of Spat With Congress Examined Ways to Seize, Kill Terror Chiefs


WASHINGTON -- 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.

Neither Mr. Panetta nor the lawmakers provided details. Mr. Panetta quashed the CIA effort after learning about it June 23.

The battle is part of a long-running tug of war between the executive branch and the legislature about how to oversee the activities of the country's intelligence services and how extensively the CIA should brief Congress. In recent years, in the light of revelations over CIA secret prisons and harsh interrogation techniques, Congress has pushed for greater oversight. The Obama administration, much like its predecessor, is resisting any moves in that direction.

Most recently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a dispute over what she knew about the use of waterboarding in interrogating terror suspects, has accused the agency of lying to lawmakers about its operations.

Republicans on the panel say that the CIA effort didn't advance to a point where Congress clearly should have been notified.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the agency "has not commented on the substance of the effort." He added that "a candid dialogue with Congress is very important to this director and this agency."

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.

"It was straight out of the movies," one of the former intelligence officials said. "It was like: Let's kill them all."

The former official said he had been told that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney didn't support such an operation. The effort appeared to die out after about six months, he said.

Former CIA Director George Tenet, who led the agency in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks, declined through a spokesman to comment.

Also in September 2001, as CIA operatives were preparing for an offensive in Afghanistan, officials drafted cables that would have authorized assassinations of specified targets on the spot.

One draft cable, later scrapped, authorized officers on the ground to "kill on sight" certain al Qaeda targets, according to one person who saw it. The context of the memo suggested it was designed for the most senior leaders in al Qaeda, this person said.

Eventually Mr. Bush issued the finding that authorized the capturing of several top al Qaeda leaders, and allowed officers to kill the targets if capturing proved too dangerous or risky.

Lawmakers first learned specifics of the CIA initiative the day after Mr. Panetta did, when he briefed them on it for 45 minutes.

House lawmakers are now making preparations for an investigation into "an important program" and why Congress wasn't told about it, said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, in an interview.

On Sunday, lawmakers criticized the Bush administration's decision not to tell Congress. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, hinted that the Bush administration may have broken the law by not telling Congress.

"We were kept in the dark. That's something that should never, ever happen again," she said. Withholding such information from Congress, she said, "is a big problem, because the law is very clear."

Ms. Feinstein said Mr. Panetta told the lawmakers that Mr. Cheney had ordered that the information be withheld from Congress. Mr. Cheney on Sunday couldn't be reached for comment through former White House aides.

The Senate's second-ranking official, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, echoed those concerns and called for an investigation, an indication of how the politics of intelligence continues to bedevil the CIA.

Separately, Attorney General Eric Holder is considering whether to order a criminal probe into whether treatment of terrorism detainees exceeded guidelines set by the Justice Department, administration officials said.

President Barack Obama and Mr. Holder have said they don't favor prosecuting lawyers who wrote legal justifications for interrogation methods that the president and his attorney general have declared to be torture. They have sought to protect CIA officers who followed the legal guidelines.

"The Department of Justice will follow the facts and the law with respect to any matter," said Matthew Miller, a department spokesman. "We have made no decisions on investigations or prosecutions, including whether to appoint a prosecutor to conduct further inquiry."

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So the CIA was being authorized to kill certain Al Qeada leaders and this is a bad thing because.....

(I guess if they are in certain countries that could be bad thing. The Brits might get up-set if we go around killing people on their soil, and it might not be worth it long term, but generally.)

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Without knowing the details of what the plan was it's hard to comment on this story.

If the plan was to drop CIA operatives into Afghanistan/Pakistan and have them infiltrate Al-Qaeda camps and kill Al-Qaeda members than I don't think the plan should have been cancelled.

If the plan was to nuke Afghanistan/Pakistan than I don't have a problem with the plan being cancelled.

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God bless the CIA and the NSA.......thank God for them and all they do. All that is going on now is POLITICAL GRAND-STANDING. (Nancy Pelosi is desperately trying to improve her public image)It's a monumental waste of time, money, and energy for ALL involved. The very moment.....yes, the very second you tell a secret to a Congressman or a Senator.....it is instantly NO LONGER A SECRET......and it's just a matter of time until enemies of the U.S. know all about it. Obama's visit to the CIA that had him scolding the agency was a complete abortion.

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WTF? Waiting for an explanation.


1. This has a lot to do with nothing

2. Panetta is a douche and DNC Hackboy

3. Congressional Dems are trying to cover Pelosi's dumbarse and are willing to smear the people in the CIA in the process. The same people who risk their lives to protect this country.

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So, supposedly, Bush directed the CIA to kill or capture al Qaeda terrorists, and eight years later, we're canceling the program, which is still in development?
The former official said he had been told that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney didn't support such an operation. The effort appeared to die out after about six months, he said


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I would be shocked as heck if there weren't many other such programs with very similar goals, that are still, necessarily under wraps and very operational.

This seems to me like some "flavor" of this type of operation, that for some reason received political attention, and is therefore being offered up as a sacrificial lamb. Sounds like it was stillborn as it was, so it was an easy decision for Panetta.

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They guy that leaks the most information Leahy is the most vocal from what i heard this morning. (this is a big deal)...

Might want to get the facts though as i don't see anything that happened.

And would support 100% the effort if it had.

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So, supposedly, Bush directed the CIA to kill or capture al Qaeda terrorists, and eight years later, we're canceling the program, which is still in development?

:hysterical: My EXACT reaction to this article. Huh?

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Sounds to me like this was a plan for something like deep cover operatives to try to get inside the organization and get to the leaders. An idea that sounds appealing and maybe even worthy of study but ultimately too dangerous with too little chance off success. Also an idea that ultimate security would be needed for because even a hint of it could get people killed even now.

There is a reasonable argument over presidential powers that happens with every administration. I don't have a problem with rational debate in that case. But it's clear that some Dems are looking to make this or anything else they can use into a witch hunt. THAT is dangerous and inexcusable.

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Well now that liberals and the spineless are in charge, there can be dialogue with Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders beginning with the current people in charge saying lots of pretty pleases with sugar on top. :rolleyes:

And I'll bet you wonder why people don't take you seriously. :doh:

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The Liberal and Spineless are in charge?

Look, this whole response to 9/11 thing is way too politicized and demonized, regardless of whose side you are on.

I am on the side of what I think is best for this country.

I wanted (and still want) the perpetrators of the attack to be brought to justice. I want (and still want) access to this country and our critical infrastructure better defended. I want (and still want) the rule of law to prevail (including oaths taken to the Constitution). I want (and still want) accountability to be prevalent in our society. I want (and still want) a return to fiscal and best practice sanity.

I wanted no part of the Iraq War, which was at best a distraction to the hunt for the 9/11 perpetrators, and at worst, a deceptive attempt to illegally gain access to the oil fields of Iraw for Haliburton, et al. and make lost of money for defense contractors and other "friends of the Administration".

I guess those things make me "spineless or liberal".

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