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 him. ...That certainly seems to be the "CIA Project" of which Cheney's concealment has been making headlines over the past few days, in which the nature of the concealed program has slowly emerged.
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 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.
AP: "CIA Director Leon Panetta has terminated a 'very serious' covert program the spy agency kept secret from Congress for eight years, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a House Intelligence subcommittee chairwoman, said Friday."
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."
Wall Street Journal: "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."
New York Times: "C.I.A. Had Plan to Assassinate Qaeda Leaders—Since 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency has developed plans to dispatch small teams overseas to kill senior Qaeda terrorists, according to current and former government officials."
Washington Post: "The plan to deploy teams of assassins to kill senior terrorists was legally authorized by the administration of George W. Bush, but it never became fully operational, according to sources briefed on the matter. The sources confirmed that then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney had urged the CIA to delay notifying Congress about the diplomatically sensitive plan—a bid for secrecy that congressional Democrats now say thwarted proper oversight."
This is Bourne Identity shit we're talking about, and although "in the movies," the US sends targeted non-military assassination squads around the world killing people outside war theaters, this is not reality. It's also what we used to consider murder once upon a time.
Steve succinctly describes the issue:
In context, this isn't about operations in a combat zone. If the CIA had intelligence on an al Qaeda leader in, say, Kandahar, U.S. officials would act on that intelligence without concern for "logistical, legal and diplomatic obstacles." Indeed, predator drones make it possible to strike without sending teams of Americans at all.The Guardian politely notes that the program "pushed the limits of legality."
This secret program, however, was apparently designed to consider what to do in response to intelligence about an al Qaeda leader believed to be in, say, Hamburg, where sending a predator drone isn't an option.
For the same reason the U.S. government would be displeased with foreign paramilitary teams carrying out assassinations on American soil, the prospects of sending small, surgical U.S. assassination squads around the world, including into allied countries, proved problematic.
"It sounds great in the movies, but when you try to do it, it's not that easy," a former intelligence official said, noting the logistical challenges. "Where do you base them? What do they look like? Are they going to be sitting around at headquarters on 24-hour alert waiting to be called?" And this doesn't even touch on the legal and political difficulties.
On the one hand, an assassination program is not a huge strategic departure, nor an ethical departure, from sending drones to kill alleged al-Qaeda operatives on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. On the other hand, we're talking about committing murders in urban centers on the friendly soil of our allies without telling them what we're doing. And because the Bush administration didn't even tell Congress, it's a massive foreign policy risk with no oversight, no checks, no balances, nothing. Just Dick Cheney and his assassination squad.
In March, people said Seymour Hersh was crazy.