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What did the CIA lie to Congress about, and where was Cheney?


Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee set off a political bombshell this week. In a leaked letter, they disclosed that CIA Director Leon Panetta -- four months after taking office -- learned that his agency had misled Congress about a special project. He canceled the program and scheduled closed-door meetings with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees the next day to brief them.

Ever since, observers of the national security scene have been puzzling over the story. Aside from the disturbing -- but not particularly surprising news -- that someone at the CIA sat on this news for four months after getting a new boss, the question is: what classified program did Panetta close down?

Early speculation rested on waterboarding, a technique the Bush administration used in interrogating terrorists. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had earlier accused the CIA of misleading her on use of the controversial practice. But President Obama has already banned waterboarding, so it's not something Panetta would need to shut down.

Now, some are quoting the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, who in March alleged that a secret army of CIA operatives reported to former Vice President Dick Cheney. In remarks he has not substantiated in print, Hersh talked about "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.... It's an executive assassination ring essentially, and it's been going on and on and on."

Cheney makes a convenient target. He's already enraged Democrats for suggesting that Obama's policies are making the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. In fact, Panetta accused Cheney of hoping America would be attacked again, just to prove his point. As a result, some Republicans argue that the Democrats are just floating the Cheney rumor to deflect attention away from Pelosi's credibility on the issue.

Others argue that there is less there than meets the eye. As one unnamed former intelligence official told the Washington Post, "This characterization of something that began in 2001 and continued uninterrupted for eight years is just wrong. Honest men would question that characterization. It was more off and on." If the nature of the program could be revealed, said the source, it would be seen as "no big deal."

Either way, look for the guessing game to continue.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Comments () | Archives (7)

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So it's no big deal? Well for one lying and misleading congress the representatives of the people is a criminal act. Of course the brush administration has been doing so many illegal things for 8 years it's probably just another in a huge list. More importantly if it is "no big deal" why would the CIA commit a criminal act, if it's no big deal why not inform the congress? It must have been a big deal, they hid it, they are criminals.

An 'unnamed former intelligence official' says it's no big deal? Sounds to me like he has no clue what it is.

Of course Seymor Hersch can say anything and allege all kinds of things. Then when you can't find anything he can say its because they are so darn good at hiding things. And people who hate Bush and Cheney will agree without proof just because they hate them. What a tough story to sell to people who are already unable to process facts because of the hate of Bush/Cheney.

its really too bad that people like you cannot understand that you do not have the right to know everything that the government does. It is necessary for governments to do things in secret it is sometimes necessary for governments to kill people, yes even the leaders of other countries inorder to protect the American way of life. The President of the United States takes an oath to protect the United States not the world its is not his job to worry about the happiness of the rest of the world its his job to worry about the happiness and safety of the people of the United States and if that means that some people for other countries have to be killed inorder to protect us im not going to loose any sleep over it. I believe that President Bush understood this I can only hope that President Obama will learn that trying to make the whole world love us wont work the only way for us to be safe is to eliminate our enimies

So what Obama calls terrorist friends, and reads them thier Miranda rights! There are many Jihadist leaving all over America now!
G.W. we still need you!!!!!! You kept us safe!!!!!

Complaining about Vice President Cheney is so "yesterday!" You Liberals can't remember those great words from GET OVER IT!

There's going to come a point in time at which the Obama administration's missteps, miscalculations and just plain stupid actions can only be blamed on Obama and his team themselves. Unless you write for the LA Times...

Lying to Congress is a serious criminal offense. I wonder why no hearings into Ms. Pelosi's accusations. Shouldn't we get to the bottom of this? After all, our national security is undermined if those charged with oversight of intelligence are routinely lied to about such matters.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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