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13 Jul, 2009 18:22

Senators urge probe into CIA lies

The US Senate is calling for a probe into whether former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the concealment of clandestine CIA operations from Congress, the details of which have not been revealed so far.

Last week the House Select Committee on Intelligence announced that CIA director Leon Panetta told them about the order. According to them, the CIA has kept Congress in the dark for the past eight years.

Committee head Dianne Feinstein called the failure to inform Congress “a big problem, because the law is very clear.”

“I think that if the Intelligence Committees had been briefed, they could have watched the program. They could have asked for regular reports on the program. They could have made judgments about the program as it went along. That was not the case because we were kept in the dark. That’s something that should never, ever happen again,” she said.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, chairwoman of the House Intelligence Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said on Sunday a formal investigation into the matter the Bush administration’s decision to keep Congress in the dark is needed.

Although some call the concealing of the information from Congress illegal, others view the scandal as an attempt to provide political cover for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats. Recently, Pelosi accused the CIA of misleading her in 2002 about the use of waterboarding, or simulated drowning, during the interrogation of terror suspects.

Republicans have publicly called the attacks on Cheney a witch hunt and also say the controversy only creates obstacles for the CIA’s work.

“This continued attack on the CIA and our intelligence gathering organizations is undermining the morale and capacity of those organizations to gather intelligence,” AP quotes Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire as saying.

As for President Barack Obama, he has been reluctant to probe Bush-era torture and anti-terrorism policies so far. Nor has he shown any willingness to hold Cheney accountable.

Earlier, the media suggested the secret CIA program in question was linked to either domestic surveillance without judicial oversight or harsh interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists.

Now US media, citing their own sources, mostly say that it is unrelated to the two controversial counterterrorism programs launched by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the program was aimed at killing or capturing Al Qaeda operatives. The Journal quoted unnamed former intelligence officials as saying that CIA spent some money on planning and possibly some training, but that the initiative has never become fully operational.

Legal provisions

The law in question, the National Security Act of 1947, is not equivocal about the necessity to inform Congress of CIA operations:

“The President shall ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.”

The Act still provides room for maneuver for the CIA director and other officials, stipulating the obligation is fulfilled “to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters.”