National Security The Bush Legacy The War on Terrorism

Is The Secret Plan Panetta Found Hersh’s “Executive Assasination Ring”?

[digg-reddit-me]Sam Stein of the Huffington Post got there first – but when I first heard the news about the secret plan so shocking that CIA Director Leon Panetta immediately shut it down and informed Congress late last week – my first thought was of the vague remarks by Seymour Hersh this March about “an executive assassination ring” run by Vice President Cheney.

Last night, reading the Wall Street Journal piece by Siobhan Gorman, this inkling seemed confirmed. Gorman reported:

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…

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.

Most of the other pieces on this subject have linked it specifically to Cheney – which is little surprise as most of the more extreme measures taken in the aftermath of September 11 were instigated by Cheney. Stories have also noted that this program is not related to the interrogation of prisoners or the wiretapping of information.

Compare this to Hersh’s comments back in March:

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…

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.

It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.

In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.

The glaring discrepancy between the program Hersh is describing – and the one news reports are now – is that one point being emphasized in the current coverage of the concealed program is that it was never fully operational. But Sam Donaldson – in an unusual bit of worthwhile commentary – pointed out Sunday on This Week that we didn’t know how operational was being defined. He asked: Were there pilot programs? Was this tested in the field? Was there training? These questions are important – especially given how a word such as torture was parsed out of existence. And of course the most basic question, being fooled once, can we trust that this secret operation was not actually operational?

[Image by askpang licensed under Creative Commons.]