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Did the CIA Lie to Congress? No, Not at All

John on August 19, 2009 at 9:13 am

You remember this story from earlier in the Summer. Shortly after Nancy Pelosi erupted saying that the CIA lied to Congress, a group of Democrats leaked a letter noting that Panetta had “testified” in secret to the fact that the CIA had indeed concealed things. Here’s how that was played up on liberal MSNBC (watch as much as you can take):

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Over at the Daily Beast, Joseph Finder explains the truth about what happened. And the truth is quite different from the convenient Pelosi-escape-hatch Democrats and the media created out of this:

The Daily Beast has learned that shortly after his electrifying June 24 disclosure, Panetta spoke personally with each of his three predecessors—George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden—and only then realized the mistake he’d made about the program. An innocent mistake, but the consequences of his gaffe, which he’s unable to admit without damaging his own reputation further, will likely subject U.S. intelligence capabilities to unnecessary and intrusive oversight for years to come.

How did a mistake of this scale happen? My sources corroborate the following narrative:

On June 23, in the course of a routine briefing by the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Panetta first learned about the assassination squads. Alarmed, he terminated the program at once and called the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). He told Reyes he’d discovered something of grave concern, and requested an urgent briefing for the House and Senate intelligence committees as soon as possible. Less than 24 hours later, he was on the Hill, “with his hair on fire,” as a Republican member of the House committee put it. “The whole committee was stunned,” said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA).

Afterward, seven Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee sent Panetta an indignant letter: “Recently you testified that you have determined that top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all members of Congress, and misled members for a number of years from 2001 to this week,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote. They demanded he “correct” his statement back in May that the CIA does not mislead Congress.

Ten days later, one of them leaked the letter.


But once Panetta had spoken with Tenet, Goss, and Hayden, he learned that this secret “program” wasn’t much more than a PowerPoint presentation and a task force assigned to think it through. “Sensitive information” had been collected in a single foreign country, my sources tell me. That’s about it. It wasn’t really a coherent program at all so much as a collection of schemes, each attempting to achieve the same objective: to kill terrorists. This was one of perhaps dozens of ideas that had been kicked around at Langley since September 2001, when George W. Bush issued a presidential “finding” authorizing the agency to use deadly force against Osama bin Laden or other terrorists.

Under three successive CIA directors, these plans for paramilitary hit squads had been given three different names. (In the CIA, a program isn’t real until it’s given a codename.) But they never got off the ground. The logistical, legal, and political obstacles proved to be insurmountable. George Tenet gave up on it—too many moving parts. Porter Goss took another stab at it, but nothing, and then Gen. Michael V. Hayden’s team studied it for a while but envisioned nothing but trouble. So there was a reason that none of the last three CIA directors had briefed Congress about it: There was nothing to brief.

In fact, in all of General Hayden’s three years at CIA he had exactly two meetings on this, according to a close associate of his. More indicative, Hayden—known to be extremely punctilious—didn’t once mention these plans to George W. Bush, Stephen Hadley (Bush’s national security adviser), or Dick Cheney. (So much for “Cheney’s secret CIA program,” as so many Web sites dubbed it.)

In short, everything you read on DU, Crooks and Liars, Daily Kos and Firedoglake or heard on Air America or MSNBC was politically motivated nonsense.

But the left has never let the facts get in the way of a good narrative. So, just like Plamegate is bound for the multiplex despite the fact that almost every element of it is BS, so too with this. The CIA lied to Congress. That’s one lie you’ll have to pry from their cold, dead hands.

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Category: Politics |

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