Earlier today, we raised a few questions about the notion that the secret CIA program that Dick Cheney reportedly withheld from Congress concerned an effort to kill or capture al Qaeda leaders. And now a top counter-terror expert is doing the same.
Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief, told TPMmuckraker that because we’ve been in a state of war against al Qaeda since just after September 11, there would have been no need for a secret CIA program that received special legal authorization.
Since the war on terror began, said Cannistraro, the CIA has routinely conducted operations targeting top Qaeda leaders. “The CIA runs drones and targets al Qaeda safe houses all the time,” said Cannistraro, explaining that there’s no important difference between those kinds of attacks and “assassinations” with a gun or a knife.
Cannistraro said the Defense Department has also conducted such targeted efforts, under an initiative that New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh has written about.
In January 2005, Hersh reported:
Under Rumsfeld’s new approach, I was told, U.S. military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists. This could potentially involve organizing and carrying out combat operations, or even terrorist activities. Some operations will likely take place in nations in which there is an American diplomatic mission, with an Ambassador and a C.I.A. station chief, the Pentagon consultant said. The Ambassador and the station chief would not necessarily have a need to know, under the Pentagon’s current interpretation of its reporting requirement.
The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls “action teams” in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. “Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?” the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. “We founded them and we financed them,” he said. “The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren’t going to tell Congress about it.” A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon’s commando capabilities, said, “We’re going to be riding with the bad boys.”
The Rumsfeld initiative seems to be the subject of this report from a few hours ago in The Guardian.
But Cannistraro cautioned that that DOD program has nothing to do with the secret, unidentified CIA program which Cheney is said to have hid from Congress, and which CIA director Leon Panetta ended last month.
As for what the program did involve, Cannistraro suggested that it involved Americans as targets, and that it went beyond surveillance, but declined to elaborate. He added that, though Cheney may have directly ordered the CIA to keep Congress in the dark, the veep wasn’t acting alone. “The approval was from the president,” said Cannistraro.