Dick Cheney, gun-toting, friend-shooting, torture-denying ex-Vice President of the Bush administration, is in further strife over claims that he ordered that a CIA counterterrorism program begun after 9/11 be kept secret from Congress.

In the heat of 9/11 and the War on Terror, the CIA started a program aimed at wiping out al-Qaeda operatives abroad. Cheney specifically kept the program quiet from Congress, possibly because it may have caused tension with governments the US was “friendly” with. The scandal came out eight years after the fact, when CIA director Leon Panetta briefed the Senate and House intelligence committees on Saturday, after closing the program just a few weeks ago.

The New York Times broke the story on the weekend, seeming almost unsurprised by the allegations against Cheney, who they dubbed the “most vehement defender of the secrecy of government activities”.

The NYT points out the confusion with who knows what in the US government. Intelligence committees are supposed to be briefed on “any significant intelligence activity”, but the National Security Act of 1947 and covert action programs have completely different rules depending on how sensitive intelligence sources are.

So should Cheney’s actions be investigated further? The Times notes that many Democrats have demanded an investigation into the Bush administration, particularly in light of previous terror allegations.

However, it also reports that President Obama “has been reluctant to pursue any such inquiry and is concerned that it would open political divisions and endanger his urgent domestic agenda of economic rescue, healthcare reform and dealing with climate change.”

The precise nature of the CIA program remains unclear, however rumours abound that it involved the authorisation of capturing or killing al-Qaeda operatives and money was spent by the CIA on planning and some training.

The Guardian reports that the program involved possible killings on American allies’ soil (allies is used here in a loose sense):

Former counter-terrorism officials who retain close links to the intelligence community say that the hidden operation involved plans by the CIA and the military to launch operations, similar to those by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, to hunt down and kill al-Qaida activists abroad without informing the governments concerned, even though some were regarded as friendly if unreliable.

The CIA apparently did not put the plan in to operation but the US military did, carrying out several assassinations including one in Kenya that proved to be a severe embarrassment and helped lead to the quashing of the programme.

The Wall Street Journal details similar plans:

“It was straight out of the movies,” one of the former intelligence officials said. “It was like: Let’s kill them all.”

And perhaps former US President George W Bush was involved as well? TPM Muckraker spoke to former CIA counterterrorism chief Vince Cannistraro who thinks so:

…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.

Even daughter Liz Cheney, with all her future political prospects, is coming out to publicly bat for her papa.

I am really surprised that the Democrats decide that that’s what they want to fight over. I mean, if they want to go to the American people and say that they disagree with the notion that we ought to be capturing and killing al-Qaeda leaders, I think it’s just going to prove to the American people one more time why they can’t trust the Democrats with our national security.

Perhaps, as in the words of John Nichol at The Nation, “Dick Cheney’s accountability moment may finally be arriving”.

Considering the role of Vice President has previously been called by President — and former Vice President — John Adams “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived” and FDR’s VP, John Nance Garner, said that the job of VP wasn’t “worth a pitcher of warm piss”, Cheney managed to at least make it a bit more exciting.

Even if his actions may prove to be illegal, immoral and probable cause for investigation.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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