Nukes & Spooks notes the move to probe CIA’s notification policy:
The chairman of the House intelligence commitee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said Friday that the panel is opening an investigation into whether the CIA has properly notified Congress of significant covert actions.
Reyes’ move was triggered by CIA Director Leon Panetta’s June 24 disclosure that Congress had not been notified of a major planned counter-terrorism program, later reported to be an agency effort to form elite teams to hunt down and kill top terrorist operatives at close range. The effort never got off the ground, and then-Vice President Dick Cheney told the agency not to tell Congress’ intelligence committees of the matter.
It appears from what’s emerging in recent days that “all options are on the table” discussions led to at least two major proposals:
- Elite teams for up-close kills
- Drones for remote kills
There were probably many other options discussed, but these are the two we know the most about. The former was apparently too problematic to pursue (so far as the public knows), and the latter became the most public means of addressing the problem, albeit with some mixed results on collateral damage and territorial disputes.
The matter of organizational interest here, of course, is the clarification and observance of policy; specifically, what does the somewhat vague language of the National Security Act of 1947 require? At present, the interpretation of the language tends to provide some cover and discretion for CIA in failing to disclose sensitive information, especially if that information is able to be classified as early-stage and non-operational. Put another way, you don’t have to tell anyone if you’re just tossing ideas around.
The likely outcome from the investigation is some sort of middle way that gives Congress some satisfaction and stops short of punishing the CIA, though I wouldn’t rule out some rebuke. CIA has spent most of its existence as a politically convenient “whipping child”, to quote Senator Judd Gregg.
An interesting question, though: to what degree might the program have been discussed as an alternative to war rather than a complement to it?
[Bonus trivia: The National Security Act was signed aboard Truman’s Douglas C-54 Skymaster presidential plane, the precursor to Air Force One. That plane was called The Sacred Cow.]