Weirdness over the CIA

The_bourne_identity,_2002,_matt_damon,_franka_potente,_chris_cooper The CIA, "the Christians In Action," the Klingons," or whatever nickname you prefer for them.  I'm not one of them, never was, and I like to make jokes about having caught the odd DO man making a truthful statement from time to time, but the weirdness over the "ASSASINATION PROGRAM" is silly.

A few points:

– CIA thought up this plan AFTER 9/11.  That means that they were not set up to kill people before that cataclysmic date.  Did you follow that?  Forget the movies.  CIA is a civilian agency of government that spies on foreign governments using people.  Spying is not killing.  The law also charters them for a wide variety of covert political actions, but killing is not one of them.  The same set of laws require the president of the United States to specifically authorize them to do anything like that in each instance.  This is called a "finding" in the law and the law requires the notification of the intelligence oversight committees of the House and Senate BEFORE the finding is acted on.

– The CIA never got the plan past the Power Point stage.  There was no "project."  Bob Baer is reported to have commented that "the project" was simply nothing more than an idea that Bush approved.  There was no training conducted.  There was no target planning.  There was "no nothing" except a nocturnal emission on the part of a few people who "dreamt the impossible dream."  This concept would have required extensive support from the armed forces.  Most CIA ventures into what they call the "paramilitary" field have required A LOT of military support and this one would have been no different.  "The Bourne ______," this was not.

– So, it seems that Cheney ordered the CIA to abstain from properly briefing Congress on a plan that was just BS.  How dumb is that?   This was especially weird because at that time the Congress was pathetically eager to approve anything that might demonstrate that, they too, were brimming over with testosterone.

– Why did "the project" never happen?  I suspect that it was because there was a great deal of internal resistance at CIA to the idea.  "Who, us?"  This would have been the reaction.  "Get the military to do it…"  As usual.  If forced to do this, CIA would probably have "borrowed" a lot of people from General McChrystal's former empire, given them the task covered by the "finding" and then stood back as far from the killing as they could manage.  There are bones abandoned on far off hilltops that could tell you how this works if only they could speak again.

There is so much nonsense being said about this that it is hard to listen.  pl

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39 Responses to Weirdness over the CIA

  1. Ronald says:

    What are your thoughts about this report that delta force commandos had performed a mission as part of this program and that it went very poorly in Kenya? (
    Granted, CIA was ‘busy’ at the time, so the extent of their involvement is uncertain. Is this report plausible?
    Do we really know enough yet about this to either get huffed up or nonchalant?

  2. Patrick Lang says:

    CIA “SOG” teams… What a joke. How many ex-SF men or marines in them?
    Why would you think that SOCOM would/could not have run this failed mission on its own? pl

  3. J says:

    Your — So, it seems that Cheney ordered the CIA to abstain from properly briefing Congress on a plan that was just BS. How dumb is that?–
    Cheney has never been know for ‘brains’ to begin with, he usually lets either Libby, Addington, the Israelis or his neocon/think tank buddies do his ‘thunking’ for him.
    Operation Thunderbolt and Operation Sword of Gideon were most probably playing through Cheney’s cranium as he had visions of himself being at the forefront. Snarf.
    Cheney (because of Cheney’s actions) should have been forced to register himself under FARA as an agent for a Foreign Government irrespective of his VPrez status.

  4. Ronald says:

    For the sake of argument, if policy leaders decided to kill an individual in a foreign country (NOT on a field of battle, let’s say, Serbia, for example):
    That would be in the DOD?
    It just seems odd that the military would do this all on their own since it is not a battlefield. I grant that the individuals would have to have had extensive military training.

  5. Eric Dönges says:

    but the weirdness over the “ASSASINATION PROGRAM” is silly.
    Yes, but 40+ years of James Bond movies have convinced us (the public) that being a spy is a glamourous occupation with lots of exciting cloak and dagger intrigue. And since those people that actually know what is going on are unlikely to say anything, the rest of us get to let our imaginations run wild.

  6. Redhand says:

    Why was this program a “secret” at all? It’s been well known for years that we try to blow away Al-Q operatives and leaders using missiles from Predator drones. I honestly don’t see the difference between this and a team on the ground using .50 cal. sniper rifles, except the bluntness of the instrument.
    We were trying to kill bin Laden & Co.? Who knew?
    Someone, please enlighten me before I display further ignorance.

  7. Last fall I stumbled upon a BookTV interview with Roland Haas, the author of an autobiography in which he claimed to have been a contract assassin for the CIA for roughly the last three decades of the 20th century. So I read the book and found his tale quite convincing.
    The author claims to have been recruited while in the Naval ROTC program at Purdue University and then given extensive training, including ultra high altitude parachuting. According to the author during this period the Agency facilitated his employment at military bases and government contractors plus an occasional educational gig. He also started a gym business in the SF Bay area with a partner who turned out to have a silent partner unknown to him, one Sonny Barger of Hells Angels fame.
    The book is entitled Enter the Past Tense: My Secret Life as a CIA Assassin, and this is a link to the BookTV video.

  8. Binh says:

    Haven’t been on this site as of late, but I’m curious what you think of what Wilkerson has to say about it:
    My hunch is that he’s right, Bush and Co. could hide a lot more behind Rumsfeld’s Pentagon than under the pretense of military operations than behind the CIA.

  9. Farmer Don says:

    Col Lang,
    One reason that you are hearing “so much nonsense” is that the US has engaged in so much nonsense these last years, and the US government has told it’s citizens so much nonsense.
    The average person hasn’t even heard of SOCOM. The CIA is just the the most well known.
    With torture, preemptive warfare, abductions and secret prisons, why wouldn’t people believe damm near anything? Which adgency does what is a fine point with most people.

  10. Helpful post and rational at that on the subject. What I find interesting is the Ford Executive Order prohibition has never (NADA) been the subject of Congressional review. I would hope that a bipartisan policy could be developed on “sanctioning” non-state actors that may harm the US and are not elected politicians or heads of state? Why? Just that we need to know what the lawyers and others think of this issue so we can line up for or against based on reason not the Bourne movies. There is no doubt the OSS did have operatives with authority to kill but that was another time and place.

  11. There was “no nothing” except a nocturnal emission on the part of a few people who “dreamt the impossible dream.” Now that’s some good ole soldier talk.
    Well, since the CIA isn’t moving forward with this project, then the NSA must have picked it up, teaming with NRO and NGA. People think the SIGINT eggheads are intense, but they’ve never seen those crazy-ass, high-speed-low-drag, adrenaline junky, über-spooky map makers and satellite controllers, all hopped up on intercontinental assassination buzz, takin’ care o’ bidness slinging hot lead downrange to the severe detriment of all terrorists, everywhere!

  12. Patrick Lang says:

    Any place is a battlefield if you are a soldier and are ordered by competent authority to fight there.
    Once the military is given a legal directive by competent authority it will carry through to fulfilment without further orders. pl

  13. Patrick Lang says:

    Minnesota Chuck
    Libraries are stuffed with books written by fantasists. pl

  14. Patrick Lang says:

    Wilkerson is a weak man who came late to the fight. When he was working for his hero, Powell, he sent me amessage through an intermediary. The message was that I should shut up and rely on him and Powell to make all right.
    I am uninterested in his opinion. pl

  15. Patrick Lang says:

    Farmer Don
    I am not responsible for the ignorance of the general public. pl

  16. J says:

    The Central Intelligence Agency’s secret assassination squad was allowed to operate anywhere in the world, “including the United States”, according to a Thursday report in The Washington Post.
    ‘If’ as the Wapo article states that the brewhaha was operating on ‘home turf’ a.k.a. U.S. proper is correct, then it opens up a Pandora’s box of legal/Constitutional/Posse Comitatus [ ] ‘stuff’, no?

  17. J says:

    Doesn’t the CIA operating on ‘home turf’ a.k.a. the United States proper in a SOG operational capacity, violate the CIA’s Charter?

  18. curious says:

    Is this around the time when Kenya was suddenly all shaky with several political assassination ?
    (there was also assassination of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran’s Isfahan uranium plant, Brigadier General Mohammed Suleiman, President Bashar Assad’s right-hand man, Imad Mugniyah, hezbollah leader.)
    The Guardian on Tuesday reported that one of the suspects was assassinated as part of a wider programme against al-Qaeda under the Bush administration.
    The assassination turned out to be a “severe embarrassment” and may have contributed to the termination of the programme, the newspaper said. However, security sources in government who spoke to the Nation on Tuesday said they were not aware of such an operation.
    Kenya has over the years maintained close ties with the US in the fight against terrorism with the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit being a large beneficiary of US funds.
    The cooperation, for instance, saw a man suspected of being a member of al-Qaeda arrested in Mogadishu by the Americans and brought to Nairobi in 2003.

  19. McGee says:

    Hi Colonel,
    Well, if YOU’RE not responsible for the ignorance of the general public, who the heck is??? Rush Limbaugh, Tom Friedman, Alfred E. Neuman???

  20. Ian says:

    Eric: Yes, if James Bond is a spy he’s the worst spy in the world. When he walks into a bar, any bar on earth, the staff will instantly recognize him, volubly greet him and offer him a vodka martini (shaken, not stirred).
    Farmer Don: SOCOM is pretty well known of late, if only from the video game series. I take your point, though. If anything, I would be less shocked by a secret assassination program than I was by the systematic torturing of kidnapped foreigners in ex-Soviet prisons. It sounds like a James Bond scenario, doesn’t it?

  21. jonst says:

    Just speculation on my part. But what if all the silliness involved a program to establish the “bona fides” of some undercover operatives seeking to infiltrate/connect with AQ?. And the “bona fides” were to be established by committing crimes, perhaps in America, perhaps not, perhaps against Americans, perhaps not, to demonstrate a level of ‘commitment’ on the part of the perpetrator?
    As I noted….just speculation. But I will put my two cents down on that. I mean, as you note, whatever they may have been holding back from Congress it was NOT about some program to kill AQ members. They would have been–and I believe were– all over themselves to proclaim this was what they wanted to do. And the Congress, as you note, would have all over them to grant permission and offer good tidings.

  22. Tyler says:

    I would say it is the responsibility of the American citizenry to educate themselves instead of thinking life functions like a video game.

  23. Bourbon says:

    “The Central Intelligence Agency’s secret assassination squad was allowed to operate anywhere in the world, “including the United States”, according to a Thursday report in The Washington Post.

    Nowhere in the article you site does it mention conducting assassinations domestically, or even discussing it. Nor have I read any other reports that suggest this was the case.

  24. Bourbon says:

    My hunch is that this program would have been used to neutralize AQ financiers and supporters who cannot be brought to justice via established means without upsetting diplomatic relationships or letting skeletons out of the closet. As Bob Baer says, the individuals who financed 9/11 are still alive and living free, we still don’t even know who recruited the hijackers.
    These are people economic or political juice; possibly members of a royal family, and active or retired intelligence officers operating independently of their government. People who cannot be brought to justice through extradition or rendition channels; they can however fall down a flight of stairs at their palace in Marbella and break their neck, have a fatal small aircraft accident, jump in front of a moving truck, or catch a hollow point in the back of their head.
    Diplomatic relationships are preserved, royals are not shamed, money keeps flowing, skeletons are kept in the closet, asses are covered, and vengeance is served; that’s if it can be pulled off without getting caught.

  25. J says:

    See para 12:
    “The finding imposed NO GEOGRAPHICAL LIMITATIONS on the agency’s actions, ”

  26. J says:
    David Ignatius: The Mainstream Media’s Chief Apologist for CIA Crimes
    By Melvin A. Goodman
    The Public Record
    Jul 16th, 2009
    The Washington Post’s David Ignatius has become the mainstream media’s apologist for the Central Intelligence Agency.
    In Thursday’s column, he has lambasted Attorney General Eric Holder for even considering the appointment of a prosecutor to investigate possible war crimes by CIA officers; congressional Democrats who want to conduct genuine oversight of the CIA; and President Obama who perhaps now understands that an investigation of the CIA is not merely about “petty grievances.”
    Ignatius disingenuously argues that the Justice Department learned about CIA’s criminal actions five years ago and decided that no prosecution was warranted. But Ignatius knows the the politicized Justice Department was always part of the problem and never a part of the solution to the torture and abuse, the secret prisons, and the extraordinary renditions that have hurt U.S. credibility around the world.
    Ignatius presumably also knows that Obama and Holder were never willing to investigate, let alone prosecute, CIA actions that followed the dubious legal authority to torture al Qaeda captives. We now know, however, in gruesome detail that sadistic CIA operatives went far beyond the so-called legal authority in their interrogation of these captives, and that there was the conduct of torture and abuse against captives who were never interrogated at all.
    Obama never made a “grand bargain” with the CIA, as Ignatius alleges, and he certainly never intended to ignore criminal behavior. But just as CIA director Leon Panetta never learned about a CIA assassination scheme until three weeks ago, five months after he was confirmed as director, President Obama was presumably late to learn the ugly details of CIA abuses under three CIA directors, George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden.
    Both Obama and Holder now know that there has been a cover-up of these activities by the senior CIA leaders who never should have been retained by Panetta.
    Ignatius’ apology for the CIA includes the typical handwringing of CIA clandestine officers whenever there have been CIA abuses. We heard these arguments in the wake of the Vietnam War and we heard them again after the discovery of Iran-contra.
    Ignatius tells us that an investigation would “damage careers and morale at the CIA.” Nonsense! He cites the views of clandestine officers who state that the investigation will “leave a train of destroyed officers.” More nonsense! And he argues that “CIA employees will steer away from areas such as counterterrorism.” And even more nonsense!
    The fact is that the CIA is staffed by professional officers who want to follow the law and a moral compass in order to strengthen the national security of the United States. Their morale is strengthened when they have the support and respect of the American people, and the majority of CIA intelligence analysts and clandestine operatives know that the abuses and transgressions of the Vietnam War, Iran-contra, and the Iraq War were damaging to their mission and to their charter.
    Ignatius’s unnamed sources over the past 30 years have been from the CIA’s clandestine community. He had a strong source in the early 1980s, a senior clandestine officer–the late Robert Ames–who was the most impressive clandestine officer I met during my 24 years at the CIA.
    Ignatius’s novel on CIA tradecraft, “Agents of Influence,” was based on material obtained from Ames. But Ames was killed in the attack on the U.S. embassy in Lebanon in 1983 and, since then, Ignatius has relied on a group of clandestine apparatchiks who have fed him stories that tell only one small side of the CIA picture.
    Unfortunately, most of the news articles in the Post on the CIA use some of the same sources and provide only partial pictures from a small and self-serving segment of the intelligence community. The current CIA deputy director, Stephen Kappes, and the head of clandestine operations, Michael Sulick, are part of this community.
    Ignatius concludes that the CIA must be depoliticized and that the only way to do that is for the Obama administration to drop any investigation of possible criminal activities. He even unconscionably states that the “unauthorized practices” merely involved “kicks, threats and other abuse.”
    The fact is that the politicization of the CIA was a self-inflicted wound that began in the 1980s when CIA director William Casey and his deputy Robert Gates politicized intelligence on the Soviet Union, Central American, and Afghanistan. This politicization continued under director Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin who provided phony intelligence to the Bush administration and Secretary of State Colin Powell to make the case for an unnecessary war against Iraq.
    A phony intelligence White Paper was circulate on Capitol Hill only days before the vote to authorize force against Iraq, and phony intelligence was prepared to form Powell’s speech to the United Nations in February 2003 only several weeks before the start of the war. And now the cover-up is designed to include not only torture and abuse and secret prisons, but assassination teams that remind us of the Phoenix program from the Vietnam War.
    It is long past time for President Obama to push a reset button at the CIA to stop the pattern of abuse, and perhaps the Washington Post should push a reset button to make sure that it will provide objective and balanced information on the intelligence community.
    Melvin A. Goodman, a regular contributor to The Public Record, is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He spent 42 years with the CIA, the National War College, and the U.S. Army. His latest book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.

  27. J says:

    What I think needs to be addressed — What was/is Mr. Cheney’s involvement/role in any/all possible assassinations for the period January 20, 2001 thru January 20, 2009.

  28. Bourbon says:

    “The finding imposed NO GEOGRAPHICAL LIMITATIONS on the agency’s actions, “
    That’s a semantic argument.

  29. J says:

    While in thought/argumentative terms it may be considered a semantic argument, but in the ops world it has ‘substantive’ applications and end effects.

  30. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    J — you write:
    “What I think needs to be addressed — What was/is Mr. Cheney’s involvement/role in any/all possible assassinations for the period January 20, 2001 thru January 20, 2009”
    If you have time and have not done so already, you may want to check out the procedural history of EO 13292 and the substantive changes it made to EO 12958, which it amended.
    President Bush signed EO 13292 just a few days after the beginning of Shock and Awe.
    People like WRC and others would know more about the legal ramifications of the EO than I, but it sure seems to me that this EO opened the door to allow Cheney to do as he pleased in authorizing any covert action.
    For reasons I cannot recall(apparently not making money)I became interested in this EO a couple of years ago. I spent a few hours researching it and then wrote a web letter that Nation published. It sets out in a bit more detail the history of the EO and the sweeping changes it created. (If you are interested, then it’s the second letter provided in the link below). This EO may not be the smoking gun, but if not, it sure looks like smoke from a gun.

  31. J says:

    From what I’ve been able to determine, Cheney started his ‘dirtyness’ well before 911 or Ops Iraqi Freedom, July 11, 2001.

  32. Arun says:

    What was it that Panetta had to shut down four months into office, and had to tell the House Intelligence Committee that the CIA had neglected to tell them about? I think it being a non-operational assassination squad is a red herring.

  33. IL says:

    everyone’s best friend Sy Hersh mentioned a very similar program months ago while giving a talk at a university (,_had_no_congressional_oversight/).
    but he placed the program under JSOC, not CIA, and furthermore said it was quite operational indeed. PL’s initial post mentioned that for this program to have worked, it would have to have been “McChrystal’s former empire,” i.e. JSOC. is it possible that CIA passed it off to them in order to wipe their hands of it, and that it did come to fruition under their umbrella?
    and is it possible that Panetta, knowing a book by a meddlesome journalist is in the works, could have chosen this moment to come forward in order to have some control over the story, and to distance the CIA from it?
    i have friends in PR, and if this happened to a private company they’d do much the same thing. i’m just a civilian speculating out loud, though.

  34. Patrick Lang says:

    At the risk of shock to the consciences of the sensitive, I will say that I have no difficulty with the underlying concept in this supposed “program.”
    The US needs to hunt down Takfiri jihadi cadres everywhere. There are people on the fringes of these movements who can be “turned” and made useful, but the leaders of the violent religious zealots can not be brought around.
    For me, the question with the CIA program is not whether the program was wrong. The question is whether or not CIA broke US law by not notifying Congress of pending execution of a presidential covert action “finding.”
    The armed forces would either have been covered by such a finding if acting on behalf of CIA or would have been involved in an act of war under the aegis of the legislation which authorized the GWOT. pl

  35. IL says:

    I agree that the intent of the program wasn’t necessarily wrong. We are no doubt fighting some bad and intractable people. And as various pundits have pointed out since this story hit, we have been more or less assassinating people all along, and openly so — albeit under a different legal framework. Al-Zarqawi comes to mind first. This story didn’t shock me except in that it proved one more frightening and mysterious rumor about Cheney’s — and the whole former Administration’s — disregard for the very foundations of our political system. As a citizen, you’d like to believe those sorts of things aren’t true.

  36. Ugh.
    I blame Hollywood.
    And our half-assed education system that promotes “self-esteem” above all else.

  37. I heard Air Force guys call them: (CIA)
    “Clowns In Action”

  38. mlaw230 says:

    I believe the extent of the legal debasement here is widely underestimated.
    The curious, and oft repeated phrase that “the United States does not torture” most probably meant that those services were subbed out to contractors, over which there is virtually no control or accountability.
    Scott Horton described the relatively simple adjustments that Secretary Rumsfeld and others implemented to avoid the existing legal structure back in 2005:
    The effect is to make the obligation to follow binding law subject to a waiver from the Sec Def.
    It would be quite simple really to authorize such a program to be run through DOD, and staffed by contractors. An insular group operating throughout the world, with a complete legal defense. Probably would not run well, but it would run.
    I think that what we are going to be hearing is not that they were assassinating Takfiri Jihadi zealots in the mountains of Pakistan, I certainly hope they were doing that. I think they were offing supporters and suspected collaborators and financiers in Europe, the middle east and Africa, or even in the States.
    So, Colonel when you said “everywhere” above did you intend to bless mafia style hits in the capitals of Europe or maybe even Richmond, Virginia?

  39. Patrick Lang says:

    “mafia stule hits” I suppose we can understand from that your opinion of the armed forces.
    One must contemplate things like thisin the context of reality. In Richmond we have the FBI. In London the British have the Security Service, Special Branch and the SAS, in… pl

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