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My sources are telling me that the secret CIA program involving a Dick Cheney coverup that is currently in the news consisted of dispatching assassination teams to various countries to kill individuals who were known to be al-Qaeda supporters but who, for various reasons, had not been detained by the governments of the countries in which they were residing. A number of those being targeted were living freely in Latin America, Africa, and Europe. The assassins were to be drawn from CIA’s own special ops group and also from delta force. They would enter the target countries as businessmen on false passports, some of which would be non-American, obtain weapons sent ahead through the diplomatic pouch to the US Embassy, kill the target, turn the weapons back over to an embassy contact, and leave the country. The program used delta soldiers initially because CIA SOG was fully engaged in Afghanistan. The first hit attempt was in Kenya, was botched, and the deltas had to be bailed out by the Ambassador who had not been briefed on what was going on under his nose. The program was suspended after that but never quite terminated.

The issues raised by such a program are obvious and it is clear that Dick Cheney knew that it would never fly through congress once the details were made clear. First, assassination by the USGOV has been illegal since the Church hearings in 1976. The Director of Central Intelligence can override the restriction, as can the president with a finding, but to do so in support of a program rather than a one-off would be risky. Second, the use of false foreign passports would create problems with any number of friendly governments if exposed. Third, killing terrorist suspects in countries that were friendly could easily escalate into major diplomatic incidents. Fourth, the use of Embassies to smuggle in weapons was very risky indeed as many foreign governments surreptitiously x-ray diplomatic pouches and the ploy would likely have been discovered. Finally, the entire scheme depends on excellent intelligence on the whereabouts and activities of the suspected terrorists, something that the US did not have then and does not have now. There was real danger that innocent people would get hit, just as occured with a similar Israeli Mossad program in the 1970s that killed a waiter in Oslo. The perpetrators in Kenya also quickly discovered that white boys born in the American south sporting crewcuts and speaking no foreign language had difficulties in blending in as foreign businessmen.

In principle, if there had been some way to decapitate al-Qaeda in the immediate days after 9/11 even by using extraordinary means, I think many Americans including myself would have been supportive. But in reality the capability to identify and hit the targets was never there, so it is best that the program never really took off.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Assassinations, CIA 
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  1. LOL – learn more with a sitdown at TAC’s blog, than congress can get in the last 3 years. So much for CIA secrets.

    But neither congress, nor the great minds at TAC can tell us where the TARP and STIMULUS funds were spent, broken down into $10 increments. (Instead, we get, “oh, um, a few billion were spent, um, on, you know, ‘helping out’.”)

    Do we want the same folks who can’t track their expenditures, deciding who is to die, in some foreign country? Way back before Clinton, the american public said empahtically, “NO!”

    But then, we also said that about government running every aspect of our lives (“NO!”). People who are shortsighted enough to equate this problem with a single previous president and his entourage, are greatly missing the point of what is going on here.

  2. Philip, what does it say about about us that this obviously clueless plan was the best we could do in the immediate aftermath of 9-11?

    Other questions arise.

    Why would we need to smuggle weapons into a country like Kenya?

    If you did smuggle weapons into a country, why on earth would one want to return them to US custody? Destroying them beyond forensic identification would seem the obvious alternative.

    Have we so few assets in these countries that identification and targeting would be left to GI’s operating under dubious cover?

    What a sad business. Still, Cheney was trying to do the right thing. Republicans should turn the tables on Pelosi & Co with questions about why they are so focused on congressional prerogatives while thousands of their fellow citizens go unavenged.

  3. Thomas, the entire scheme is misconceived and far more likely to fail that succeed, but some elements as bizarre as they seem would be the only way one could do it. You would want to use completely non-attributable weapons that you are familiar with and you would’t want a group of Americans blundering around looking for a weapons dealer, particularly if you are trying to stay off the screen of the security services. And just how would you destroy the used weapons completely – far better to get rid of them for someone else to spirit out of the country and destroy. And you can also take as a given that the US had no or very few assets on the ground, otherwise there might have been other ways to do the casing and carry out the assassination.

    If you google around a bit you will discover that the arrest of the delta team and the bailing out by the ambassador was reported in some media when it occurred back in late 2002, as I recall. At that time it was assumed that it was a screwy Pentagon operation but now it appears it was part of the CIA program.

  4. Very funny Tripp (?) I guess we’re all part of an anti-Semitic conspiracy that wants the terrorists to win. I wouldn’t have much of a problem with assassinating actual terrorists if there were just a modicum of competence and accountability in the process. Alas… By the way, they are listening to your phone calls.

  5. This whole affair sounds like a bad Tom Clancy novel, oh wait, it is. Truth is stranger than fiction.

  6. Philip, I imagined that in a country where even poachers have perfectly serviceable Kalashnikovs, any asset, even the brother in law of an embassy driver could pick one up. As to rendering said AK beyond the powers of African forensic science, I think some charcoal, a small bellows and a hammer would do nicely. And I believe there are Black GI’s who could be given the special training to use them. Hah!

    I’m not writing this to be contentious. It just seems to me that a government that can’t wring the neck of some rat in a country that is a supposed ally is contemptible. We need to think twice about such actions, but once they seem justifiable we need the people and the will to carry them out.

  7. Mike says:

    Philip,

    By what right did the former Vice President have the power to order CIA to do (or not do) anything? He may have been a big pooh bah, but was he in CIA’s chain of command? Or did the CIA director just lack the cohones to tell Darth to F.O.?

    Mike

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    Anyone who wonders why CIA couldn’t get this job done in 2002 should recall the reign of Admiral Stansfield Turner as DCIA…

    Time Magazine, Monday, November 28, 1977…

    The agency is in turmoil because at least 800 of its employees are to be “terminated.” All are members of the CIA’s 4,500-man Directorate of Operations, the clandestine branch whose activities, such as trying to overthrow governments and spying on U.S. citizens, have damaged the reputation of the CIA. But only a small minority of agents were involved in such skulduggery, and a far larger part of the directorate’s job has been the basic covert gathering of intelligence about potential enemies. Among those being fired are veteran officers with distinguished careers as undercover agents abroad.

    CIA Director Stansfield Turner and his top aides have been jolted by the intensity of the protests from the fired spies. Yet the outcry is partly Turner’s fault. He had William Wells, his deputy director for operations, send out brusque photocopied dismissal slips that began “Subject: Notice of Intent to Recommend Separation.”

    This was a multi-generational disaster, because after all those guys in Operations were terminated, they weren’t exactly in a position to pass down their expertise to the next generation of agents, and now anybody who feels like bemoaning the incompetence of CIA should also reserve a little indignignation for the moron, racist, and all-around clown Admiral Stansfield Turner.

  9. TomB says:

    It always struck me how people just didn’t understand that the more the U.S. undertook Israel’s problems the more the U.S. would eventually have to come to behave and even *look* like Israel. Ever more intrusive and controlling internal and external security measures and etc., etc.

    And now, sure enough, we undertook to employ what was perhaps Israel’s signature security measure of targeted assassinations.

    Next step: Renaming Congress “the Knesset West.”

    Cheers,

  10. Jacob – I recall Turner well. He fired everyone who was skilled in languages and local cultures and instituted the revolving door whereby officers were “seasoned” by doing two and three year tours in a lot of different places, an awful management decision that resonates to this day. The only thing I liked about him was his golden retriever named Hornblower.

  11. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    we’ve been talking with National Security Archive ‘CIA expert’ John Prados about this story and you can listen to our interview with him here

    http://fsn.typepad.com/blog/2009/07/a-cia-expert-on-the-agencys-plan-to-assassinate-al-qaeda-leaders-.html

    He talks about the mission, its legality and the questions now being raised by American lawmakers about why they were kept in the dark.

    olly barratt

  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Hit teams of world leaders are more a phenomenon of Israel’s Mossad and here again we have the tail wagging the dog. One would be amazed at what we are putting into practice on Israeli suggestions. Additionally, our military’s key personnel are always making trips to Israel to “train” and “pick up pointers”. In the process our guys are being assessed and developed by Israel for their future CA, FI or CI/CE ops.

  13. Okie Dokie, Tripp, but you’d better stop questioning the government so openly. Don’t think you can hide behind a handle. Personally, I gratefully accept our new master. He won. Yes, he did. And I am grateful for the freedoms and income he has has granted me.

    Dr Giraldi, thanks for sharing, as always.

  14. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Giraldi – Thanks for the insight and follow up comments.

    Tripp(?) – I agree with you that Afghanistan is unwinnable, it could be the final nail in the US empire’s coffin, but calling Iraq, “a good war” is like calling GWB a good president. Let me remind you that both were a disaster and that it was the grand delusions of Neocon imperialism that is largely responsible for bringing this country to it’s proverbial knees.

  15. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    How is any of this news? The CIA has been covertly killing people since the mid-50’s, and it had already reached a widespread level by the time Reagan arrived in office. It’s no secret that we operate secret prisons and engage in secret kidappings/disappearances.

    The only difference here is that the JSOC, which typically reports to nobody except themselves, was under the direct control of a Vice President. There was no major change besides that.

  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    I guess my main problem with the stories about the CIA is that if they were doing everything that we accuse them of doing it would mean two things:
    1. The US CIA would be the only agency in the world that does covert activities and we know that is not true. Or, was the KGB/GUI just there for fun through the Cold War Years?
    2. What about other national police and covert operations?
    3. Why are those who blow the whistle on them not murdered or have a heart attack immediately after the fact. Like in the 3rd Jason Bourne Movie where the Journalist gets shot and killed by a supposed CIA Asset who was also gunning for Jason Bourne?

    It would seem to me that it would be foolish and poor running of a covert operation to allow it to come to public’s view and do nothing bout it ever at all. Especially true of this is the fact that you never hear of any of these journalist just dying let alone being killed. Why not?

    4. There is no question but that the CIA has done things which the common man in America would not agree with. However, if the full truth were known, this is also true of our own soldiers in every war we have ever fought in because War brings out the very best and the very worst in people. War is not a fun and nice thing. It is horrible in every way. So much so that former President and 5-Star General, Dwight D. Eisenhower basically wanted to go about doing everything and anything to avoid war at all cost. He didn’t really want us to be involved in the Korean War and constantly spoke against war and how high the cost truly were in wasted lives along with wasted treasuries, etc.

    Any nation such as ours has to have the ability to find out what the other guy is doing so that we can protect ourselves from them. Intelligence is one of the keys to staying out of war as well as waging war effectively.

    Part of the problems we have had in the Middle East is that we haven’t had enough Arabs or Muslims involved to get the Intel that we needed. When we were supporting them in their war against the Soviets it was one thing. But now that we are there intruding on them it is a whole different story.

    Or, tell me that government as a whole is clean and anything but a dirty business? Why is it that regardless of what man is elected President the same basic policies continue regardless of what is said during the election to gain leadership?

    Just like those in Vietnam who supported us found out when we left how unwise that support was and what a terrible price so many of them paid for it; I have no doubt but the same fate awaits many in the Middle East. Of course we could do things right there, but these are decisions made way above the CIA’s!

    So if you want to attack an agency like the CIA fine, I can see that they have failed and done what they shouldn’t have from time to time. But what about Congress? What about the Presidency as a whole? What about our Courts?

    Now exactly what did you want to say about the CIA?

  17. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    I have no problem with it! Everyone wants to play hands off….let the terrs do what they want while WE organize Congressmen to sit & discuss what to do….end result of all the discussion….we must find out what they want(simple…they want to KILL US) ,ok let’s sit & discuss what we can do to please them!! People,I have a great idea….quit having out troops fight with their hands tiedLaS SOMEONE SAID….THEY WANT TO KILL & GO TO HEAVEN…LET’S
    LET OUR TROOPS DO THEIR JOB & HELP THE ENEMY WHIT THEIR DESIRE!
    Jim

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