Cheney Ordered CIA Concealment

An amusing headline from NYT: “Cheney Is Linked to Concealment of C.I.A. Project.” I mean, obviously, Cheney is going to be linked. He’s everyone’s favorite evil mastermind.

The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency’s director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said Saturday.

The report that Mr. Cheney was behind the decision to conceal the still-unidentified program from Congress deepened the mystery surrounding it, suggesting that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.

Now, if there’s anything we know about the CIA during the Bush years, they only kept secrets when they felt like it. Senior CIA officials routinely leaked to the press to cover their own backsides or when they disapproved of administration policy. Do we really think were going to break the law by lying to Congress on the orders of the vice president?

For that matter, it’s not entirely clear why they would consider Cheney part of their chain of command. Until early 2005, the CIA Director was dual hatted as Director of Central Intelligence, reporting directly to the president. Subsequently, the roles were split and the CIA Director reported to the Director of National Intelligence. The vice president has only referent power based on the strength of his relationship with the president. Indeed, some would argue that Dick Cheney wasn’t even a member of the executive branch!

UPDATE: Steven Taylor observes, “The broader problem here is that the current congressional oversight process over intelligence doesn’t work very well (if at all).”   Ultimately, that’s the key takeaway. CIA simply doesn’t feel like it answers to Congress.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. […] to order the CIA to the men’s room, much less to lie to the Congress of the United States? As James Joyner points out, the CIA Director was also Director of National Intelligence until 2005, answering directly to the […]

  2. markm says:

    hmmph…well, we’ll see how evil of a program it is based on how quickly President Obama quietly adopts it 🙂

  3. odograph says:

    I think the thing you are missing, the thing that shapes what we all expect, is that Cheney was his own evil mastermind. He was saying some really weird and non-democratic things about the nature of the Presidency even as he was (literally) rebuilding his underground lair. Of course we picked up on it.

    Now, with regards to chain of command, we have a split personality in the whole US culture. On the one hand we are a nation of laws. On the other we have a great body of literature and mythos on spys which “report only to the President.” We were raised on the old Mission Impossible, where “the secretary will deny all knowledge.”

    It’s not surprising that now and then people try it for real, and IMO it’s not surprising that it would be Cheney.

  4. odograph says:

    Circa 2005:

    The vice president entered the fray yesterday, rejecting the criticism and expounding on the philosophy that has driven so many of the administration’s actions. “I believe in a strong, robust executive authority, and I think that the world we live in demands it — and to some extent that we have an obligation as the administration to pass on the offices we hold to our successors in as good of shape as we found them,” Cheney said. In wartime, he said, the president “needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired.”

    Speaking with reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force Two to Oman, Cheney said the period after the Watergate scandal and Vietnam War proved to be “the nadir of the modern presidency in terms of authority and legitimacy” and harmed the chief executive’s ability to lead in a complicated, dangerous era. “But I do think that to some extent now we’ve been able to restore the legitimate authority of the presidency.”

    I assume of course that every TOD reader who was on board with that (for Bush) in 2005 is now on board for that with Obama (in 2009).

    I think it was a dangerous mistake then, and now.

  5. […] James Joyner also notes the chain of command issue: For that matter, it’s not entirely clear why they would […]

  6. Eneils Bailey says:

    WOW!!

    Maybe I should have gone to more James Bond movies instead of renting all those “Cheech and Chong.” flicks.

  7. odograph says:

    “The broader problem here is that the current congressional oversight process over intelligence doesn’t work very well (if at all).”

    It’s not that easy to reconcile secret programs with democracy. It might even come down to choosing one or the other. We know what Cheney chose and argued in the Bush administration.

  8. Pete Burgess says:

    When politics gets to the level as described by Andy McCarthy, perhaps the only way to be effective is to act as the Bush admin. did.
    http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=OTYyMzE1MjdmOGY5ZjAyZGM1ZGE4ZWQwZTVhYjA4NzU

  9. JKB says:

    Interesting…A lot of CIA bureaucrats hostile to the Bush Administration committed criminal acts by concealing a program from Congressional oversight for nearly a decade on the “direct” orders of someone not in their chain of command?

    Even if Cheney had an army of men in black to enforce his evil will, why did the put-upon CIA officials not schedule a Congressional briefing for 0800 January 21, 2009? What has changed, 6 months later, to embolden these officials to now do their moral and legal duties?

    Or are we going to discover that senior Congressional members were briefed but the decision was made to keep the program from the wider Congress for security reasons?

  10. Clovis says:

    This really seems like a long way to go to cover for Pelosi, and yet these folks with “direct knowledge” want to play this out in the headlines.

    First it’s “Panetta admits CIA lied”, then minor walkback, then on to Darth Cheney’s evil schemes. There will be a very quiet walkback on this before we get to see the third card, and none of them are the lucky lady. By the time the third walkback comes around Pelosi will claim to be vindicated, Panetta will do the same and some other dead celebrity will be headline news.

    Scrubbing is not just for toilets anymore, although in this case it might as well be.

  11. Raoul says:

    Without knowing all the facts, rank speculation is merely that. None of the options is unviable; e.g., assuming the CIA was sharing intelligence with Israel (e.g., treason)- the CIA would not leak and they would Cheney as a foil, in fact under his direct orders. In other words, they are things that hurt the “leaker” more despite his absence in organizational structure. Lately, on this site, I have noted more subjective criticism and less distilled analysis.

  12. Eneils Bailey says:

    Clovis,
    For the most part, I agree with you.

    This is all made-up horse hockey. The Dems have to go in and declare war on the Bush Administration… for the public to take the eye off them.

    Obama’s poll numbers are tanking.
    People understand the stimulus was a bustus.
    Obama’s trip to Africa and Europe was somewhat less than spectacular.
    Pelosi is in dire need of a political face lift.
    The Dems, according to Rasmussen , now trail the Repubs in 8 of 10 Policy Areas. And it is closing in the other two areas.

    They can’t win with their ideas, so they do what they do best, personal destruction with the help of the press. Luckily, there does not seem to be any children of Repubs involved, as there have been in the past. Dems and the press are real fighters when it comes to children.

  13. […] Outside the Beltway | Cheney Ordered CIA Concealment […]

  14. An Interested Party says:

    What a nice, assbackwards way to keep the country safe…but let us not dwell too much on this, after all, it’s just an excuse to bash the Bush Administration…nothing to see here, folks, move along, move along…

  15. Bill H says:

    “The broader problem here is that the current congressional oversight process over intelligence doesn’t work very well (if at all).”

    Given that when the CIA briefs Congress it does so under a veil of secrecy so tight that they are not allowed to reveal what was said in the briefing, are not even allowed to talk to their staffs about it, and may not even discuss it amongst themselves, of what actual value is it? It just means they get to know that the CIA is doing something wrong, but they cannot do anything to correct the wrong. Why even bother?

  16. Raoul says:

    I also do not understand why Congress needs to be informed if there is nothing that can be done. The Rasmussen poll is a crock in so many ways: 1- what is a likely voter now? 2- R lead D on abortion – what the hell does that mean? 3-Iraq- R also lead but down from last month- then how come O won? Do epeople want a change of strategy? Taxes- it is odd how other polls support raising taxes- maybe the Ras typical bias. By and large the poll show an evenly divided electorate but with the finger on the R side as he usually does-PPP has the D ahead on all metrics. Who is right? The country has always being a 40-40-20- right now the D lead on the 20 (independent)- but these numbers are wont to change continually- the big polling significance as of late is the continuing deterioration of the R party (as opposed to conservatives in general).

  17. odograph says:

    Given that when the CIA briefs Congress it does so under a veil of secrecy so tight that they are not allowed to reveal what was said in the briefing, are not even allowed to talk to their staffs about it, and may not even discuss it amongst themselves, of what actual value is it? It just means they get to know that the CIA is doing something wrong, but they cannot do anything to correct the wrong. Why even bother?

    The real irony is that in time of war letting slip what the CIA is doing that is illegal becomes illegal.

    Even if a congressman hears the same story from another source, if the story starts to break, they are still bound by their embargo.

  18. odograph says:

    BTW, those of who think this is about “teh dems” seem deeply irrational to me. We have quotes where Cheney says he believes in exactly what they are now saying he did. What’s the surprise? Why pretend that “teh dems” somehow invented it?

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  20. anjin-san says:

    For that matter, it’s not entirely clear why they would consider Cheney part of their chain of command.

    Could have been because Cheney was really running the show at the White House…

  21. steve says:

    James-It has been my sense for quite a while that Bush abdicated foreign policy to Cheney for his first few years. Once he reasserted himself, after Iraq was going so badly, things got better. I know it is not fashionable to say good things about Bush, but from where I sit, when he took Cheney out of the loop, it sure looks like things improved.

    Steve

  22. Reading through these comments I can see why some of you won’t use your real names. Jeez.

  23. odograph says:

    What goes around … it’s older than the Republic. Of course, either way you should try to have interesting ideas.

  24. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin, that contention is based upon what? The stupid opinion of those at the daily KOS? I heard the rumor that Soros and Ayers are really running the WH now. Via blackberry, secured. You have just cemented what I have alway thought of your well fashioned opinions. Not that you care cause if you did you would consult with a rational person before posting.

  25. […] James Joyner for Outside the Beltway. […]

  26. […] Cheney Ordered CIA Concealment - Outside The Beltway | OTB […]

  27. steve says:

    There are any number of books out on the Iraq war which have suggested that there was a divided chain of command at the WH in the early years. While it is difficult to know for sure, since they keep these things quiet, I believe it is probably the best explanation for things like the Bremer (sp?) decision to disband the Iraqi army.

    Steve

  28. […] Cheney Ordered CIA Concealment - Outside The Beltway | OTB […]

  29. […] Cheney Ordered CIA Concealment - Outside The Beltway | OTB […]

  30. Vigilante says:

    Cheney was out of control. Nothing he did as VPOTUS should escape scrutiny. That said, I think this super secret program was not unlawful surveillance of Americans, but (planning) assassinations of Al-Qaeda targets

    If this is what it turns out to be, I don’t think this story packs much of a wallop and Progressives do not serve our cause well in lending it legs. In the wake of 911, getting al Qaeda leaders dead or alive (later vacated by Bush!) was of paramount importance and legitimacy. It was much, much, much more appropriate than invading and occupying Iraq. As far as who in Congress is entitled to information like this, that’s pretty much of a slippery slope. (Loose lips and loosely-bound minds.)

  31. An Interested Party says:
  32. […] Cheney Ordered CIA Concealment?-?Outside The Beltway | OTB […]

  33. odograph says:

    I’d like to note that I completely called it:

    ‘Cheney’s secret CIA project was simply to send hit squads around the world putting ‘bullets in heads’. Like the Predator drone project, only up close and personal’ link

    I called Cheney and personal (non-predator) hit squads in comments here.