Cheney Role in CIA Secrecy Questioned
He Reportedly Ordered Information Withheld From Congress
By JOHN HENDREN and JONATHAN KARL, ABC News Internet Ventures
WASHINGTON, July 11, 2009—
A member of the House Intelligence Committee told ABC News Congress was "systematically misled" about secret counterterrorism programs under the Bush administration, amid reports that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to withhold information from Congress.
The House Intelligence Committee had already begun gathering information for an investigation of the agency.
"The congress has been systematically misled," intelligence panel member Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., told ABC News. "I know I've been lied to."
According to a report in The New York Times, CIA Director Leon Panetta told congressional leaders that the CIA withheld information on a still-secret counterterrorism project under direct orders from Cheney.
The Associated Press, citing what it called officials with direct knowledge of the matter, also reported that eight years ago Cheney directed the CIA not to inform Congress about a nascent counterterrorism program that Panetta terminated in June.
ABC News has learned that the counterterrorism program was only in the planning and training stages, leaving open the question of whether Congress was required to be informed under the National Security Act.
"The question was, or is, was it a program that had to be revealed to the Congress?" former CIA official Michael Scheuer told ABC News.
As criticism of the Bush administration's intelligence-gathering methods has mounted, Cheney has taken to the airwaves to defend them. Now, news of Cheney's role will likely increase calls for an investigation -- and for Cheney to explain his own role.
"This is certainly one example of an investigation that we will have into the CIA persistently lying to the Congress," Schakowsky told ABC News earlier this week.
The news comes after a new report to congress found that a secret warrantless wiretapping program produced "limited" intelligence and was carried out with "extraordinary and inappropriate" secrecy.
And on Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union and Physicians for Human Rights urged the Justice Department to launch a probe of an alleged massacre in 2002 in Afghanistan by warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was on the CIA's payroll.
Intelligence officials say on Capitol Hill, it's now open season on the agency.
"What we're seeing here is really the politicization of National Defense," Scheuer said. "Is that really the road we want to go down now?"
The growing spat between congress and intelligence agencies heated up in May, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "The CIA was misleading the Congress" on such interrogation methods as water-boarding, a centuries-old mock drowning technique.
Some Republicans, hoping to show that Pelosi wrongly accused the agency of failing to inform her of those methods, are now joining the call for investigations.
"Why after the speaker says I've been lied to consistently over a period of years, why haven't there been hearings?" Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., told ABC News.
A former CIA official told ABC News that after 2006 the agency was under no restriction to withhold information about the project. Nevertheless, a House Intelligence Committee member said, information about the ultra-secret program was deliberately withheld, on orders.