CHENEY ORDERED CONCEALMENT…. After all we’ve seen since 2001, it’s hard to be surprised by Cheney-related scandals, but that doesn’t make them any less serious.

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.

Mr. Panetta, who ended the program when he first learned of its existence from subordinates on June 23, briefed the two intelligence committees about it in separate closed sessions the next day.

Based on the NYT report, it’s not clear what the counterterrorism program is, whether it was legal, or why Cheney ordered it secret. The article did note, however:

Intelligence and Congressional officials have said the unidentified program did not involve the C.I.A. interrogation program and did not involve domestic intelligence activities. They have said the program was started by the counterterrorism center at the C.I.A. shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but never became fully operational, involving planning and some training that took place off and on from 2001 until this year.

Either way, Congress has oversight authority over the CIA, and the agency is required to notify lawmakers — at a minimum, the so-called “Gang of Eight” — about intelligence activities.

Perhaps Cheney can explain why he ordered the CIA to keep this program secret. Before he does, the former VP should probably remember that “Addington and Yoo said I could” is not a satisfactory answer.

Postscript: As for the recent “debate” about Speaker Pelosi’s not-so-scandalous suggestion that the CIA is not always forthcoming with lawmakers, Republicans can send their apologies to Office of the Speaker, H-232, U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC 20515.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.