WHY PANETTA PULLED THE PLUG…. Based on what we’ve learned this week about the never-implemented, Bush-era targeted assassinations program, the previous administration couldn’t quite overcome “logistical, legal and diplomatic obstacles.” By 2004, the Bush gang wasn’t prepared to seriously pursue the program.
According to the reports, CIA Director Leon Panetta learned of the program, briefed Congress, and canceled the program last month. But if targeted assassinations were effectively off the table years ago, and the program was more or less dormant, what prompted Panetta to act in June? According to a front-page Washington Post report this morning, the program was poised to enter a “new phase.”
CIA officials were proposing to activate a plan to train anti-terrorist assassination teams overseas when agency managers brought the secret program to the attention of CIA Director Leon Panetta last month, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
The plan to kill top al-Qaeda leaders, which had been on the agency’s back burner for much of the past eight years, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of proposals to initiate what one intelligence official called a “somewhat more operational phase.”
According to some officials familiar with the program, some “advanced preparations, including selection of teams and limited training” were underway.
Two U.S. officials with detailed knowledge of current CIA operations said the agency presented Panetta last month with new plans for moving forward with training for potential members of the assassination teams — activities that would have involved “crossing international boundaries,” in the words of a former counterterrorism official briefed on the matter.
“When a CIA unit brought the program to Panetta’s attention, it came with a recommendation to brief Congress since there was some thought being given to moving toward a somewhat more operational phase — that is, a little training,” said an intelligence official with direct knowledge of the events.
Panetta didn’t like the new direction, so he pulled the plug and briefed the Hill. Good move.
As for why this program struggled to come together, in additional to the legal, political, and logistical obstacles, officials discovered that sending out surgical, undetected assassination teams is trickier than it sounds. One former CIA official conceded, “There really isn’t Jason Bourne walking around doing stuff like this.”