Commentary Magazine


Cheney’s Super Secret Plan: Kill or Capture the Enemy?

On Sunday, the New York Times struck another blow against the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism measures with a front-page story alleging that a CIA program was kept secret from Congress for eight years. The orders to keep Congress out of the loop — which sound flagrantly illegal — came, according to the story, straight from then Vice President Dick Cheney.

Coming on the heals of another story published Friday, in which the Times claimed that federal surveillance of suspected terrorists’ phone conversations was not useful in countering terrorism — a convenient conclusion for the Times since it was their revelations about this program that rendered it useless — it seemed as if the anti-Bush reporting team had hit the jackpot. The notion of a CIA project, so secret that even the Times didn’t know its nefarious purpose, directed by the ultimate liberal hate-icon, Cheney, was almost too good to be true. Surely the project was a plot against innocent American citizens and another way to subvert our liberties. And if this super-secret plot were illegally kept from Congress, the campaign to criminalize the efforts of the Bush administration in defending this country against al Qaeda would have finally found the silver bullet to nail Cheney with.

But, alas for the Left, today’s Wall Street Journal eliminates some of the mystery behind this story. It turns out the super secret program wasn’t so controversial after all. That is, not controversial if you thought the 9/11 attacks were bad. The “secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter.”

A plan to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, you say? Wasn’t this what the CIA and the rest of the government were supposed to be doing? And if they weren’t pursuing such a project, the apt question here would be why not?

Reading further into the story we discover that what this particular idea consisted of was putting together some sort of combined commando team that would hunt down 9/11 plotters much in the same manner that Israel is believed to have pursued the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. But as it turned out, little if anything was done to push the plan along. According to Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, only around $1 million was spent exploring this option, which by Washington’s standards might mean that the idea was discussed over a few catered lunches. As to whether an idea that was never actually put into motion and for which little planning was done ought to have been reported to Congress, I don’t know. But I doubt this amounts to much.

As for the project itself, I suppose such a “revenge” scenario might offend the sensibilities of some Americans — Steven Spielberg’s cinematic atrocity “Munich,” which sought to discredit Israeli counter-terrorism, represented that point of view — but I doubt it would bother most of us even today long after the shock about 9/11 has worn off. After all, hasn’t the failure to capture bin Laden been a source of continuing embarrassment for the Bush team? But even if you thought this project was daft, how does any of this constitute a blow to our liberties?

While this particular dog certainly won’t hunt, the Times and its cohorts on the Left must hope that the accumulated weight of accusations will ultimately lead to the appointment of special prosecutors to settle these partisan scores. The real villain here isn’t Cheney or others thinking about stopping al Qaeda; it is a partisan press that seeks to criminalize the efforts of those who were trying to protect us from our enemies.