Michael Brenner: Did the CIA Assassinate? What We Need to Know

A serious examination of the CIA/assassination story should begin by sweeping aside the rubbish cluttering the electronic ether on this issue, an accumulation of equal parts litter from the Langley fabricators and regurgitations from a slothful press. What we know seems to be the following:

  1. The CIA, as commanded by Dick Cheney, was designing a wide-ranging program to liquidate persons who they judged hostile to the United States in terms of some loosely defined terrorist connection. The Agency for decades has taken considerable license in doing just that with other reference points under a presidential directive (see Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes). Let’s also recall the revelations of the Church Committee in 1975-6.
  2. This venture was chewed over for seven-plus years but was never set in motion — so we are told.
  3. It was kept secret from Leon Panetta who, upon eventually stumbling across it, decided to terminate it — if in fact his order is being executed.
  4. Panetta ran to Congress to tell the Group of 8 and they were ‘shocked’ beyond belief.


  1. A seven-plus year delay in response to an ukase from the vice president post 9/11 strains credulity.
  2. A powerful recoil by ‘even Republicans’ among the ‘8’ from Panetta’s recitation is utterly incommensurate with the ‘facts’ about the CIA’s plans as they have been publicly described, especially since they are in full conformity with stated American objectives in the ‘war on terror.’ It is likely to Panetta gave some details about another, operational program lodged in the Pentagon. His shocking testimony may have been about: inter alia killings on the soil of friendly countries; ‘accidents’ in the form of misidentifications and/or collateral damage; kidnappings, incarceration at ‘black sites, torture; hostage taking/blackmail; free-lancing.
  3. There is considerable evidence that such an ‘Executive assassination ring’ was indeed put in place by Don Rumsfeld years ago. It supposedly was a dedicated unit (Task Force 121) based in the Joint Special Operations Command. On this, see Sy Hersh’s reporting going back to 2003. Let us also recall that George Bush boasted in his Second Inaugural Address of our success in eliminating terrorists who never will be heard from again. (ad lib-ed remarks not in official transcript).
  4. CIA Operations were peeved by being kept out of the action. Their attempts at hooking up with their DoD counterparts in some partnership, or competing against them, at last seemed on the point of success when somehow Panetta got wind of it.


  1. Exactly who was killed by whom? Where? When?
  2. Which foreign governments cooperated actively with us?
  3. Can we believe that Bob Gates was unaware of this enterprise? If we cannot, did he try to kill it or just ride along upon discovering its existence?
  4. Why the preference for the DoD rather than the more experienced CIA? Were ‘specialists’ from the latter seconded to assist the former?
  5. Given the stories circulating about such an operation since 2005, did Obama or any of his senior national security appointees make any effort to find out what had gone on/was going on? If not, was this another expression of the ‘let bygones be bygones’ philosophy that has set policy on torture, illegal surveillance, extraordinary rendition, etc?
  6. Will there be a strategy by the current administration to keep the ‘ultra-secret, highly classified’ information about these illegal, counter productive actions from being revealed to the public?
  7. Will any tangible evidence ever be presented of connections between these crimes and actual threats to the United States — past or ‘going forward?’ We might remind ourselves, in this regard, of the abundant testimony by FBI Director Mueller, among many others, that we never learned anything of serious value from either the use of torture (including that of Zubyaid and Mohammed) or from illegal electronic surveillance.

Finally, how as a nation are we going to cleanse ourselves of the odious residue from these outrageous actions taken in the name of the United States by unscrupulous, panicked leaders who engaged in a cynical exploitation of a scared and trusting country?

This story was cross-posted at the National Journal’s Security Blog.

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