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March 28, 2015

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Congress out of the loop

CIA Director Leon Panetta kills covert program Congress knew nothing about

Another example of the secrecy that permeated the administration of President George W. Bush came to light last week with the news that CIA Director Leon Panetta abruptly killed a covert agency program that had been kept hidden from Congress for eight years.

Democratic sources acknowledged late Tuesday that Panetta had explained his action to members of the House Intelligence Committee on June 24. By Friday certain members of Congress, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., chairwoman of a House Intelligence subcommittee, were talking more openly about the revelation.

Schakowsky, according to the Associated Press, described Panetta as “stunned” that he had not been told until June 23 about the covert program, organized shortly after 9/11. Panetta took over the CIA job in February.

She told AP that the CIA and the Bush administration consciously decided not to tell Congress about the program. “It’s not as if this was an oversight and over the years just got buried,” she said.

As the covert program remains classified, details are not being released. But Schakowsky referred to it as “very, very serious” and Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Republican, said he thinks Congress would not have approved of it. Hoekstra said the program was “never executed,” and that Panetta “put a stake in the heart of it so that it would never come back.”

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said Panetta’s June 24 briefing “led me to conclude that this committee has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications, and (in at least one case) was affirmatively lied to.”

Such charges are political dynamite, as the National Security Act requires the CIA to keep Congress’ intelligence committees informed of covert activities.

Officials with the CIA have announced that an internal review is under way. Congress needs to conduct its own investigation. It is frightening to think of our government keeping Congress in the dark about its secret activities.

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