The Day of the Bat?

In one of the odder pieces of journalism I've seen lately, the NY Times reported that new CIA Director Leon Panetta recently ended a CIA program that was adopted in the aftermath of 9/11 and that was kept highly classified on the orders of former VP Cheney (pictured with his trademark smirk). What makes the piece so odd is the almost completely unknown nature of the "program." Was it an intelligence operation? Targeted assassinations? Did it involve training bats to penetrate and destroy bin Laden's cave network? A nude bomb?

The reader is simply left wondering. We do learn, however, that: "When a C.I.A. unit brought this matter to Director Panetta’s attention, it was with the recommendation that it be shared appropriately with Congress. That was also his view, and he took swift, decisive action to put it into effect." Presumably Cheney's whole point in keeping the program from Congress was that it would be leaked and thus compromised if shared with such a large body (or even the "gang of 8"). If he was right, then we'll soon know what the mysterious program was.

Meanwhile, the Times story also includes another intriguing tidbit. Apparently this mystery program was under the tight supervision of Cheney and his legal counsel David Addington, who "had to approve personally every government official who was told about the program. [An inspector general's] report said 'the exceptionally compartmented nature of the program' frustrated F.B.I. agents who were assigned to follow up on tips it had turned up."

The fact that the mystery program turned up "tips" (rather than, say, "corpses") indicates that it was some sort of intel operation. Further, the FBI's frustration shows another downside to Cheney's obsession with secrecy: By strictly limiting the number of people with access to "the program," Cheney likely limited its efficacy. If so, the effect would be similar to the damage Cheney and Bush did by falsely assuming that every restriction on civiil liberties was, ipso facto, likely to increase national security.

Posted by Mike Dorf