CIA Program Canceled Prematurely

Last month, CIA Director Leon Panetta told lawmakers that the agency had maintained a fledgling program to kill Al Qaeda leaders with small assassination teams.  Congressional leaders, especially those on the intelligence committees, were upset that they were not informed earlier as required by law.

According to intelligence officials, members of the CIA proposed taking the essentially dormant program to a new level, including creating teams and training them, just before Panetta terminated it.  Other officials have suggested that such activities had already taken place during the George W. Bush administration.  According to Panetta, nobody in Al Qaeda was ever killed by assassination teams deployed overseas because of logistical and diplomatic relations concerns.

It is difficult to understand how logistical problems marred the program.  It seems like it would be rather easy to deploy covert operatives to foreign countries where Al Qaeda are likely to appear, and then quickly initiate an attack by the prepared teams when a terrorist’s location is discovered. 

Public relations would not be an issue if American involvement in the killings remained a secret.  To guard against diplomatic fallout, the US could inform foreign governments of the program, and hopefully they would cooperate or at least give America permission to conduct operations on their soil.  If it became public that Al Qaeda members’ were killed by government forces, local security services in the countries where the targeted killings occured could take credit and claim that the terrorists resisted arrest.   But even if foreign leaders refused to give the US the green light to operate on their turf, or if the CIA decided not to inform them because of concerns about leaks or assumptions that permission to carry out attacks would not be forthcoming, it would probably be worth risking a diplomatic rift in order to eliminate major national security threats to the US, and to Europe for that matter.


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