Here’s The New York Times’ contribution to the what-in-the-world-was-this-series-of-CIA-’significant-actions‘-disclosed-and-stopped-by Director-Leon-Panetta fracas. It backs up Wall Street Journal reporter Siobhan Gorman’s account of a nascent assassination program: like Gorman, The Times reports that the unfruitful effort was aimed to create teams to hunt and take out al-Qaeda leaders, and it adds that the idea of it — ultimately considered impractical — was to provide a relatively “surgical” alternative to drone strikes, which can both (a) get messy, civilian-wise and (b) very obviously have a U.S. return address.
One thing The Times doesn’t report is the newest speculation/rumor: that this effort would have included hunting al-Qaeda domestically, where the CIA is not not not supposed to act. Some sources of Time’s Bobby Ghosh — who seem not to have first-hand information — are musing along those lines. I have no information for this proposition, but we’re too early in this to rule anything decisively out. The Guardian reported yesterday that the teams were intended to operate in allied countries where a U.S. spray-and-leave capability would be, at a minimum, diplomatically problematic.
But would that really have freaked Congress out? The Bush administration had the CIA abduct people like Abu Omar off the streets of Milan with minimal congressional opposition. An effort to *assassinate *him, to be macabre about it, is the next logical step. And Congress has no problem assassinating suspected members of al-Qaeda from the air.
So clearly there’s more here, though I have no idea as yet what the additional ‘there’ is. One striking thing about this is how comic-book-y it all seems: trying to create teams of assassins to gallavant around the world killing terrorists in stealthy ways. I think this is the plot of the new “G.I. Joe” movie.