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House panel to investigate secret CIA program

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Media reporting programs included missions to kill targeted terrorists
  • House Intelligence Committee: Were laws broken when CIA concealed program?
  • Panetta: Ex-VP Cheney ordered counterterrorism program be kept from Congress
  • CIA says the now-canceled program was never put into full effect
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House Intelligence Committee will investigate whether any laws were broken when the CIA concealed a now-canceled counterterrorism program from Congress, the panel's chairman announced Friday.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly ordered the CIA to withhold information about counterterrorism.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly ordered the CIA to withhold information about counterterrorism.

Among the things the committee will look into is "whether there was any past decision or direction to withhold information from the committee," Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said in a statement announcing the probe.

"I intend to make this investigation fair and thorough, and it is my goal that it will not become a distraction to the men and women of the CIA," he said.

"However, in order to assist them fully and keep them well-resourced, it is the responsibility of the executive branch to ensure that the committee is kept fully and currently informed of all significant anticipated intelligence activities."

Reyes said the probe will look into "possible violations of federal law," including the 1947 National Security Act, which set rules for briefing members of Congress on secret programs. That statement drew criticism from Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the committee's ranking Republican, who said the current facts "clearly do no support" any allegations of illegality.

"In the absence of substantiated facts, to even speculate on potential criminal behavior shows that this is little more than partisan, political theater and continues the politicization of important intelligence matters by Democrats," Hoekstra, of Michigan, said in a written statement.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano responded to Friday's announcement, saying: "Like Chairman Reyes, the agency's goal is that this new investigation not become a distraction to the men and women of CIA, who have the vital mission of protecting the United States from foreign threats. The agency will, of course, work closely with the committee on this review."

CIA Director Leon Panetta told a congressional committee in June that he was told former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the intelligence agency to withhold information about the secret program from Congress.

Panetta terminated the program when he found out about it last month. The spy agency said Thursday that the program was never put into full effect and played no significant role in the battle against al Qaeda and other violent extremists.

But a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the program said Panetta canceled the program after CIA Counterterrorism Center staff told him the agency wanted to begin training teams to carry out missions overseas. The elevation of the program from conceptual to one that needed training meant the agency would need to notify Congress about the endeavor for the first time, the source said.

Panetta instead canceled the project and informed selected members of Congress about its existence.

The program has been reported by some media outlets as missions to kill targeted terrorists. A U.S. official would not confirm the lethal nature of the effort, but did say it was aimed at al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations overseas that posed a direct threat to the United States.

"This wasn't a program that had taken shape," the U.S. official directly familiar with the program told CNN. "When a CIA unit brought the program to Panetta's attention, it came with a recommendation to brief Congress since there was thought being given to moving toward a more operational status-that is, some training.

"If the United States ever needs something like this in the future, we'll find better ways to create the capability," the official said.

CIA spokesman George Little said Panetta told Congress that the program "was never fully operational and never took a single terrorist off the battlefield."

"We've had a string of successes against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and that program didn't contribute to any of them," Little said. "This agency and this director value a candid dialogue with Congress."

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

All About U.S. House Select Committee on IntelligenceCentral Intelligence AgencyDick Cheney

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