The secret CIA program that was withheld from Congress was designed to find and capture or kill senior al-Qaeda leadership at close range rather than through air strikes, government officials said.
The now canceled counterterrorism intelligence program has stirred controversy among legislators demanding to know what it entailed and why it was kept secret from Congress for eight years after going into the planning stages shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
One Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said CIA Director Leon Panetta told them that former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the program be kept secret and that CIA directors agreed, placing Cheney squarely at the center of the controversy.
“He was told the vice president had ordered that the program not be briefed to the Congress,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “I think that is a problem, obviously.”
But in an interview with NPR, former CIA Director Michael Hayden disputed that claim, saying he was never told not to brief Congress about the CIA’s secret counterterrorism program.
“I never felt I had any impediment in briefing Congress,” Hayden said.
Panetta canceled the program in June. In a hastily arranged classified briefing to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees last month, the CIA director said he himself found out about the program in June and believed Congress should have been informed of it long ago.