- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on Sunday decried the apparent role of former Vice President Dick Cheney in keeping a sensitive national security program hidden from Congress for eight years, saying, “It should never, ever happen again.”

Mrs. Feinstein said CIA Director Leon Panetta told lawmakers last month about the program, implemented in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, which he said was concealed under direct orders from Mr. Cheney. Mr. Panetta “indicated that he had canceled it,” she said.

“We should have been briefed before the commencement of this kind of sensitive program,” Mrs. Feinstein said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is a problem because the law is very clear… . that’s something that should never, ever happen again.”

Mr. Cheney’s involvement first was reported Saturday by the New York Times. Details of the program in question are not known, but according to a report by The Washington Times, the program remained in the “capability stage,” meaning that it had been developed but not necessarily implemented. An intelligence official told The Washington Times that the classified program was a “special access program” — so secret that even officers with the highest intelligence clearances do not know about them and their access is reserved for only the most senior officials and officers directly working on the activities. Mrs. Feinstein argued that congressional intelligence panels should have been briefed on the program’s existence so that lawmakers could have vetted it.

“I think you weaken your case when you go outside of the law,” she said, referring to the 1947 law governing briefings to Congress.

The revelation follows a lingering controversy over a claim made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, that the CIA lied to her in a September 2002 briefing on harsh interrogation tactics. Republicans on Sunday questioned whether revelations about Mr. Cheney’s involvement are a means of protecting Mrs. Pelosi from further scrutiny.

It “looks to me suspiciously like an attempt to provide political cover,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican,” said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, said the controversies are undermining morale at the intelligence-gathering agency. Mr. Gregg appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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