- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Intelligence Committee said Friday it will investigate whether the CIA broke the law by not informing Congress promptly about a secret program to deploy hit teams to kill al-Qaida leaders.

Committee Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said that the hit team proposal is among several intelligence operations that will be investigated as part of a broad inquiry into the CIA’s handling of disclosures to Congress about its secret activities.

“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,” Reyes said.

The committee will examine concerns that the CIA failed to inform the Senate and House Intelligence committees about President Bush’s wiretapping program, harsh interrogation techniques and the destruction of interrogation videotapes, according to a committee aide.

The inquiry will also focus on the how the CIA handled disclosures about the 2001 downing of a small plane carrying American missionaries over Peru and on other cases, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Current law requires the House and Senate Intelligence committees to be kept informed of significant intelligence activities or anticipated activities.

CIA Director Leon Panetta told the two committees about the hit team program in an emergency briefing he called on June 24, a day after he learned of it himself and canceled it.

The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center brought the program to Panetta’s attention last month because it wanted to begin training the teams, according to a government official familiar with the matter.

The effort to develop and deploy hit teams to target al-Qaida members on the ground, rather than using armed drone strikes or foreign intelligence services, has existed on and off since 2001 but it never became operational, according to the official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he also was not authorized the discuss the matter.

“The program he killed was never fully operational and never took a single terrorist off the battlefield,” CIA spokesman George Little said Thursday. “Those are facts he shared with Congress. We’ve had a string of successes against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and that program didn’t contribute to any of them.”

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