Cheney’s Assassination Squads and Iran-Contra and Findings

Sy Hersh’s recent discussion at University of Minnesota included a number of tidbits, two of which are pertinent to this post. Hersh explained that the Joint Special Operations Command was doing operations that directly reported to Cheney, up to and including assassination. And Hersh revealed that Cheney had convened a meeting not long after 9/11 where he and other alumni of Iran-Contra brainstormed how to avoid the legal problems they had with Iran-Contra. A recent Congressional Research Service article on covert ops and presidential findings helps to show how these two revelations relate to each other.

The Assassination Squads Were Revealed Because CIA Demanded a Finding

While the assassination revelation got all the press, much of what Hersh said was not new. Hersh had described much of what was going on in a July 2008 article describing operational tensions between JSOC and CIA surrounding a presidential finding authorizing covert ops in connection with Iran’s alleged nukes program. The Gang of Eight had reviewed (to the extent they do) the finding, but the JSOC went beyond the scope of that finding.

United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year [2007]. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

“The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.” The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said. [my emphasis]

There were two ways in which the JSOC operations went beyond the finding: they involved offensive lethal action that Cheney argued was authorized under the AUMF (which is where you get to assassination squads, as I pointed out when the article first came out).

Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House’s. One issue has to do with a reference in the Finding, the person familiar with it recalled, to potential defensive lethal action by U.S. operatives in Iran. (In early May, the journalist Andrew Cockburn published elements of the Finding in Counterpunch, a newsletter and online magazine.)

The language was inserted into the Finding at the urging of the C.I.A., a former senior intelligence official said. The covert operations set forth in the Finding essentially run parallel to those of a secret military task force, now operating in Iran, that is under the control of JSOC. Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference. But the borders between operations are not always clear: in Iran, C.I.A. agents and regional assets have the language skills and the local knowledge to make contacts for the JSOC operatives, and have been working with them to direct personnel, matériel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan. As a result, Congress has been given only a partial view of how the money it authorized may be used. One of JSOC’s task-force missions, the pursuit of “high-value targets,” was not directly addressed in the Finding. There is a growing realization among some legislators that the Bush Administration, in recent years, has conflated what is an intelligence operation and what is a military one in order to avoid fully informing Congress about what it is doing.

“This is a big deal,” the person familiar with the Finding said. “The C.I.A. needed the Finding to do its traditional stuff, but the Finding does not apply to JSOC. The President signed an Executive Order after September 11th giving the Pentagon license to do things that it had never been able to do before without notifying Congress. The claim was that the military was ‘preparing the battle space,’ and by using that term they were able to circumvent congressional oversight. Everything is justified in terms of fighting the global war on terror.” He added, “The Administration has been fuzzing the lines; there used to be a shade of gray”—between operations that had to be briefed to the senior congressional leadership and those which did not—“but now it’s a shade of mush.” [my emphasis]

The second expansion beyond the finding seems to pertain to the dissident groups we worked with in Iran and elsewhere.

Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with “passing money” (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, “We’ve got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?” One possible consequence of these operations would be a violent Iranian crackdown on one of the dissident groups, which could give the Bush Administration a reason to intervene.


The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

Now, one thing Hersh said about this article in particular is that the only reason there was a finding was because CIA "refused to do a joint operation without money from Congress." He also described the budget tied to the finding: up to $400 million.

The JSOC Activities Appear to Violate the Law on Findings

As it happens, the CRS recently did an article discussing the issues with presidential findings. It describes how the requirement for presidential findings arose in response to Iran-Contra–and was negotiated over the span of the time that Dick Cheney went from being a member of Republican leadership and the ranking member of the Iran-Contra Select Committee through the time he served as Poppy’s Secretary of Defense. 

In 1988, acting on a recommendation made by the Congressional Iran-Contra Committee, the Senate approved bipartisan legislation that would have required that the President notify the congressional intelligence committees within 48 hours of the implementation of a covert action if prior notice had not been provided. The House did not vote on the measure.

Still concerned by the fall-out from the Iran-Contra affair, Congress in 1990 attempted to tighten its oversight of covert action. The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a new set of statutory reporting requirements, citing the ambiguous, confusing and incomplete congressional mandate governing covert actions under the then-current law. After the bill was modified in conference, Congress approved the changes.

President George H.W. Bush pocket-vetoed the 1990 legislation, citing several concerns, including conference report language indicating congressional intent that the intelligence committees be notified “within a few days” when prior notice of a covert action was not provided, and that prior notice could only be withheld in “exigent circumstances.” The legislation also contained language stipulating that a U.S. government request of a foreign government or a private citizen to conduct covert action would constitute a covert action.

In 1991, after asserting in new conference language its intent as to the meaning of “timely fashion” and eliminating any reference to third-party covert action requests, Congress approved and the President signed into law the new measures. President Bush noted in his signing statement his satisfaction that the revised provision concerning “timely” notice to Congress of covert actions incorporates without substantive change the requirement found in existing law, and that any reference to third-party requests had been eliminated. Those covert action provisions remain in effect today.

Though the committee’s language regarding what "routine military operations" were not included in its definition of covert actions did include restrictions on military clandestine operations with foreign nationals. 

The report accompanying the Senate bill states:

The committee considers as “routine support” unilateral U.S. activities to provide or arrange for logistical or other support for U.S. military forces in the event of a military operation that is to be publicly acknowledged. Examples include caching communications equipment or weapons, the lease or purchase from unwitting sources of residential or commercial property to support an aspect of an operation, or obtaining currency or documentation for possible operational uses, if the operation as a whole is to be publicly acknowledged.

The report goes on to state:

The committee would regard as “other-than-routine” support activities undertaken in another country which involve other than unilateral activities. Examples of such activity include clandestine attempts to recruit or train foreign nationals with access to the target country to support U.S. forces in the event of a military operation; clandestine [efforts] to influence foreign nationals of the target country concerned to take certain actions in the event of a U.S. military operation; clandestine efforts to influence and effect [sic] public opinion in the country concerned where U.S. sponsorship of such efforts is concealed; and clandestine efforts to influence foreign officials in third countries to take certain actions without the knowledge or approval of their government in the event of a U.S. military operation. [my emphasis]

Now, I can imagine Cheney saying simply that he didn’t expect the Baluchis and MEK to prepare for a military operation–their role was different. But it seems clear that Congress (and Poppy) envisioned CIA engaging in such third party actions, but not the military.

Cheney’s Lessons Learned Meeting

Of course, given his intimate role in the history of presidential findings, Cheney would know that.  Cheney would know all the details about the requirements on presidential findings (indeed, much of what he wrote in the minority dissent on Iran-Contra objected to that kind of Congressional oversight over covert ops. 

Which is why Hersh’s description of Cheney’s meeting to discussion "lessons learned" from Iran-Contra is so fascinating [this is about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through the MP3–and the following is my imperfect transcription].

They set about and talking about how to sabotage oversight. And what is the model for sabotaging oversight? The model turned out to be the Bill Casey model. The Congress’ hold, in the Constitution, over the executive is about money. Everything that’s being spent must be approved by the Congress–even the most secret operation, there are secret committees in Congress that review it. And so the answer was, "let’s run operations off the books. Let’s find money elsewhere and the hell with Congress." And it was talked about as "this is the way to finally put those creeps in place." The contempt for Congress in the Bush-Cheney White House was extraordinary, just extraordinary. And it came out of Iran-Contra. 

[Hersh deferred to Mondale here to explain what Iran-Contra was]

The critical thing about Iran-Contra is that they were specifically barred from using money, and they went around. They were selling arms–the Israelis were involved in this–they were selling arms for a profit, taking the profit and the thought was to invest it.


Elliott Abrams was also involved, he became a key player in the Bush-Cheney White House.

So what makes Bush-Cheney so interesting is that at some point, they had a meeting after 9/11 of the people who were in, in the White House, who worked in Iran-Contra–that would be Abrams and Cheney, and there were others involved who were also in the White House and they had a meeting of lessons learned, I’m telling you literally took place. They had a meeting with a small group of people who worked for Reagan and for George Bush when he was Vice President, his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, anyway.

And at the meeting, here were some of the conclusions: that the Iran-Contra thing, despite the disasters, proved you could do it, you could run operations without Congressional money and get away with it.

The reason they got exposed, and this is what was said in the White House, there were too many people that knew too much–too many people in the military knew in ’85 and ’86, and too many people in the CIA knew, and Oliver North who you might remember what a great witness he was, was the wrong person to be running that. So what you do is you tell nobody. One of things Cheney wrote in his dissent to the Iran-Contra committee, Cheney said, "my god, Reagan was telling too many people too much, don’t tell Congress anything. You don’t tell the CIA much, you don’t tell the military much, and YOU, Mr. Vice President, you’re the Ollie North for this. We’re going to run operations off the books and you’re going to honcho them." And this is what they did. And this is what is still left to be reported, this kind of stuff, this kind of extraordinarily contemptuous attitude towards the Constitution.  [my emphasis] 

I’ve been talking about how Cheney had clearly integrated lessons learned from all his previous scandals and I’m glad that Hersh has now confirmed that.

But consider what this means in regards to the disclosure that the covert ops going on in Iran and the rest of the Middle East. The "lessons learned" meeting concluded that:

  • It is desirable to run covert ops off the books by finding funding from non-congressional sources 
  • To succeed such ops must avoid any revelations to Congress and most revelations to the CIA and Defense
  • Such ops should be run out of the VP’s office directly

(And I’ll remind you that we learned the Saudis were using the bribes they received from BAE to fund covert ops.)

There’s a lot more these three pieces, taken in conjunction, suggest. But for the moment, they show how well Cheney gamed the restrictions put into place after Iran-Contra.

91 replies
    • emptywheel says:

      One of the other interesting exchanges in this talk (which remember, was Hersh and Mondale) was about the allegation that Poppy Bush intervened with the Iranians to get them to hold the hostages until Reagan was inaugurated. Mondale raised it (is is, after all, really the beginning of Iran-Contra), saying that Gary Sick (who had been their guy in charge of Iran stuff) made the allegation, but suggesting that it was an unfounded allegation.

      Hersh basically responded by saying he had confirmed the story via Israeli sources, though had not been able to nail down Iranian sources on it. That is, Hersh basically responded to Mondale’s dismissal of the story with confirmation that Sick was right–that Poppy had talked the Iranians into holding the hostages for electoral purposes.

      Well, given that this whole post is about the lessons Cheney took from Iran-Contra, I’d say that’s a very good question indeed. I don’t think Obama is naive about that possibility, but it does mean he has to be careful.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Well, this does put Enron futures trading, offshore banking, and free reign for hedge funds in an interesting light. Off the books, indeed.

      • MarkH says:

        about the allegation that Poppy Bush intervened with the Iranians to get them to hold the hostages until Reagan was inaugurated.

        The willingness of the Bushies to work with countries this way is probably illegal and it makes me wonder what deals they may have with countries around the world today. Remember, Iran was classed as a terrorist state and nobody was supposed to deal with them, yet Bushies did!

        It isn’t talked about much, but I think other ways they were getting money was to bring drugs in to America and sell them for profit and to possibly steal private airplanes (which were owned by loyal Republicans and insured) and selling them or using them directly in the Contra war effort. Ollie North was creative!

      • JimWhite says:

        Joe strikes me as one of the least corruptible people inside the Beltway. He’s been a Senator since he was a young tyke and still had a net worth that was very low by Washington standards. I wouldn’t expect him to color outside the lines on this. The only question is whether he will be given access to the system that has been set up so that he can wind it down. That underlies my question above.

        • eCAHNomics says:

          I take your point on Biden. But power corrupts, and he is a man with strong opinions about how other countries should run themselves. So using a system that is already set to go might be tempting.

  1. Raven says:

    Poppy Bush intervened with the Iranians to get them to hold the hostages until Reagan was inaugurated.

    So what else is new?

    In his public statements, for example, Nixon had emphasized the primacy of ending the war, extricating American troops, and gaining the release of American POWs. In practice these policy goals were held hostage to his other policy goal of protecting the credibility of the United States as a loyal and effective counterrevolutionary power and his personal political goal of winning the 1972 election. Having failed in 1969 to achieve this goal through aggressive military and diplomatic strategies, Nixon rejected a negotiation track that might have led to some form of coalition government in Saigon, and he often considered using the “bug-out-with-bombing” option, which might have resulted in a rapid pullout of most American forces. In order to resolve his dilemma, Nixon, with Kissinger’s collaboration, adopted the decent-interval option, which, through paced troop withdrawals and stalling tactics in the Paris negotiations, had the effect of prolonging the war and extending Nguyen Van Thieu’s regime past the 1972 American presidential election.

    • emptywheel says:

      Fair enough.

      My distinction, though, was that a former government official (Poppy) while out of office engaged in covert ops that effectively discredited the existing commander in chief.

      • MarkH says:

        My distinction, though, was that a former government official (Poppy) while out of office engaged in covert ops that effectively discredited the existing commander in chief.

        Don’t forget also that Carter FIRED Bush from his CIA job. Bush probably felt revenge was required.

  2. Raven says:

    Got it, I wasn’t being critical, just pointing out the echo’s of these creeeps. (CREEP, get it?)

  3. BillE says:

    Yep, third times the charm. Blackwater, KBR, etc… Guns and butter. The whole PNAC crowd.

    What we need here is a hero from an early Ludlum book to blow the whistle on the whole gang ( not Bourne )

    Do you think that maybe, BO is tapping Darth’s phone(s) now? He might not have had enough time to replace the NSA bad guys but if there was a terminal into the program in Axelrod’s office ( left by KKKarl ) why not. I would if I was him, and isn’t he onboard with the whole FISA debacle.

  4. ralphbon says:

    Sy Hersh is a national treasure, but I don’t trust his revelations until they’ve been processed by the editors and fact-checkers at the New Yorker. His extemporaneous speaking is increasingly shot through with mini-gaffes; eg, the momentary implication in your transcription above that Cheney was part of the White House crew during Iran-Contra. (Yes, a few lines later, Hersh has Cheney back in Congress, where he spent the 1980s).

    Every cautionary note Glenzilla and others sound regarding anonymous sources goes double for Hersh, since his sources are so heavily weighted toward active and (putatively) retired intelligence officials.

    One or more such individuals were clearly trying to play Hersh in his groundbreaking article The Stovepipe, from October 2003. Here’s a passage regarding the possible origins of the forged Niger yellowcake documents:

    Another explanation was provided by a former senior C.I.A. officer. He had begun talking to me about the Niger papers in March, when I first wrote about the forgery, and said, “Somebody deliberately let something false get in there.” He became more forthcoming in subsequent months, eventually saying that a small group of disgruntled retired C.I.A. clandestine operators had banded together in the late summer of last year and drafted the fraudulent documents themselves.

    “The agency guys were so pissed at Cheney,” the former officer said. “They said, ‘O.K, we’re going to put the bite on these guys.’ ” My source said that he was first told of the fabrication late last year, at one of the many holiday gatherings in the Washington area of past and present C.I.A. officials. “Everyone was bragging about it—‘Here’s what we did. It was cool, cool, cool.’ ” These retirees, he said, had superb contacts among current officers in the agency and were informed in detail of the sismi intelligence.

    “They thought that, with this crowd, it was the only way to go—to nail these guys who were not practicing good tradecraft and vetting intelligence,” my source said. “They thought it’d be bought at lower levels—a big bluff.” The thinking, he said, was that the documents would be endorsed by Iraq hawks at the top of the Bush Administration, who would be unable to resist flaunting them at a press conference or an interagency government meeting. They would then look foolish when intelligence officials pointed out that they were obvious fakes. But the tactic backfired, he said, when the papers won widespread acceptance within the Administration. “It got out of control.”

    Like all large institutions, C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, is full of water-cooler gossip, and a retired clandestine officer told me this summer that the story about a former operations officer faking the documents is making the rounds. “What’s telling,” he added, “is that the story, whether it’s true or not, is believed”—an extraordinary commentary on the level of mistrust, bitterness, and demoralization within the C.I.A. under the Bush Administration

    Clearly, someone (JW?) was stringing Hersh along for a stretch of time in an attempt to pin the Niger forgery on folks sounding like members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. The Christmas party story sounds particularly bogus; if true, then Hersh’s source knew the precise identities of the forgers. The fact that Hersh didn’t continue to run that lead down in the years that followed suggests to me that he lent it little credence.

    Hersh did hedge the story with skepticism, but he also gave it a healthy dose of New Yorker ink.

    Cheney will always be sufficiently evil to prosecute in my book, whether Hersh’s private assassination team story pans out or fades like the dubious forgery lead in “The Stovepipe.”

    • emptywheel says:

      Actually, we do know that people within CIA allowed that to get in. The forgery itself was done by the Italians–by people WITH ties to Cheney. But the allegations got into finished intelligence bc people in CIA skimmed the obviously false bits off so as to make the intell successful. If I took a few hours I could describe where the people who did this work at CIA, so it’s pretty easy to do.

      As to your suggestion that that affects most of what is in this post? Well, as I point out (and was clear to me last June) the assassination squad DID get vetted by editors, last June. And much of the rest of this has been reported by other people. Plus, it’s pretty clear that at least one Senator has reason to believe the larger story on this stuff.

      • ralphbon says:

        The allegation in Stovepipe was the opposite of what you describe, ie, of what we know now. What people were feeding Hersh in 2003 was the theory that anti-Cheney ex-CIA operatives crafted the forgery with the intention of having it fail and embarrass the hardliners.

        The fact that Hersh’s source overreached with the holiday party story, claiming to have actually heard anti-Bush CIA dissidents boast about creating a self-destructing forgery, indicates to me that the source was not merely relating gossip but deliberately trying to throw Hersh off the trail that you articulate.

        I agree that the story of JSOC assassination squads operating under White House direction is established and vetted and has Cheney’s fingerprints all over it. But I don’t see that the current meme in its popular formulation — that the squads “directly reported” to Cheney — has sufficient corroboration.

        • cinnamonape says:

          That story didn’t make much sense to me, and shoiuldn’t to Hersch, because none of the plotters “pulled the string” on it to reveal that it was an obvious fake. That could have easily been done by sending the manipulated documents to any of a number of Newspapers or sympathetic websites in the run-up to the war…after the British White paper, for example.

        • emptywheel says:

          I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m arguing. I’ve had this discussion with a number of people who have spent a very long time analyzing this and while it seems the analysts got the PLACE where the self-destruction was attempted (and then never discovered) something like that has been one argument to explain how CIA laundered the bad forgery.

          • emptywheel says:

            And I should say, I thought what you thought for a few years. But when we got details on HOW the forgeries were laundered (having known they were laundered for years) it seems possible that Hirsh was right, but that the placement of the attempt to screw over Cheney happened in a different place than Hirsh understood.

          • ralphbon says:

            I must admit you have me pretty confused now. Are you saying that elements within the CIA laundered a hopelessly obvious Italian forgery to make it less obvious but still sufficiently flawed so they could use it (at least according to their plan) to embarrass Cheney at the right moment?

  5. Styve says:

    Interesting that Hersh essentially leaked the info on the Cheney Death Squads with the actual book not due out for about a year!

    Something must be done to expedite his indictment and apprehension.

  6. prostratedragon says:

    The most delicate mimosa of factual confirmation far outblooms banks of the orchids of well-trained cynicism, or something.

    • prostratedragon says:

      That kind of otb operation have interested me much more than personal venality —not that there couldn’t also be some of that— as the key motive for a lot of what looks like graft or lucrative participation by intel in criminal activities. Indeed, the Iran-Contra do did appear to show what was possible there, even just going by the Walsh report.

    • bobschacht says:

      Yeah, remember all that “lost money” that the U.S. was shipping to Iraq by the pallet-load right after the invasion? I wonder how much of that Cheney & Abrams wound up with to fund their black ops?

      Bob in HI

  7. bell says:

    the usa just stop meddling in others affairs, especially iranian affairs.. thanks for the post and the various posters comments…

  8. Styve says:

    Cheney is very dangerous and should be taken to an undisclosed location for the safety of the world~~

    April 21, 2008 — SPECIAL REPORT. America’s dual nuclear chain-of-command threatens the planet

    There is something radically wrong with America’s control over its nuclear weapons, particularly those maintained by the U.S. Air Force. After a long investigation, it can now be reported that there is, in effect, two de facto nuclear chains-of-command in the Air Force, one with dangerous links to the neocon cell that exists within the office of Vice President Dick Cheney and Air Force headquarters, the other acting within the bounds of established nuclear weapons surety and control.

    On August 30, 2007, a B-52, assigned to the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, left Minot AFB with reportedly five AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missiles armed with W-80-1 nuclear warheads. The number five apparently was reported to Air Force Times, a Gannett publication, by three high-ranking Air Force officers who blew the whistle on what was later described by the Air Force as a “mistake.” Later, the Associated Press said there were six nuclear armed missiles on board the aircraft. In theory, there should be no discrepancies for such a small number and for such a serious incident.
    It has been discovered that there were a series of security “incidents” directed by what amounts to a renegade nuclear chain-of-command that permitted five or six nuclear 5 to 150 kiloton thermonuclear weapons to remain outside of legitimate control for some 36 hours, resulting in a rare Bent Spear nuclear incident report that quickly reached the Oval Office.

    The rogue nuclear chain-of-command starts at the White House office of Vice President Dick Cheney, with significant influence from Cheney’s Chief of Staff David Addington, and extends to Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, and further to the Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley.

    Gates obtained the resignations of Mosely and Wynne shortly thereafter.

  9. Professor Foland says:

    From the Iran-Contra Minority report, authored by Cheney:

    During the country’s first century, Presidents used literally hundreds of secret agents at their own discretion. … The Presidents were simply using their inherent executive powers under Article II of the Constitution. For the Congresses that had accepted the overt presidential uses of military force summarized in the previous section, the use of Executive power for these kinds of covert activities raised no constitutional questions.

    Emphasis mine.

  10. ezdidit says:

    …mmm…like with BCCI, you mean?

    What a nasty bit of business Cheney has turned out to be. He ought to be behind bars along with others who also try to justify kidnapping, torture, murder and then do these things.

  11. nellieh says:

    I can’t remember his name but, didn’t Cheney have a General or Retired General assigned by Cheney to back channel reports and didn’t the General’s running the wars objected to the reporting behind their backs? Apparently he had WH access more readily than they. I’m wondering if he could have been an intelligence carrier without paper or electronic trails or records. Believe me I am not a conspiracy theorist. I just remember something about a really hawkish general involved with this. It could be something entirely different.

  12. freepatriot says:

    I don’t know about cheney’s assassination squad, but you can bet george bush gets credit for today’s stock bounce

    where’s perino when you need to hear a good whopper ???

  13. freepatriot says:

    my comment at 35 were in response to Jim White at 2

    but yer software screwed it up

    or I suck at postin on teh innertubes

    so I’m pretty sure it’s yer software …

  14. Mary says:

    The report refers to “high value targets” in “the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed” but tell me which AUMF authorized killing Iranians in Iran? Or military action in Iran?

    I understand that,

    Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference.

    the Bush approach was he could use the United States military for any kind of operations anywhere, including in America, against innocent citizens (something that Russian troops had difficulty stomaching during the break up of the USSR). But that has clearly never been anyone else’s position (the courts or Congress) except that it seems that the Democrats in the Gang of 8 joined in lockstep with the Republicans to authorize just that interpretation – that Bush and now Obama and any future yahoo President like Palin – can go around using the US miltary for covert political assassination ops.

    Could Pelosi and Reid be any more worthless?

    • Ishmael says:

      The analogy that keeps coming to my mind is that of feudal Japan – the Bush Administration was really the Cheney Shogunate, with a ceremonial Emperor and the actual power over the military, foreign policy and feudal patronage controlled by the shogun and enforced by loyal samurai – but without even the pretense of a bushido or code of honour.

    • Valtin says:

      “Can Pelosi or Reid be anymore worthless?”

      For sure, although one could say that about the entire Congress and the media. Cheney is a criminal working on behalf of criminals. This clandestine operation, off-the-books, is all CIA stuff. Even what gets toasted on DoD is probably CIA, who for decades has used DoD as a cover for much of its work. Not that there isn’t one giant mindfuck of a hunt for dollars and bureaucratic influence among competing agencies.

      How many commenters here even heard of the CIA covert war in Laos, where somehow the CIA found ten to twenty billion dollars to fund a 100,000 man secret army in the 1960s? What? Never heard of that war? (Not you, Mary, as I suppose you have.)

      I notice that a number of commenters here can’t help but notice how the economic “crisis” has fueled one hell of a slush fund. No one can even account for the billions of dollars. I wonder what the hell they are funding.

      I opined the other day that the insurance/reinsurance scams of AIG were heavily involved with cover ops. Frank Wisner, Jr. was until recently Vice Chairman of External Affairs at AIG. He served in a number of senior positions in the U.S. government, including Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 1993 to 1994 and Undersecretary of State for International Security Affairs from 1992 to 1993.

      If the latter isn’t a connected to CIA, I’ll eat my hat. Perfect job for the son of one of the founders of the CIA, the man who created the Great Wurlitzer.

      Just great work, EW, and great comments everyone!

      • whitewidow says:

        I’ve heard of the activities in Laos, but then I live in a neighborhood with many Hmong immigrants who are still loyal to General Vang.

        Your larger point (I think) is taken, though. None of this is new, they just keep getting better at it.

  15. QuickSilver says:

    Don’t forget daughter Elizabeth running the Iran Syria Operations Group (ISOG) over at State…. I wonder how she fits in? She would have wheeled her father anywhere he wanted to go, I’m sure.

    Excellent diary. I’d like to see it cross-posted.

  16. Mary says:

    But it seems clear that Congress (and Poppy) envisioned CIA engaging in such third party actions, but not the military.

    Yeah – bc envisioning the military engaging in armed activities on foreign soil to the detriment of the foreign govt, well, that’s basically an act of war.

    Pretty infuriating all around and I don’t buy for a minute, in a town like DC, that people like Feinstein didn’t know what was going on, for all that they have this pretense now of surprise.

  17. WilliamOckham says:

    I apologize in advance for harping on a minor issue, but I can’t resist. In the section of the CRS report that ew quotes, there is an interesting misreading:

    clandestine efforts to influence and effect [sic] public opinion in the country concerned where U.S. sponsorship of such efforts is concealed;

    That [sic] is based on a misunderstanding. The author of the CRS report thinks the Senate committee made the common mistake of using ‘effect’ when they meant ‘affect’, but this is almost certainly not the case. It would be redundant to use ‘influence and affect public opinion’. When ‘effect’ is used as a verb, it means to ‘to cause to come into being’ or ‘to bring about’. That is, I believe, exactly what was intended in this passage. The committee was talking about two separate types of activities. The first is obvious, influencing public opinion in a foreign country. The second is a bit more obscure, but clandestine operators have long believed that they could create public opinion where none existed before (e.g. in closely controlled authoritarian states). I think it’s important to understand exactly what sort of delusions these folks suffer from.

    • Professor Foland says:

      As long as we’re in the grammar weeds, to use “effect” as a verb, grammatically doesn’t “public opinion” have to be somehow particularized here, as in, “effect positive public opinion”? Since “influencing” something sort of implies it already exists…

      • emptywheel says:

        I had the same nit-pick response as WO, and my first thought was that it betrayed a really instrumental notion of what public opinion is.

        That is, I think the CRS writer overestimates spooks’ ability to “effect” public opinion.

        • WilliamOckham says:

          I am surprised anybody else cares about this, but here’s what I think is going on. You quoted the CRS report which quoted a Senate committee report which described a menu of covert actions. The bit I quoted has two distinct options. The first is the standard, if reprehensible, tactic of covertly influencing public opinion in a foreign country against its own government. The second is the notion that we can create a public (in something like the sense that Hannah Arendt used the word). I have heard and read spooks who think they can use psyops to do this. I think the Greeks described this as Hubris.

  18. Sara says:

    Currently reading a fascinating book that covers part of this territory, and a good deal more. Part of my ongoing project of reducing the height of my unread book pile before I allow myself any more tours of bookstores.

    Robert Baer’s “The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower,” Crown, published late in 2008, but before the outcome of the election was clear, Interprets Middle East contemporary History from the start of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 to the present, but as a twist on what is generally offered up — from the point of view of an intelligence analyist approaching the material from an Iranian National Interest point of view. Without making any sort of detailed constitutional or legal analysis of either Iran-Contra, or dealings of the late Bush/Cheney period, he makes the case that US policy has been driven by the Saudi Paymasters for Iran destabalization covert actions, not US national interests. After reviewing all of the failed efforts (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and some aspects of Afghanistan/Pakistan,) — Baer makes the case for US National Interests being a wide ranging settlement with Iran — something he sketches out in his final chapter.

    Bought the book because of two reviews I read last fall — one by Thomas Powers, and the other by James Risen, both of whom I respect on Intelligence Matters. Likewise in a Radio Interview (probably was on NPR or MPR — the only station that does serious author interviews) Baer was asked about Cheney — who is hardly mentioned in the book, and he dismissed him as a totally owned Saudi operative, incapable of identifying any mistakes, and correcting them based on honest critique of past actions. Baer sees this as the essential strength of Iran — they did a serious review of failure in Lebanon in the civil war period, they did a serious walk-back of the Iran/Iraq war — and they changed strategy. In fact they came to reject their own Revolutionary approach, and evolve a political/military approach to the Middle East largely founded on class analysis that Baer contends is attractive to both Sunni and Shia populations…and is proving highly successful, and serving Iranian Imperial interests very well.

    I was reading Baer last week in the wake of Cheney’s attack on the Obama approach (making us much less safe) and the leaked understanding that Obama would directly respond to Cheney in several venues — he did last night on the 60 Minutes interview, but perhaps more to the point, the Obama Administration plans to release a good many more torture memo’s sometime this week — something I interpret as essentially dismissing Cheney and the Cheney approach, and taken together with Obama’s tape greeting Iran on its new years holiday, I am adding together as evidence that Obama is at least exploring as a major policy change…a policy change that Cheney is trying to head off at the pass, because it hardly comports with his service to Saudi interests.

    What I want to know more about given Hersh’s stories is that after Obama won last fall, and got a full and complete intelligence briefing, he learned of all the small covert actions that were being run against Iran, or in Iran — and asked Bush to pull them all back, down, so that a full review of US policy could be done by his team — and that Bush so ordered, much to the dismay and objection of Cheney. Hersh has been following some of these covert efforts for a couple of years now — remember his predictions that Cheney’s factions were trying to start a war or insurrection in Iran beginning in the summer of 2007 — this fits right in with Baer’s analysis of US Policy being captive of the Saudi’s.

  19. SaltinWound says:

    It seems like we’ve skirted around the edges of Cheney and Libby being involved in black ops at the anthrax lab. I don’t doubt that Cheney thought he had the authority to play with anthrax in whatever way he deemed necessary.

  20. SiliconValleyBrit says:

    If anyone was wondering why the Bush Administration was shipping pallet-loads of cash to Iraq and not bothering to monitor closely what was happening to them, they now have the answer. There was no need for Saudi money, there was four billion dollars of un-accounted-for cash, available to fund off-the-books operations.…..5120070207

  21. cinnamonape says:

    I don’t see any reason (other than perhaps the fact that he’s under NSA?CIA surveillance) that Cheney would still not be operating such teams if they are actually completely autonomous of the Federal Government and administered using non-government cash. Who knows what contigency plans they have already worked out that can be signalled by something as arcane as Cheney making some inane comment on “Meet The Press”?

  22. cinnamonape says:

    Convenient. It’s likely within the security cordon of the CIA proper. It also might be difficult for someone from the Executive (FBI or ahem…NSA) to surveille the ex-VP without clearing it through the jammers of the CIA, even with a search warrant.

    Also convenient for a tunnel…or a dungeon

  23. KagroX says:

    They set about and talking about how to sabotage oversight. And what is the model for sabotaging oversight? The model turned out to be the Bill Casey model. The Congress’ hold, in the Constitution, over the executive is about money. Everything that’s being spent must be approved by the Congress–even the most secret operation, there are secret committees in Congress that review it. And so the answer was, “let’s run operations off the books. Let’s find money elsewhere and the hell with Congress.” And it was talked about as “this is the way to finally put those creeps in place.” The contempt for Congress in the Bush-Cheney White House was extraordinary, just extraordinary. And it came out of Iran-Contra.

    Oh wells. “Look to the future!”

    La la la!

  24. Akatabi says:

    This sounds remarkably like Ollie North and Bill Casey’s “off-the-shelf, self-sustaining, stand-alone entity that could perform certain activities on behalf of the United States.”

    Excerpt from Iran-Contra hearing in same article: “Mr. Liman: Did the Director ever tell you that he contemplated that this private organization should operate pursuant to Presidential findings? Colonel North: We never got that far. Q: Did the Director ever tell you that this private organization would be subject to oversight, pursuant to the laws of the United States, by Congress? A: Again, the discussion didn’t get that far. Colonel North also said that he believed it was “good and sufficient” for Mr. Casey, as the Director of Central Intelligence, to direct him how to use the fund without seeking Presidential approval.”

    Maybe we “got that far” under Fourth-Branch.

    • Rayne says:

      Yes. As Elliot Abrams shared after the Iran Contra learnings session:

      – can’t trust our friends
      – C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it
      – can’t trust the uniformed military
      – got to be run out of the OVP

      An independent organization subordinate to Fourth Branch would fit the bill. They didn’t need to use “friends” because they did it themselves, acquiring “true believers” for their team.

      This is the real purpose of the hollowing out of DOJ; they needed people in DOJ who were not friends but friendlies, who would not find fault with anything they did and could be co-opted as necessary. They surely tried to do the same across the military and all other government agencies, embedding every entity with people who would not question the nebulous role of the Fourth Branch.

      One hopes that there are are people monitoring Cheney closely; they don’t get much more malignant than this guy. The bit about living so close to Langley sure smells.

  25. bmaz says:

    Funny you should mention that. Earlier today, i was talking with a friend about how it would be a good thing to get back to the type of Committee investigations where committee counsel did the majority of the questioning. They seem so much more efficient and productive than the dog and pony shows spotlighting ill informed and self serving preening and posturing politicians. Arthur Liman was a prime example of just this.

  26. Gitcheegumee says:

    We know, but it’s good to be reminded of the original reports, every now and then.
    Posted by leveymg in General Discussion

    Tue Jul 22nd 2008, 09:38 AM

    “There’s a wealth of detail here that’s worth reconnecting with what we’ve learned since. For instance, it wasn’t revealed until recent years that then CIA Director George H.W. Bush made a political deal in mid-1976 with the head of Saudi external intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal, to allow the Saudis to finance and run the sort of covert operations that the Democratic Congress banned after the Church Committee hearings. That deal with code-named, Safari Club. BCCI was the funding vehicle for that illegal operation. See,…

    The Safari Club was also the start of Saudi penetration of the US political and banking systems, and huge support of the GOP.

    What’s useful is to look at the details of old news reports, since the corporate media used to actually report a lot of useful details. For instance, after he was fired as CIA Director by President Carter in early 1977, Bush was appointed Director of Houston-based First International Bankshares, owned in part by Joe Allbriton, with foreign offices in London and Luxembourg.
    BCCI had its major offices in the same locations. After Bush became VP, Allbriton sold out his shares in First Interbank to his crony, Jim Baker III, who owned Republic Bank. The merger went bankrupt a few years later, which became the largest financial bail-out in US history.
    That set the model for the S&L rip-off, which was also centered in Southwest bank chains in whch BCCI and the Bush clan had a vested interest. Allbriton went on to buy DC-based Riggs Bank, that along with UBS and other BCCI-linked banks, dispersed much of the funds held in diplomatic accounts by the Saudi Embassy in the name of the wife of Prince Bandar (an old friend of the Bush family). It’s a small world, after all.”

  27. rkilowatt says:

    re black funding for covert ops…France after WW2 had little to fund its covert ops that were so important for maintaining its colonies, etc,. Their answer was to enable the heroin labs in Marseille etc and rake off huge flows of drug money. That example surely set a precedent for CIA and others obtaining untraceable funding.

    The Politics Of Heroin In Southeast Asia by Al McCoy; it’s the primer on this.

    Later, From Alaskan Airlines, Air America and 100’s of other legitimate businesses and investments, the CIA long ago solved its desire for $$$ that bypasses all accounting. Even banking services. Of especial note, the drug trade yields the $$$flows especially to covert NonGovOrgs run often by those with prior experience.

  28. worldwidehappiness says:

    Do the CIA people get confused about whether they are stopping evil or sowing seeds for evil? I mean after a few years you might forget that the evildoers might actually be responding to some black operation you did years before, etc. For example, Iran might pursue a nuke because you are doing secret ops against them. It’s hard to trace who started these things.

    And can we rely on CIA intelligence when it comes to killing people who haven’t faced a trial?

  29. RAMA says:

    So maybe all those ”missing” billions of dollars shipped on pallets to Iraq aren’t missing after all; maybe these jokers were simply stealing the money to run their covert operations. It’s certainly more elegant than Iran-Contra; no Israeli middle men to contend with. Just a simple transfer of shipping pallets.

    • Rayne says:

      Oh, I’m sure those pallets of cash were only the tip of the iceberg.

      There was a lot more going on which never made sense, like the smuggling of s ilencers by a certain private security company. Was this the only time that silencers were smuggled and they just happened to get busted — or was this one of a number of shipments and only this one was caught? If it’s the only one of a number, what happened to the rest of them? Does anybody recall hearing any stink about silencers being used in offensive (not defensive) actions, and if not, where would a mess of silencers go?

      Black market sales to raise cash? or a squad of assassins? or both?

      There was certainly more than silencers being shipped:

      In addition to the grand jury investigation, Blackwater sources say the company is facing a multi-million dollar fine for some 900 instances in which it violated State Department licensing requirements for the export of certain weapons and technical know-how.

      Blackwater acknowledged in its statements “numerous mistakes in complex and demanding area of export compliance,” saying most of the violations were failures of paperwork not “nefarious smuggling.”

      Of the 900 cases, about 100 of them have been referred to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution, according to lawyers briefed on the case.

      Last month, Blackwater hired a team of former federal law enforcement officials and defense experts that it said would review the company’s compliance with export laws.

      So where are the 100 cases handed over to DOJ? how many of the former feds hired were Bushies/Cheneyites? What’s the disposition of the other 800 cases? what else was smuggled by this one company besides silencers?

      And what other companies also smuggled goods into Iraq, but didn’t make the press, grand jury or DOJ investigation(s)?

      If one has the right contractors, there’s no middle men to worry about because it’s just between you and the contractor; whatever the contractor does to meet contractual obligations other than yours is their problem, in theory.

  30. Leen says:

    So Plame was obviously on Cheney/Abrams hit list. Had she found out about just how big the special ops on the ground in Iran were?

    Where is Elliot Abrams now?

    How much money did Condi Rice push congress to fund some of these Special Ops in Iran?

    Why does anyone wonder why people in the middle east hate us? Why would anyone wonder why Iran fears us? These are acts of war.

    Yesterday Juan Cole was on the Diane Rehm show talking about his new book about the middle east. The show was generally focused on Iran During the show the screener allowed seven calls that were damn negative about Muslims. Finally the last
    caller came in with support of Juan Cole’s insights (hell the guy studies
    these issues 24/7) Not once did the screeners on the show allow any questions about Israel’s and the I lobbies role in pushing the U.S. into pre-emptive military actions in Iran Says a great deal about the power of the screener or producers as to what questions they let through.

    At least Diane did not repeat Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the face of the map” You know the endlessly repeated and purposely misinterpreted claim that the radical warmongers (Ledeen, Cheney, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Bolton etc) constantly repeat. Juan debunked that inflammatory rhetoric several years ago. Juan directly translated that quote “Zionism will vanich from the pages of history”.

    How can a radio show go for one hour and the general topic is Iran without addressing Israel’s influence?

  31. mui1 says:

    There were two ways in which the JSOC operations went beyond the finding: they involved offensive lethal action that Cheney argued was authorized under the AUMF (which is where you get to assassination squads

    Oh sure, and we are officially at war with . . .Iran? Assination squads are not only morally repulsive, they’re criminal. Please explain to me why Ollie North of the 2000s isn’t going to sit in jail. Cheney and the CIA are hardly capable of being judge and jury.
    And what about that stupid legislation that possibly allows assholes like Cheney to convince themselves and others that they are supporting “regime change” and “democracy” in Iran. Iran is a sovereign nation. I suggest Congress defuse any and all legislation that allows criminals like Cheney to pretend otherwise.

  32. mui1 says:

    The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

    And the CIA is peerless in finding and funding the most despicable groups of people. Sunni fundamentalists > Ramzi Yousef > 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center AND for example :

    1994 Imam Reza shrine bombing
    On June 20, 1994, an explosion from a bomb occurred in a prayer hall of the shrine of the Imam Reza[8] The bomb that killed at least 25 people on June 20 in Mashhad exploded at Ashura.[9] Mehdi Nahvi, a member of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MKO), an Iraqi-based opposition group, claimed responsibility. The MKO stated that the bombing was carried out to commemorate the anniversary of the group’s founding on June 20, 1981.[citation needed] Although government blamed the Mujahedin-e-Khalq in a TV show to avoid sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni[citation needed], the Pakistani daily “News” of March 27, 1995 reported, “Pakistani investigators have identified a 24-year-old religious fanatic Abdul Shakoor residing in Lyari in Karachi, as an important Pakistani associate of Ramzi Yousef. Abdul Shakoor had intimate contacts with Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and was responsible for the June 20, 1994, massive bomb explosion at the shrine Imam Ali Reza in Mashhad.”[10]

  33. JThomason says:

    What a tremendous post and thread exploring the emergence of tyrannical activity under the pretext of governance. Certainly has bearing on a theory of neo-feudalism.

    I am particularly struck by the references to the work of Robert Baer. I have been attempting to track down an item, a short note, I believe he wrote that was published on the front page of the Washington Post in the Summer of 2006 or 2007 which documented instances drawn from experience within the last century of the political failure of torture regimes.

    I know its a shot in the dark here in EPU land to see if anyone might be able to cite this to me but given the flow of the dialogue its seems like an opportune time.

  34. robspierre says:

    Legally, can the Executive spend money that has not been authorized by Congress simply because the money comes from foreigners? Aren’t gifts of cash from, say, the Saudis property of the United States and thus automatically subject to Congress’ power of the purse?

    I seem to remember that the power of the purse was supposed to restrain the executive, not just protect taxpayer dollars. I find it hard to imagine that the framers of the Constitution would have approved of George Washington taking money from King George in order to hire his own Presidential Hessians.

    So it seems obvious to me that the simple act of receiving funds from a foreign power for purposes contrary to American law and the will of the legislature is exactly the kind of high crime that requires impeachment. In the case of the Saudis, I think a good case could be made for treason as well.

    Our problem is that we constantly rationalize shirking our duties under our own laws.

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