WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA withheld information about a secret counter-terrorism program from Congress for eight years on orders from former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, the New York Times said on Saturday.
Citing two unidentified sources, the newspaper said Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta disclosed Cheney’s involvement in closed briefings to congressional intelligence committees late last month.
Panetta, who was named to head the agency earlier this year by President Barack Obama, ended the program, which remains secret, when he first learned of its existence from subordinates on June 23, the Times said.
Intelligence and congressional officials told the newspaper the agency began the program after the September 11 attacks and said it never became operational and did not involve CIA interrogation programs or domestic intelligence activities.
The newspaper said its efforts to reach Cheney through relatives and associates were unsuccessful.
Asked about the Times report, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said it was not the agency’s practice to discuss classified briefings.
“When a CIA unit brought this matter to Director Panetta’s attention, it was with the recommendation that it be shared appropriately with Congress. That was also his view, and he took swift, decisive action to put it into effect,” Gimigliano said, declining to comment further.
Cheney was a key advocate in the Bush administration of using controversial interrogation methods such as waterboarding on terrorism suspects and has emerged as a leading Republican critic of Obama’s national security policies.
Panetta has vowed not to allow coercive interrogation practices, secret prisons or the transfer of terrorist suspects to countries that may use torture, a pledge seen as a break with the agency’s policies under President George W. Bush.
Critics of the agency, however, want it to be more forthcoming about its secret programs.
Fears the CIA withheld key information from Congress were rekindled in May when House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, accused the agency of failing to reveal in 2002 that it was waterboarding a terrorism suspect.
Panetta has rejected the Democratic speaker’s accusation.
U.S. law requires the president to make sure intelligence committees are kept fully informed of intelligence activities, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.
But the government has some leeway in disclosing such information.
Additional reporting by James Vicini; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Philip Barbara