Cheney's "Secret Counterterrorism Program" Not So Secret After All

The Times' lead story Sunday was on a C.I.A. program allegedly hidden by Dick Cheney, and abruptly ended by new C.I.A. director Leon Panetta when he learned of it. The headline to intelligence reporter Scott Shane's storyhuffed: "Cheney Is Linked To Concealment Of C.I.A. Project." Democrats are of course calling for an investigation.

The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders fromformer Vice PresidentDick Cheney, the agency's director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said Saturday.

Sounds serious, yes?But the program that the conniving Cheney concealed from Congress turns out to have been not much of a secret after all, as demonstrated but not acknowledged in Tuesday's follow-up story by Shane and Mark Mazzetti: "After 9-11, C.I.A. Had Plan To Kill Al Qaeda's Leaders." (Well, one would hope so.)

Here'sthe front-page headline from the December 15, 2002 Times (hat tip Andrew Breitbart): "Bush Has Widened Authority of C.I.A. to Kill Terrorists." Sound familiar?

The Bush administration has prepared a list of terrorist leaders the Central Intelligence Agency is authorized to kill, if capture is impractical and civilian casualties can be minimized, senior military and intelligence officials said.

The previously undisclosed C.I.A. list includes key Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as other principal figures from Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups, the officials said. The names of about two dozen terrorist leaders have recently been on the lethal-force list, officials said. ''It's the worst of the worst,'' an official said.

In this instance, the Times reverses its previous intelligence-related gaffe, committed in the summer of 2006 after it revealed compromising details of SWIFT, a successful terrorist surveillance programthat monitored internationalbanking transactions. When the paper came under fire, it tried to claim that SWIFT wasn't actually a secret, even though the headline selling the paper'sbig scoopread : "Bank Data Sifted In Secret By U.S. To Block Terror."