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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 49, November 21, 2009

CIA’s Clandestine Plans in Afghanistan

Tuesday 24 November 2009, by Benjamin Todd

The CIA and Democrats in the US Congress have lately come in conflict with each other on the clandestine attempts by the Agency’s officials to formulate plans for hunting down and killing, in the aftermath of 9/11, terrorists with the help of commando teams as was done by Israel after the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. This has been revealed by an erstwhile senior US official, according to influential sections of the American media.

Officials of the CIA’s undercover spying wing, which was called the Directorate of Operations before being rechristened as the National Cland-estine Service, are learnt to have repeatedly floated and revised, over the last few years, such plans involving the dispatch of squads of operatives overseas, at times to states friendly to Washington, to track and assassinate the Al-Qaeda leaders on the lines the Mossad agents sent assassins to Europe to kill those they believed were responsible for the murder of Israeli Olympic athletes. This was brought out by the aforementioned former official. However, several former and serving US functionaries disclosed that the highly classified plans, which a few months ago led to sharp clashes between the Congress and the CIA, never became “fully operational” with the result that CIA Director Leon Panetta put an end to the proposed programme last June.

In fact till the programme was finally buried by Panetta the CIA never totally gave up the plans to organise such killer teams. The New York Times reported more than four months ago that former US Vice-President Dick Cheney had instructed the CIA to withhold information about the programme from the House and Senate Committees overseeing intelligence operations; but Cheney has since declined to speak and maintained a studied silence on the subject.

On June 24, 2009, Panetta reportedly gave “emergency briefings” to the House and Senate Intelligence Committee members saying he had recently learnt about the programme and ordered its termination; he also told the Committee that Cheney himself had directed the Agency not to share information about the programme with the Congress. Some former senior CIA officials as well as supporters of the Agency have subsequently blamed Panetta of magnifying Cheney’s role in this affair thereby dealing another blow to the organisation, this time self-inflicted, after allegations of other irregularities during the Bush period, like the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques on captured terror suspects, had rocked the premier intelligence institution.

What is important to note is that it is the extreme secrecy surrounding the programme that has led seven Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee to publicly charge top CIA authorities with concealing the Agency’s “significant actions” from the Congress since 2001. Indeed despite all charges and counter-charges, the fact is that details of the programme are by and large unknown till date, thanks to the CIA’s allout efforts to put a lid on such super-secret plans with its spokesmen emphasising the “highly classified” nature of the project under scrutiny.

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In this connection it is worth recalling that last May a UN investigator released an interim report citing widespread civilian deaths in Afghanistan, often at the hands of unaccountable units led by the CIA or other foreign intelligence agencies. The report of the investigator, Philip Alston, a University Professor in New York and also the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution, was said to have presented a partial idea of the lawless actions (it did cite a few incidents of extrajudicial killings) of the intelligence agencies, occupation forces as well as the Afghan Police in their bid to smother resistance to the US-led occupation and opposition to the government in Kabul enjoying Washington’s backing.

It is also noteworthy that a couple of years ago the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, in its second report in November 2007, had highlighted the fact that private security companies had increased in number in the armed conflict zones like Afghanistan and Iraq and they were employing new forms of mercenaries—these were heavily armed “private security guards”, who were neither civilians nor combatants but known as “irregular combatants”, a nebulous concept. The Working Group asserted that they were responsible for violation of internationally recognised human rights in these countries; and it also maintained that the violations could be attributable to the countries employing such services if the private security companies were empowered to exercise certain elements of government authority or acting under government direction and control.

Even earlier it was reported in the US media in October 2007 that independent human rights experts had written a UN report stating that the slaying of 17 civilians in Baghdad the previous month by security guards working for Blackwater USA was a serious matter and the company ran the risk of using such contractors in a country where they have immunity. Significantly whereas the UN Security Council and General Assembly have opposed the use of mercenaries, the hiring of foreign soldiers by one country for use in a third country is illegal for only 30 states which ratified a 1989 treaty against their employment, but the US and Iraq do not figure in that list.

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