The disclosure Wednesday of the CIA's decision five years ago to let a
private security contractor help manage its sensitive effort to kill
senior al-Qaeda members drew congressional criticism Thursday on the
eve of key decisions by the Obama administration that current and
former intelligence officials fear could compound the spy agency's
Those decisions include the expected release Monday of newly
declassified portions of a 2004 CIA report that questions the legality
and effectiveness of the agency's harsh interrogations at secret
prisons. Additionally, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. may order a
probe of possible criminal actions by CIA officers and contractors
during those interrogations.
"In September, you are going to have a hurricane coming through
Washington that is aimed right at the intelligence community," warned
Porter J. Goss, the CIA's director from September 2004 to May 2006. He
noted that a Justice Department inquiry is also pending into whether
laws were broken when CIA officers destroyed videotapes of the harsh
Democratic House and Senate lawmakers and staff members have already
described as inappropriate the Bush administration's decision to hand
management and training responsibility for the CIA's "targeted killing"
efforts to Blackwater USA, and they have reiterated their intent to
press for speedier and more complete disclosure by the agency of such
activities in the future. CIA Director Leon E. Panetta terminated the
program in June, shortly before telling Congress about its existence.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein
(D-Calif.), chairman of the intelligence committee, sharpened her
previous criticism of the program. "It is clear to me that the failure
to notify before now constituted a violation of law," she said in a
She said she could not address the program's parameters but
emphasized that it "had, in fact, gone beyond the simple planning
"I have believed for a long time that the Intelligence Community is
over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work," she said. "This is
especially a problem when contractors are used to carry out activities
that are inherently governmental."
Democrats have previously pushed to ban the use of contractors to
conduct interrogations, and some suggested Thursday that the
restriction should extend to hit squads. "There is still too much being
done by contractors that ought to be done by government employees,"
said a congressional staff member who spoke on the condition of
anonymity because the CIA program remains classified.
Goss said he had not been fully briefed on the details of the CIA
activities in question, many of which are classified, so he could not
confirm the reported involvement of Blackwater, now known as Xe
Services LLC. A spokeswoman for the firm did not return a phone call
Thursday, but two former intelligence officers familiar with the effort
said the company had received millions of dollars for helping train and
equip teams to undertake the killings.
Goss alluded to that effort, stating that "my standing orders were 'field-forward' mission."
"We wanted to catch the people who brought down the trade centers
and killed innocent people and wanted to kill more," he said. "And we
wanted to have every possible legal means at our disposal that we could
to deal with them. That was certainly in my vision statement, and that
is the briefing that was given to members of Congress" during his
"In my view, we should constantly be looking at all our options in
terms of national security," Goss said. "Suppose you got a high-value
guy, a terrorist, part of al-Qaeda, a radical fundamentalist trained to
kill innocent people, who you cannot talk down from the tree. What
happens when you actually find that guy? Do you send the FBI? That's
probably not the best option for the tribal areas" in Afghanistan and
Political controversy over conducting lethal activities overseas
stems from the fact that "we have not resolved the basic rules of
engagement for covert forces in the world today," Goss said. "It keeps
getting pushed by the prevailing political winds." He added that the
CIA, when confronted by a particularly tough problem involving a
shortage of manpower, too much regulation or political indecision, has
"a tendency to say, 'Let's see if we can farm this out.' That does not
mean we are trying to evade a law, but to get the mission done in a
One motive the CIA might have for hiring contractors may be to add
personnel without officially enlarging its bureaucracy, Goss said. "But
it's also the case that there are some folks at retirement age who
still feel like they have some horsepower left, so they go off into a
consulting business and make themselves available."
A former intelligence official familiar with the effort said the
decision to outsource a substantial portion of the program stemmed
partly from the agency's close ties to Blackwater, which hired several
of the agency's top executives, including former CIA counterterrorism
chief Cofer Black and former deputy director for operations Robert
A second former intelligence official intimately familiar with
Blackwater's role said that there was never a formal contract, but
rather a verbal agreement between top executives of the company and the
agency. The former official said that the agreement covered only
Blackwater's expenses and overhead, with no additional profit for the
firm. "No one made a dime off of this," the former official said.
Michael V. Hayden, Goss's successor as CIA director, also declined
Thursday to comment on Blackwater's involvement in the targeted killing
program but told reporters that the use of contractors had ended by the
time he became head of the agency in 2006. At the time he learned about
it, he said, the initiative was still in the planning stages and "never
reached either the political or the legal threshold" that would have
triggered a mandatory congressional briefing.
"Somewhere in that mix, I probably would have gone down to talk to
Congress, but . . . the threshold I probably would have first crossed
was a political one, not a legal one," Hayden said. There was no
specific legal requirement, he said, but "the fact was that this was
maybe of a bit of a different flavor than the kinds of things we had
briefed the Hill on in the past."
Presidential aides, as well as CIA officials, have said they fear
that heightened controversy over the Bush administration's
counterterrorism efforts will push the Obama administration into a
partisan debate it has sought to avoid.
The release of the CIA report Monday -- on a date picked by a
federal judge in New York in response to a lawsuit by the American
Civil Liberties Union -- will come as the president settles into his
holiday at Martha's Vineyard, increasing the likelihood that it will
draw attention during a political lull.
Hayden said he expects the report's release to damage CIA morale,
even though some passages will bolster CIA assertions that the harsh
interrogations had helped the country learn about "the basic
infrastructure of al-Qaeda" and plan its counterattack.
Holder, speaking at a news conference in Washington, said the
Justice Department has worked closely with the CIA in an effort to
release only those portions of the report that will not compromise
national security. "We will not be doing anything that will endanger
the American people," Holder said.
Staff writers Ben Pershing, Anne E. Kornblut and Carrie Johnson contributed to this report.