The US Central Intelligence Agency had a secret plan to capture or kill al-Qaeda operatives but it was terminated by new CIA Director Leon Panetta, The Wall Street Journal said late Sunday.
Citing unnamed former intelligence officials familiar with the matter, the newspaper said the precise nature of the highly classified effort remained unclear, and the CIA would not comment on its substance.
According to current and former government officials, the agency spent money on planning and possibly some training of its operatives for the mission, the report said.
It was acting on a 2001 presidential legal finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts. But the initiative had not become fully operational at the time Panetta ended it.
Citing three unnamed former intelligence officials, The Journal said that in 2001, the CIA also examined the subject of targeted assassinations of al-Qaeda leaders. But those discussions tapered off within six months.
Neither Panetta nor members of Congress provided details, said the Journal, adding that he quashed the CIA effort after learning about it on June 23.
Meanwhile, Representative Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said little money had been spent on the project -- closer to one million dollars than 50 million.
"The idea for this kind of program was tossed around in fits and starts," The Journal quoted Hoekstra as saying.
The New York Times reported on its website on Saturday that former US vice president Dick Cheney had ordered the CIA to withhold information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years.
Panetta, who ended the program when he learned of its existence, revealed Cheney's role in a closed briefing to the Senate and House intelligence committees, the paper said, without specifying the nature of the program.