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CIA nearly trained death squads to kill Osama bin Laden: Report

The training phase of a secret CIA plan concealed from the Congress at the direction of former vice president Dick Cheney, to kill top Al-Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden was almost activated before US spy chief Leon Panetta learnt about it and put a brake.

world Updated: Jul 16, 2009 21:45 IST

The training phase of a secret CIA plan concealed from the Congress at the direction of former vice president Dick Cheney, to kill top Al-Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden was almost activated before US spy chief Leon Panetta learnt about it and put a brake.

CIA officials were proposing to activate the plan to train anti-terrorist assassination teams overseas when agency managers brought the secret programme to the attention of CIA Director Leon Panetta last month, officials said.

The plan to kill top Al-Qaeda leaders, which had been on the agency's back burner for much of the past eight years, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of proposals to initiate what one intelligence official called a "somewhat more operational phase."

Shortly after learning of the plan, Panetta terminated the programme and then went to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers, who had been kept in the dark since 2001. Former US vice president Dick Cheney had reportedly instructed the CIA to withhold information about the secret programme from Congress for eight years.

The plan to deploy small teams of assassins grew out of the CIA's early efforts to battle Al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Washington Post said. A secret document known as a "presidential finding" was signed by President George W Bush that same month, granting the agency broad authority to use deadly force against Laden as well as other senior members of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.