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US Legislators Decry Secret Bush-Era Program

Senate Democrats are denouncing the former Bush administration's handling of a secret U.S. counter-terrorism program and its failure to inform Congress about the project for nearly eight years, allegedly on orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein says she learned of the Central Intelligence Agency program last month from CIA Director Leon Panetta.

"Congress should have been told," said Dianne Feinstein. "We should have been briefed before the commencement of this kind of sensitive program. Director Panetta did brief us two weeks ago, [and] said he had just learned about the program, described it to us and indicated he had canceled it. And, as had been reported [he] did tell us that he was told that the [former] vice president had ordered that the program not be briefed to Congress."

Feinstein, a California Democrat, appeared on the Fox News Sunday television program.

Details of the goals and methods of the secret program have yet to be made public. Speaking on ABC's This Week program, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin urged a probe of the matter.

"There is accountability in our constitution," said Dick Durbin. "The executive branch of government cannot create programs like these programs and keep Congress in the dark. To have a massive program that is concealed from the leaders in Congress is not only inappropriate, it could be illegal.

Republicans note that the CIA has stated the program was developed, but never became operational. Senator John Kyl of Arizona also appeared on This Week.

"The president and the vice president are the two people who have responsibility, ultimately, for the national security of the country," said John Kyl. "It is not out of the ordinary for the vice president to be involved in an issue like this. What if it is a top-secret program? Of course he and the president would both be responsible for that. Let us not jump to conclusions."

Meanwhile, Republicans are denouncing reports that Attorney General Eric Holder is considering a criminal probe of the former Bush administration's interrogation techniques used against terror suspects. Appearing on CNN, Senator Judd Gregg said such an investigation would publicize America's methods and tactics in the war on terror, thereby placing the nation at risk.

The Associated Press quotes a Justice Department spokesman as saying the attorney general intends to follow the facts and the law.