Former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to keep a top-secret intelligence program secret from congress, according to Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Diane Feinstein.
She says current CIA director Leon Panetta informed intelligence committees in late June.
"He was told that the vice president had ordered that the program not be briefed to the Congress," Feinstein said Sunday. "We were kept in the dark. That's something that should never, ever happen again."
"To have a massive program that is concealed from the leaders in congress is not only inappropriate; it could be illegal," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.
The counterterrorism program was established as the CIA ramped up its hunt for Osama bin Laden. No one has revealed details of the program, but a U.S. official familiar with it told CBS News it was never fully operational.
The official said CIA Director Panetta canceled it when he found it hadn't been reported to Congress.
His decision to kill it was not difficult or controversial, the official said. It was an "on again/off again" program, not one on which the country deeply relied.
No one today called the program illegal. But the CIA could still face tough questioning on another front.
Attorney General Eric Holder is reportedly learning toward appointing a special investigator to determine whether the CIA tortured terrorism suspects. That's prompting bipartisan criticism.
"The military has done a series of independent reports. And I believe that that is sufficient. I don't believe a special commission is necessary," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ariz., told CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.
"I just don't want to see an instance where if the higher-ups gave the order to break the law, that the ones who get punished are the people basically on the front line, the lower-level troops," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said.
That's exactly what those on the front line believe will happen, according to one former CIA official, Michael Sheuer.
"I think it will pull everybody back from doing anything that smacks of the non-conventional," he said.
He points out that the CIA already encourages every one of its agents to take out personal liability insurance, just in case they're prosecuted, if one White House decides whatever the last one authorized was illegal.