Correction to This Article
An April 23 article about the alleged leak of classified information by a CIA officer incorrectly referred to an attack by U.S. warplanes on a chemical factory in Sudan. The factory was attacked by cruise missiles launched from Navy ships.

CIA Officer's Job Made Any Leaks More Delicate

By R. Jeffrey Smith and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 23, 2006

The rare firing last week of a CIA officer accused of leaking information to the news media stems both from the sensitivity of the subjects she allegedly discussed and the Bush administration's forceful efforts to block national security disclosures that have proved embarrassing or caused operational problems, according to current and former intelligence officials.

The use of polygraphs to force out the CIA officer, a historian and Africa specialist named Mary McCarthy who lately has been working for the agency's internal inspector, comes amid long-standing administration suspicions that employees of the spy agency have not sufficiently toed the policy line set by the White House on matters such as the fight against terrorism and the war in Iraq.

Several former senior intelligence officials said yesterday they could not recall a similar sanction being levied against a serving CIA officer in the past several decades, although they said they would have supported such an action if the agency had been able to trace a leak of a similar nature back to its source.

A majority of CIA officers would probably "find the action taken [against McCarthy] correct," said a former senior intelligence official who said he had discussed the matter with former colleagues in the past day. "A small number might support her, but the ethic of the business is not to" leak, and instead to express one's dissenting views through internal grievance channels.

To some analysts, the firing is also a sign of unprecedented pressures on officials not to have contacts with the media outside of authorized channels where they convey approved messages. Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, said that "the administration's general attitude is that leaks are a threat to national security and have to be not just jawboned but seriously investigated as crimes."

The CIA said in a statement last week that omitted McCarthy's name that the officer was fired for discussing operational intelligence matters with journalists. Officials have said the journalists included Washington Post correspondent Dana Priest, who last week was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for national security reporting that included the revelation of secret, CIA-run prisons for suspected terrorists in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

The Post withheld the names of the countries from its account at the administration's request. The article attributed its information to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

CIA officials, without confirming the information in the article, have said the disclosure harmed the agency's relations with unspecified foreign intelligence services. "The consequences of this leak were more serious than other leaks," said a former intelligence official in touch with senior agency officials. "That's what inspired this [firing]." Others pointed out that the information in question was known by so few people that the number of suspected leakers was fairly small, enabling investigators to work swiftly.

The Washington Post was not asked to cooperate in the investigation and has not been subpoenaed or approached for information. McCarthy, who formerly helped oversee intelligence operations as a senior official of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and the first year of the Bush administration, did not return phone calls yesterday, and no one answered the doorbell at her home.

McCarthy held various jobs in more than two decades at the agency, and at one point was its most senior analyst for "warning," assigned to anticipate security threats. According to a government commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she expressed concern about the quality of intelligence linking Osama bin Laden to a chemical factory in Sudan that U.S. warplanes later attacked. But her last job at the CIA was in the office of Inspector General John L. Helgerson, who has a unique status at the agency.

After revelations in the 1980s about questionable CIA activities, the inspector general's appointment was subjected to Senate approval for the first time, to confer a measure of independence. Moreover, as the person singularly responsible for sensitive internal investigations of alleged wrongdoing at the agency, the inspector general is routinely granted extraordinary access to secrets ordinarily not shared with others inside the CIA.

The inspector general's combination of independence and access may have been combustible in McCarthy's case, if allegations about her involvement in leaks prove true. Since the revelation in 2004 of prisoner abuses by U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the CIA inspector general's office was charged with examining allegations of torture and other ill treatment of detainees by CIA officers and contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The allegations arose, according to sources, from complaints made by others within the agency about wrongdoing.

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