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.
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CIA Officer's Job Made Any Leaks More Delicate
The resulting reports have never been made public, although the agency has confirmed that it submitted several requests for prosecution of CIA-related employees to the Justice Department. Only one trial has resulted, in North Carolina, involving a CIA contractor.
Larry Johnson, a former State Department counterterrorism expert who worked briefly for McCarthy at the CIA in 1988, said yesterday that if McCarthy were really involved in leaks, she may have concluded that the investigation was "a whitewash, and why not tell the press? . . . I am struck by the irony that Mary McCarthy may have been fired for blowing the whistle and ensuring the truth about an abuse was told to the American people."
Whatever the motivation in this case, intelligence officials confirmed that the leaks apparently at issue now occurred at a time of extraordinary ferment within the intelligence community about the propriety of some Bush administration policies. Several former CIA officials, including the head of its operations in Europe and one of its top Middle East analysts, have recently publicly described what they see as bitterness within the agency about allegations that the administration misused intelligence resources and reports in connection with the war.
A former intelligence official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said he knew of CIA officials who had refused to attend meetings related to the rendition -- or capture and transfer -- of suspected terrorists, because of opposition or anxiety about the legality of the practice. "They believe that if one chamber of Congress goes to the other party, there will be investigations, and those involved could be impoverished by legal fees."
Other sources described mixed initial reactions inside the agency to the disclosure of McCarthy's firing: a widespread condemnation that an intelligence officer was allegedly involved in leaking classified information, in clear violation of CIA rules, coupled with frustration at the set of events that may have provoked it.
Several sources who know her said they were disappointed. Others were sympathetic, saying many feel frustrated by a lack of debate over policies on the treatment of detainees that are seen as radical by many officers. "They're thinking Mary had nowhere else to go," said one former official who would only discuss the issue on the condition of anonymity.
Richard Kerr, a deputy director of the CIA from 1989 to 1992 who worked with McCarthy at one point, described her as "a good, solid intelligence officer," based on his own experience. "She is not a firebrand kind of ideologue," he said, adding, "I don't know her motivation in this case." In his experience, Kerr said, "nearly all senior officers at some time want to take a complaint somewhere else."
But they have several options, Kerr said. "You can quit, stay inside and fight or use the appeal mechanism inside." The formal mechanisms sometimes are not effective, he said, and "this one way [leaking to the press] is a high-risk one." Kerr added, however, that in his view, the CIA cannot allow leaks to go unpunished, because "your discipline breaks down."
Several former intelligence officials said they were particularly alarmed about McCarthy's alleged involvement in any leaks because of where she worked at the CIA. L. Britt Snyder III, who was CIA inspector general from 1997 to 2000, said if McCarthy leaked information while working in the IG office, "we would have considered that a fairly egregious sin." The IG, he said, "gets into everything, including personal things. That makes it a little different than other places."
Leaks of classified information to the media have been a familiar fixture in Washington, albeit more commonly when politically controversial information is circulated among officials of multiple government agencies or branches of government. "We've lost all sense of discipline" about leaks, then-Secretary of State George Shultz complained in 1986 shortly after firing a speechwriter for leaking a classified cable from the U.S. embassy in Argentina. That year also saw the firing of a senior defense official who failed a polygraph test regarding leaks to the media about missile sales to rebels in Afghanistan.
More recently, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, has become embroiled in controversy over his disclosure to reporters in 2003 of information from a previously classified intelligence report about Iraq. Libby said the disclosure was authorized by Cheney and Bush, but asked to be identified as a "former Hill staffer" when the reporters described their source.
Since Bush appointed a Republican ally and former lawmaker, Porter J. Goss, to replace George J. Tenet as the agency's chief in September 2005, Goss has repeatedly criticized the media for writing about sensitive intelligence matters and called for reporters to be forced to reveal their sources to grand juries. He personally oversaw the leak investigation that led to McCarthy's dismissal, rather than asking the Justice Department to do it -- as previous directors had requested in similar probes.
Even the agency's employment policies have changed: Applicants are now asked more aggressively whether they have any friends in the news media, several agency employees said. And the hurdles to making public statements persist for those who have left: Former CIA agents report that the agency's process for reviewing what they write about current events has recently become lengthier and more difficult.
The White House also has recently barraged the agency with questions about the political affiliations of some of its senior intelligence officers, according to intelligence officials.
No decision has been announced on whether McCarthy might face further repercussions, such as a criminal prosecution. That decision would be made by the Justice Department, and would force a trial that several former intelligence officials said could wind up airing sensitive information as well as policy dissents.
Staff writers Walter Pincus, Al Kamen, Howard Kurtz and Dan Morse, and research editor Lucy Shackelford and researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.