By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 24, 2006
Key Democratic legislators yesterday joined Republicans in saying they do not condone the alleged leaking of classified information that led to last week's firing of a veteran CIA officer. But they questioned whether a double standard exists that lets the White House give reporters secretly declassified information for political purposes.
"I don't know this woman, and I do not condone leaks of classified information," said Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, referring to the firing of Mary McCarthy.
Harman added that "while leaks are wrong, I think it is totally wrong for our president in secret to selectively declassify certain information and empower people in his White House to leak it to favored reporters so that they can discredit political enemies," she said on Fox News Sunday.
Harman was referring to White House staff members disclosing the classified identity of CIA case officer Valerie Plame in 2003.
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) echoed Harman, saying, "A CIA agent has an obligation to uphold the law, and clearly leaking is against the law. And nobody should leak." But he added: "If you're leaking to tell the truth, Americans are going to look at that, at least mitigate or think about what are the consequences that you . . . put on that person."
McCarthy, while working for CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson, is alleged to have "knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence, including operational information" to journalists including The Washington Post's Dana Priest. Last week, Priest was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting that included the revelation of secret, CIA-run prisons for suspected terrorists in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
Kerry, on ABC's "This Week," said, "Classification in Washington is a tool that is used to hide the truth from the American people." He added, "I'm glad she told the truth," but if McCarthy did it, she will have to face the consequences of breaking the law.
Then drawing a parallel to the Plame case, Kerry said that with McCarthy, "you have somebody being fired from the CIA for allegedly telling the truth, and you have no one fired from the White House for revealing a CIA agent in order to support a lie. That underscores what's really wrong in Washington, D.C."
From 1996 to 2001, McCarthy worked as a senior intelligence aide on the National Security Council staff. She has been denounced by critics for leaking classified material; some suggested she had a political motive and noted that she gave $2,000 to Kerry's presidential primary campaign.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence panel, took issue with Harman on the question of a double standard. Appearing on the same Fox program, Hoekstra said the president has the legal authority to decide "what is classified and what is not," whereas "this person in the CIA thought that they were above the law." As a result, he added, McCarthy put the country at greater risk through her alleged disclosures.
Asked about the administration's statements about Iran's fast-advancing nuclear program, Hoekstra and Harman gave support to Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte's prediction last week that it could be the next decade before Tehran has enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon.
"We really don't know," Hoekstra said, but "we're getting lots of mixed messages." Pressed about the apparent lack of clear intelligence on Iran, Hoekstra said: "Sometimes it's better to be honest and to say there's a whole lot we don't know about Iran that I wish we did know . . . as decisions are being made on Iran."
Harman picked up the point, saying, "Our intelligence is thin. I don't think we have enough sources." Referring to recent statements from Tehran that it had begun enriching uranium, Harman said: "Just the fact that the Iranian government is making a lot of noise doesn't prove their capability."
She compared Iran today to Iraq in 2002, when "the Iraqi government made a lot of noise, and they had nothing." She said when the Bush White House did not have a strong case that Saddam Hussein had unconventional weapons, "those who tried to speak truth to power were shut out."
As for Iran, Harman said, "This is not a time to be saber rattling in our government, talking about the military option. We don't know enough."