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Fired Officer Believed CIA Lied to Congress
In 1996, then-national security adviser Anthony Lake, who shared her intense interest in Africa, recruited her to a White House job in which she helped conduct an annual review of all presidentially authorized covert-action programs. James B. Steinberg, who became deputy national security adviser at the end of that year, said McCarthy "did not see herself as carrying the water for any particular policy or perspective. . . . Is she someone I would trust to handle the information properly and sensitively? I would say, absolutely."
As the National Security Council's director and then senior director of intelligence programs, McCarthy helped enforce the classification rules at the White House and sometimes blocked staff access to documents or CIA programs. She also developed a reputation for bluntly expressed opinions about deficiencies in the intelligence and analysis prepared for President Bill Clinton.
"She gave the CIA a very hard time when she thought they were not doing what they were supposed to do," a former colleague recalled. "She wasn't snowed very easily. It is her nature to be a skeptic."
McCarthy tangled with the Directorate of Operations over whether some covert actions were still productive. She concluded that evidence linking a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant with al-Qaeda was thin, and she lodged a dissent with the national security adviser before U.S. cruise missiles were fired at the facility in 1998. She also fought for a year with James L. Pavitt, then the head of the directorate, who opposed a White House-backed plan to deploy pilotless Predator planes over Afghanistan.
"Her personality was engaging, charming, persistent, and also loud and aggressive," said a CIA official who experienced McCarthy's occasionally painful grilling. "Sometimes she got a bee in her bonnet about something that others thought was not so important." The exchanges, which one official called "head-butting," helped harden McCarthy's view that "the CIA is just very insular," a former colleague said. "It is kind of a boys' club" closed to "new ways of doing analysis."
After Bush's election, McCarthy stayed at the White House briefly and then accepted a temporary assignment at the CIA's Science and Technology Directorate, where she felt "underutilized," according to one friend. She enrolled in law classes in preparation for retirement and took a sabbatical at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Then Helgerson persuaded her to oversee his inquiry of detainee treatment in Iraq, and later Afghanistan.
McCarthy's findings are secret. According to a brief CIA statement about the probe in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, investigators set out to examine "the conduct of CIA components and personnel, including DO personnel" during interrogations. Tens of thousands of pages of material were collected, including White House and Justice Department documents, and multiple reports were issued. Some described cases of abuse, involving fewer than a dozen individuals, and were forwarded to the Justice Department, according to government officials.
Another report, completed in 2004, examined the CIA's interrogation policies and techniques, concluded that they might violate international law and made 10 recommendations, which the agency has at least partially adopted. That report jarred some officials, because the Justice Department has contended that the international convention against torture -- barring "cruel, inhumane, and degrading" treatment -- does not apply to U.S. interrogations of foreigners outside the United States.
Little else is known publicly. The CIA inspector general's reports have narrow circulation. When IG inquiries involve covert actions such as foreign interrogations, for example, the agency briefs only the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, instead of the full panels. So only a handful of people in Washington knew what McCarthy knew.
The CIA has rebuffed the ACLU's legal requests to disclose about 10,000 pages of documents, arguing that they contain sensitive material about intelligence sources and methods. The presiding judge, Alvin K. Hellerstein, said in September 2004 that "if the documents are more of an embarrassment than a secret, the public should know of our government's treatment of individuals captured and held abroad." But he has not forced any disclosures.
McCarthy "was seeing things in some of the investigations that troubled her," said one of her friends, and she worried that neither Helgerson nor the agency's congressional overseers would fully examine what happened or why. "She had the impression that this stuff has been pretty well buried," another friend said. In McCarthy's view and that of many colleagues, two friends say, torture was not only wrong but also misguided, because it rarely produced useful results.
Officials at the CIA and the White House declined to say whether McCarthy's firing, which came 10 days before her planned retirement, was discussed between them in advance. But a CIA official said that when Goss himself was asked to resign two weeks later, Bush thanked Goss indirectly for the action when he said Goss had "instilled a sense of professionalism" at the agency.
CIA officials have said that McCarthy nonetheless will receive her pension. At the time of her firing, the House was considering legislation, provoked in part by The Post article about secret prisons, requiring the CIA director to study the feasibility of revoking the pensions of those who make unauthorized disclosures of classified information. The legislation was approved by the House five days after the firing became public.
Staff reporter Dafna Linzer, researcher Madonna Lebling and research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.