CIA Officer Fired for Leaking Classified Data

Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 25, 2006; 11:00 AM

Washington Post staff writer Dafna Linzer was online Tuesday, April 25, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the firing of CIA intelligence officer Mary McCarthy for leaking classified information to the media and the possible legal fallout of continuing investigations. McCarthy denies that she was involved in disclosing information about the existence of secret prisons to The Post's Dana Priest .

Dismissed CIA Officer Denies Leak Role , ( Post, April 25, 2006 )

CIA Officer Is Fired for Media Leaks , ( Post, April 22, 2006 )

The transcript follows.


Dafna Linzer: Good morning everyone. There are a lot of questions and I'm eager to get started answering as many as I can. For those who are getting ready to submit questions, please keep in mind there is much we don't yet know about this story and I hope people don't get facts and evidence confused with allegations and assumption. I'll keep that in mind a well in my responses.


Washington, D.C.: I'm a little confused about how this morning's reports fit with earlier reports. Was this woman fired for leaking classified information or for having undisclosed press contacts? If only the latter, then is today's story a retraction or correction of the earlier one?

Dafna Linzer: Hi there. The CIA maintains that Mary McCarthy was fired for violating a secrecy agreement that she, like all other agency employees, signed when hired. In it's response to the dismissal, the agency said in prepared remarks that McCarthy acknowledged contacts with reporters. It also asserted that she disclosed classified information. It doesn't say that she acknowledged disclosing classified information and McCarthy's lawyer says that she didn't, as we reported today. So we don't know exactly what was said and to whom - just that on the issue of disclosing classified information, the two accounts differ. There may be simple explanations for the difference but we don't know what they are. As I wrote above, there is much we simply do not know still.


Tallahassee, Fla.: How many people do you think would have to be "in the loop" in order to operate secret prisons in Eastern Europe? Seems like it would take many employees to orchestrate such an effort.

Dafna Linzer: Interesting question. In her stories on the prisons, Dana Priest reported that the existence and locations of the black sites were known to only a handful of officials in the United States, the president, and some senior foreign intelligence officers in host countries.

But she also reported that there was concerns about the practicality of maintaining these facilities over the long-term and that may have included concerns about the number of people that would be needed to do so.


Yardville, N.J.: Good morning, Dafna. Is Ms. McCarthy claiming that she made no disclosures of any classified info, or that she made no disclosures of classified info regarding CIA prisons? ... follow-up question ... it appears that CIA leadership (presumably in consultation with the White House) is making an example out of Ms. McCarthy to deter future leaks, but in the process they have hyped the story, (similar to hyping pre-war intel on WMD) insinuating a connection to the CIA prison story, when there was none, and trashing Ms. McCarthy's reputation in the process. seems heartless to me - what's the reaction among her colleagues at Langley?

Dafna Linzer: Hi back. My understanding is that McCarthy's lawyer is claiming both things. That his client did not reveal the existence of the prisons to Dana and did not disclose classified information to any of the other reporters she was in contact with.

As for the follow-up, neither the White House not CIA Director Porter Goss has made any secret of their desire to stop national security leaks. Intelligence officials say that McCarthy's discussions with Dana Priest were connected to the prisons story but, as we reported today, they do not believe McCarthy revealed their existence to Dana or played a central role in their disclosure. McCarthy's lawyer is claiming that she did not have access to the information about the programs and intelligence sources told us that the inspector-general's office, where McCarthy worked, had limited access to aspects of the prisons program.

As for the reaction inside, I'm sure that seeing a colleague exposed, publicly accused of divulging secret information and getting fired is intimidating for others. Some people said they were sad or disappointed to hear that McCarthy was talking to reporters at all. But I know that there are also people inside the agency who feel that dismissal was appropriate if McCarthy did reveal classified information and that no one inside the agency should talk to reporters.


Kansas City, Mo.: Why has this situation been closed so quickly as compared to the Plame's status being compromised? Regardless of circumstances this is why the administration has lost so much credibility to me. Selective outrage, patriotism and policies.

Dafna Linzer: There are a lot of questions comparing the Plame case to this one. A special prosecutor is investigating whether any laws were broken when the name of Valerie Plame, who was an under cover officer inside the CIA, was given to reporters.

That is an ongoing legal investigation, which has already led to the indictment of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff on perjury charges.

In this case, the only ongoing investigation is an internal one inside the CIA. We don't know if the justice department will decided to pursue Mary McCarthy or its own investigation and we don't know on what legal grounds they would do so.


Tokyo, Japan: Hello, Ms. Linzer-You said earlier "we don't know exactly what was said and to whom ". That isn't entirely correct. Dana Priest would know the nature of her contacts with McCarthy, and Dana Priest is a Washington Post reporter. Why can't she just tell us? After all, she seems to feel comfortable exposing secrets. What are the ethics on this?

Dafna Linzer: Hi, you're up late. The compact reporters enter into with sources for information that they wouldn't get otherwise is often one of confidentiality, especially on issues of national security. That is the pact that Dana entered into with her sources.


New York, N.Y.: What made Post conclude on Sunday that Mary McCarthy was the leaker? Did the Post just make up the story?

Dafna Linzer: We didn't conclude that Ms. McCarthy was The Leaker though some other newspapers and reporters did. We said McCarthy acknowledged contacts with reporters, and intelligence officials said among them was Dana Priest, who wrote about the prisons.


Denver, Colo.: Just how severe is the enmity and distrust between the White House and the CIA? Is there an underground rebellion against the administration? Is there a CIA purge underway by the administration?

How bad can this get?

Dafna Linzer: The relationship between the White House and the CIA has been terrible since the Iraq invasion. Even Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who was indicted on perjury charges in the Plame investigation, acknowledged in a recent court brief that the two sides were "at war" in the summer of 2003 over WMD intelligence. The situation has not improved - it has only worsened.

Many inside feel there was a purge of the top leadership inside the CIA when Porter Goss, a Republican Congressman who was close then to the White House, became the agency's director in the fall of 2004.

But many senior leaders also left on their own and the agency has lost dozens of very senior people who were experts on the Middle East, on terrorism and on al-Qaeda. Their departures have worsened morale, worried allied intelligence services and led to serious concerns on the Hill.


Arlington, Va.: CIA employees work for the federal government, and that means they serve whoever is in the White House. They sign a paper vowing not to release or LEAK any classified information which would jeopardize our national security. Victoria Toensing helped to create the law about the LEAK of names of CIA people and hold that person accountable based on the assassination of a CIA agent in Greece because the MEDIA exposed him. That is more of a concern to me than if the President declassified info to show our nation had information about Iraq. McCarthy should have resigned, and she is no hero of free speech. She is more like the Spy who came in from the Hot Seat.

Dafna Linzer: I'm going to post some of these comments as well as answer questions.


Arlington, Va.: I'm sure you'll get this one from several chatters, but why did The Post choose to leave out the political donations to Kerry and other democratic fundraisers made by Ms. McCarthy from the Saturday profile and follow-up articles? After your own Howard Kurtz blasted The Post over the weekend and in his Monday column and chat, I was expecting some mention in either today's article or in a "clarification" from the editor. Don't your readers deserve ALL of the relevant facts?

Dafna Linzer: You're absolutely right - I'm getting a lot of questions about this. I disagree with Howie on this one. I think in his chat he said her campaign contributions go to motive but I don't know yet what she's done so I'm not sure how to assign motive here. Intelligence officers do not check their citizenship at the gates of Langley and like all government employees they are free to vote and make contributions - all of which is very much apart from their commitment to government service and to fulfilling the policies of any president.

But we are living in partisan times and people want a partisan, political motive and explanation for everything. I don't think that's reasonable. Should we publish the campaign contributions of every person who testifies before Congress, every person who briefs a president, every person who writes a policy paper or plays any role in government whatsoever or who is ever quoted in a story? We could, the information is public. But I don't want to confuse readers or issues by throwing that into the mix unless I understand its relevance. We have reported that she worked in Clinton's NSC and whom she has worked with and will continue to write about it.


Annandale, Va.: The fired CIA employee spent many years in the Clinton White House, in addition to one year in the current one. Assuming she is the leaker, do you think we should explore whether her motives were partisan?

Dafna Linzer: This is a good follow up to the last question. I do think we should explore her motives - but I don't think we should assign motives before doing that.


Washington, D.C.: Did the CIA indicate whether they will fire additional staff in the near future? It seems like McCarthy wasn't involved in the serious leaks that triggered the investigation.

Dafna Linzer: The CIA has been mounting an aggressive internal investigation about several stories, including the prisons and domestic surveillance. That's ongoing an if they find others, they could very well fire them too.


Princeton, N.J.: Let me point out an interesting fact. When Plame's name was leaked, the CIA went immediately to the Justice Dept. to ask for a criminal investigation. As I understand it, the CIA has not asked for such an investigation in either the prison story or the domestic spying one. Wonder why?

Dafna Linzer: Me too.


Dafna Linzer: Just to say more on the two leaks. In the Plame case, the CIA reported the leak to the Justice Department and the Justice Department chose to investigate. The CIA doesn't order up DoJ inquiries. On the prisons story, they also informed the justice department but said they would conduct their own inquiry. The justice department could have its own too but so far, it hasn't.


Washington, D.C.: The story you and your colleague wrote today contained at least three instances in which you relied upon anonymous sources who refused to be identified by name for a plethora of reasons. Could some of these sources be violating the same secrecy agreement that Ms. McCarthy is alleged to have violated? How are your readers supposed to be able to judge for themselves the accuracy and balance of these stories when we are kept in the dark about your sources' agendas and affiliations (and they all have them) and potential biases for ourselves? This especially problematic since The Post is not just reporting the story, it is part of the story.

Dafna Linzer: This is such a good question to end on because it goes to the complexity of anonymous sources and that is at the heart of all of this. I share your frustration and I think it is very difficult for readers to get a clear sense of what is going on when they are quoted.

I wish everyone was quotable by name but if we only did that then the public would understand far less about its government's actions. You would never know about the secret prisons were it not for anonymity, or about domestic surveillance, or about how the hunt for al-Qaeda, or the war in Iraq were going, what Iran's nuclear program is all about and what's happening on North Korea, were it not for anonymous sources. It's the trade-off we make to hold governments accountable.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Thanks for taking our questions. Your recent reporting has been fascinating.

In your April 23 article, you mentioned that Scooter Libby asked reporters to identify him as a "former Hill staffer" when he leaked information from the October 2002 NIE, even though he later testified that Bush and Cheney had authorized him to disclose that information. What reporter(s) other than Judith Miller are you referring to?

Dafna Linzer: Sorry, one last response to this astute reader from Minnesota. It should have said "reporter" single - not reporters.


Dafna Linzer: Thanks to everyone. There were so many questions. Let's do this again so we can get to more next time. We may even understand this all a bit better by then.

Thanks, Dafna


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