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April 24, 2006
The Inspector Gets Inspected

The New York Times reports that the Inspector General of the CIA, a position appointed by the President, submitted to polygraph testing in the wake of the leaks coming from the intelligence agency. John Helgerson, who supervised Mary McCarthy until the agency discovered that she leaked classified material to the media, experienced the awkward position of being cleared by the people who work for him:

The crackdown on leaks at the Central Intelligence Agency that led to the dismissal of a veteran intelligence officer last week included a highly unusual polygraph examination for the agency's independent watchdog, Inspector General John L. Helgerson, intelligence officials with knowledge of the investigation said Sunday.

The special polygraphs, which have been given to dozens of employees since January, are part of a broader effort by Porter J. Goss, the director of the C.I.A., to re-emphasize a culture of secrecy that has included a marked tightening of the review process for books and articles by former agency employees.

As the inspector general, Mr. Helgerson was the supervisor of Mary O. McCarthy, who was fired Thursday after admitting she had leaked classified information to reporters about secret C.I.A. detention centers and other subjects, agency officials said.

Mr. Goss and the C.I.A.'s deputy director, Vice Adm. Albert M. Calland III, voluntarily submitted to polygraph tests during the leak investigation to show they were willing to experience the same scrutiny they were asking other employees to undergo, agency officials said. Mr. Helgerson likewise submitted to the lie-detector test, they said.

The application of the polygraph to Helgerson, the Times argues, is unusual and is emblematic of the new culture of secrecy imposed by the Bush administration. Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti detail the efforts by Goss to crack down on leaks and even books and articles written by current and former CIA agents. The overall tone gives the impression that the agency and its professionals now have to suffer a culture more oppressive than anything since the 1950s, when one source (a leak!) says what went on at CIA stayed at CIA.

Well, boo hoo. I don't know if the Times or the CIA understand this, but we are at war, and that takes precedence over the memoirs of a two-year agent or the political posturing of senior IG staff. Intelligence work, especially during wartime, requires secrecy and professionalism. If Helgerson is shocked to find himself polygraphed after one of his senior aides got unmasked as a leaker (and the Times gives no indication that he was), then he doesn't have the first clue about investigations. Any time an office crime occurs either in government or in business, the first thing investigators want to know is whether the co-workers or management took part in it. It's SOP, and what makes it remarkable is not that Helgerson is the IG but that his staff -- which is supposed to catch leakers -- released classified material to the press.

If anyone is to blame for Helgerson's discomfort, it's Mary McCarthy. Juan Williams attempted to defend her on Fox News yesterday evening as a principled dissenter, but that's hogwash. A principled dissenter would have gone through available channels, such as to the FBI, to Congress, or to the White House, to express her discontent on an issue. Failing that, she would have resigned and spoken openly about what she knew. McCarthy took none of those actions. Instead, she violated her confidentiality agreements, broke the law, and attempted to leak what she knew -- and only what suited her -- to the media. She wanted to keep her job rather than her honor.

The most pathetic point in this entire article is that secrecy at the CIA has suddenly become a new culture. Most of us expected it to be a continuing part of intelligence work.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 24, 2006 6:54 AM

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Captain’s Quarters has a good article today entitled The Inspector Gets Inspected. According to The New York Times, John Helgerson, the Inspector General of the CIA — a position appointed by the President — submitted to poly... [Read More]

Tracked on April 24, 2006 5:28 PM


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