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April 24, 2006
Denial And Distraction

Mary McCarthy denies having supplied Dana Priest with the information used to write the Pulitzer Prize-winning story on secret CIA detention centers in eastern Europe, according to her friend Rand Beers. NBC reported earlier this evening that Beers has acted as McCarthy's spokesperson and relayed her denial to the press, although that denial isn't exactly complete:

The fired official, Mary O. McCarthy, “categorically denies being the source of the leak,” one of McCarthy’s friends and former colleagues, Rand Beers, said Monday after speaking to McCarthy. Beers said he could not elaborate on this denial and McCarthy herself did not respond to a request for comment left by NEWSWEEK on her home answering machine. A national security advisor to Democratic Party candidate John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign, Beers worked as the head of intelligence programs on President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council staff and later served as a top deputy on counter-terrorism for President Bush in 2002 and 2003. McCarthy, a career CIA analyst, initially worked as a deputy to Beers on the NSC and later took over Beer’s role as the Clinton NSC’s top intelligence expert.

McCarthy's lawyer, Ty Cobb, told NEWSWEEK this afternooon that contrary to public statements by the CIA late last week, McCarthy never confessed to agency interrogators that she had divulged classified information and "didn't even have access to the information" in The Washington Post story in question.

After being told by agency interrogators that she may have been deceptive on one quesiton during a polygraph, McCarthy did acknowledge that she had failed to report contacts with Washington Post reporter Dana Priest and at least one other reporter, said a source familiar with her account who asked not to be identified because of legal sensitivities. McCarthy has known Priest for some time, the source said.

This sounds like rubbish. For one thing, if McCarthy feels that she has been railroaded, why have Beers issue the denial? Why not just hold a press conference and deny it in person? Why, it sounds almost like a leak! Beers has no real details to give the media as part of this denial, except to say that McCarthy never admitted to giving Priest the information on the detention centers, and that she had no access to that data anyway. She admits to knowing Priest and failing to disclose contacts with the Washington Post reporter and one other unnamed journalist.

Let's remember that McCarthy worked as a senior officer in the Inspector General's office. Since the issue of the detention policy had created controversy within the CIA, with several people supposedly unhappy with the actions of the agency, the responsibility of investigating the policy would have been with the IG's office. McCarthy has a personal relationship with Priest, who presumably doesn't have a big entourage at the CIA. Priest writes a story about detention centers, specifically in eastern Europe, using an inside source with access to the data, and McCarthy has been hiding her contacts with Priest.

Now who could suspect McCarthy of leaking the intel under those circumstances?

So far we have seen a number of interesting defenses of McCarthy, all of which presumed she did leak the story. One defense mentioned in this article has one "former senior U.S. intelligence official" ask why McCarthy got fired for leaking while the people who missed the 9/11 attacks all kept their jobs. The obvious answer is that no one deliberately ignored evidence of the 9/11 plot; mistakes were made, but they weren't made on purpose. I would agree that George Tenet should have been fired, right along with Richard Clarke, both of whom had the responsibility for counterterrorism. I note that neither one of them are there now, and that neither one of them were appointed by the same people who fired McCarthy.

Another defense argues that the nation's laws safeguarding intelligence has an opt-out clause, a "public-interest defense", the kind of argument made by people who have never held a clearance in their lives. The public-interest defense has no basis in reality, and clearances do not grant everyone who holds them the legal authority to decide whether classified information should be released in the public interest. If it did, none of our classified information could ever be considered secure. Releasing classified information to anyone not authorized to receive it is a crime, a fact lectured into the heads of cleared personnel on at least an annual basis. People can go to prison for exposing national-security data, especially during wartime.

[Note: I worked in the defense industry for several years, and held clearances for lower-level classified data. I have also served as a facility security officer (FSO) for a secure site. None of this is a mystery to anyone who has done similar or more classified work.]

Besides, if McCarthy really thought that the program either violated the law or the public interest, she had other avenues to take, as I wrote yesterday. She could go to the FBI or the Department of Justice, if the program violated US laws or international treaties ratified by the Senate. She could have gone down Pennsylvania Avenue and spoken to the White House, or at least the National Security Council, where she once served. If that didn't get her concerns addressed, Congress has at least two standing committees on intelligence, as well as judiciary committees, foreign relations committees, and so on. McCarthy has extensive political connections and would have had immediate support for her efforts.

Did she choose any of those paths? No. She chose to sneak information out to the press through her relationship with Priest in order to embarrass the US and damage our relationship with nations cooperating in the war on terror. She chose a path that any fool with the lowest-level clearance working on the most mundane project knows to be criminal ... and people want to applaud her for it.

Or, maybe she didn't, if one believes Rand Beers. Unfortunately, Beers doesn't want to elaborate on why she categorically denies having fed Priest information while acknowledging she hid her relationship with Priest and another reporter. McCarthy doesn't want to speak for herself on these matters, either, making it even more difficult to believe her demurrals. Right now, that reticence appears remarkable.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 24, 2006 10:25 PM

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