First, the caveats. The top
CIA employee fired last week for allegedly sharing classified
information with the Washington Post and other news
organizations, has not officially been charged with any crime. Nor
has she been referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.
But the public firing of former Inspector General executive Mary O. McCarthy on April 20 - just ten days before she was scheduled to retire after two decades in government - was virtually unprecedented in the history of the Agency, and shows the tremendous fissures that have opened up within our intelligence community.
We're only at the beginning of learning about the extraordinary internal probe that singled out McCarthy for having "unauthorized contacts" with reporters. But even the little we know so far is stunning.
Furious at the leaks that exposed sensitive intelligence programs - including the existence of- "secret prisons" the Agency has used periodically to hold high priority suspected terrorists - CIA Director Porter Goss kicked off the internal investigation by personally submitting to a polygraph.
He then called on other top Agency officials to do the same. Those who went "on the box" included McCarthy's boss, CIA Inspector Geeral John. L. Helgerson. All the while, Porter Goss led the probe himself.
Internal probes led personally by a CIA director are virtually unheard of. As far as I've been able to ascertain from Agency veterans, there hasn't been a single one in the past fifteen years.
But late last year, top intelligence executives began to seriously review a 2001 Robert Redford/Brad Pitt thriller, Spy Game, in which a wily covert operator (Redford) is grilled by the CIA Director and top Agency lawyers about an operation gone sour, on the very day he is scheduled to retire.
The interrogation goes on and off the record, as lawyers dig up new information, and Robert Redford conducts his own covert operation right under their noses. In the Hollywood version, the CIA director¬Ýis the villain (naturally) and the rogue agent is the hero.
To the enemies of the Bush administration in Congress and elsewhere, the same holds true today.
Senator John Kerry told George Stephanopoulos on ABC this Week last Sunday that he was "glad she told the truth." He then went on to compare the courageous truth-telling of Mary McCarthy to the "lies" of former deputy National Security Advisor Scooter Libby, charged with perjury in the Valerie Plame case.
"Here's my fundamental view of this," Kerry said. "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."
Kerry was repeating almost word for word an earlier comment by former Agency analyst Larry Johnson, who found the firing of McCarthy "smells a little fishy." Noting that "she may have been fired for ensuring that the truth about an abuse was told to the American people," Johnson went on to comment: "there is something potentially honorable in that action, particularly when you consider that George Bush authorized Scooter Libby to leak misleading information for the purpose of deceiving the American people about the grounds for going to war in Iraq."
Johnson has made a career in recent years in becoming a source for the media in slamming Bush. But the media convenently forgets that key among his credentials is a famous op-ed he wrote just days before the September 11, 2001 attacks, claiming that the threat from terrorism had become virtually non-existent, thanks to Clinton administration policies.
McCarthy's lawyer, Ty Cobb, claims his client did not leak classified information, although the CIA concluded from a polygraph that she had undisclosed contacts with journalists, including Washington Post reporter Dana Priest who just received a Pulitzer for her role in exposing the CIA "secret prisons."
Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who co-founded the anti-Bush Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, blames House Permanent Select Intelligence committee chairman Pete Hoekstra for compelling Mary McCarthy to "chose between a silence she would regret and being punished for speaking out." She went to the Post, McGovern said, because she had "no where else to turn."
Former clandestine officers say that the leaks surrounding the extraordinary renditions have caused "tremendous damage" to the Agency and have "physically endangered" officers currently serving overseas.
A great ideological divide separates these officers, who believe that a "secret service" ought to remain secret, and others in the Agency who believe they have a "duty" to expose what they believe are unlawful or unethical actions by the Agency.
One thing is certain: the firing of Mary McCarthy is far from the end of this drama, which began with the forced departures in the weeks after Goss arrived at CIA of top managers and covert operators who had profound political disagreements with the new Director and with the Bush administration.
For the ideological divide currently paralyzing our intelligence community runs deep and is not limited to CIA or State Department analysts. It involves top officials, who believe they have a moral "duty" to prevent the President of the United States from executing policies with which they disagree.
I call this sabotage.
Some in Congress are attempting to encourage the leakers and to intimidate those who keep secrets, by threatening legal action against intelligence officers who fail to inform Congress of clandestine operations.
Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen pursued this approach in a Feb. 15, 2006, House national security committee hearing on NSA whistleblowers.
In his questioning of Russell Tice, who was dismissed from the NSA last year, Van Hollen noted sternly that people "will be very alarmed at the kind of abuses that went on in those agencies."
Tice had sought whistleblower protection in order to testify on highly classified Special Access Programs, or SAPs, he claimed were improperly carried out by both the NSA and the DIA. Some of these programs, which involved NSA eavesdropping on international communications, have been called "warrantless wiretapping" by the press.
But Van Hollen was not interested in information. He wanted to send a chill down the spine of those in the intelligence community he considered to be his "enemies."
He warned Tice that "a court of law may determine that an individual NSA employee could be held criminally liable for violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," which establishes guidelines for obtaining a court order to carry out surveillance against potential terrorist targets in the United States.
This is how far we have come in Year- Five of the War on Terror.
Members of the United States Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives do not seem to agree with the president of the United States that our nation is at war, and that war requires a vigorous intelligence establishment, willing to take risks to protect the nation. Instead, they are seeking to bend the law and enhance their own powers, to intimidate intelligence officers out of doing their jobs.
This, too, is sabotage.