The CIA fired a top intelligence analyst who admitted leaking classified information that led to a Pulitzer Prize-winning story about a network of secret CIA prisons, government officials say. The officer was a senior analyst nearing retirement, Mary McCarthy, The Associated Press learned. Reached Friday evening at home, her husband had no comment.
The Post’s Dana Priest won a Pulitzer Prize this week for her reporting on a covert prison system set up by the CIA after Sept. 11, 2001, that at various times included sites in eight countries. The story caused an international uproar, and government officials have said it did significant damage to relationships between the U.S. and allied intelligence agencies.
Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said on the newspaper’s website: “We don’t know the details of why (the CIA employee) was fired, so I can’t comment on that. But as a general principle, obviously I am opposed to criminalizing the dissemination of government information to the press.”
It was unclear if Priest or any other reporters who spoke to McCarthy would be brought into an investigation. Post spokesman Eric Grant said no reporter at the paper had been subpoenaed or had spoken to investigators about the matter.
Downie said people who provide citizens the information they need to hold their government accountable should not “come to harm for that….
“The reporting that Dana did was very important accountability reporting about how the CIA and the rest of the U.S. government have been conducting the war on terror,” Downie said. “Whether or not the actions of the CIA or other agencies have interfered with anyone’s civil liberties is important information for Americans to know and is an important part of our jobs.”
Almost immediately, the firing turned political. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., praised the agency for identifying a source of the leaks and encouraged vigorous investigation of other open cases. “Those guilty of improperly disclosing classified information should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Roberts said.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., called on President Bush to hold accountable those in his administration who leaked information about the Iraq intelligence in the run-up to the war and outed undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. “Apparently, President Bush doesn’t believe what’s good for the CIA is good for the White House,” Menendez said.
In McCarthy’s final position at the CIA, she was assigned to its Office of Inspector General, looking into allegations the CIA was involved in torture at Iraqi prisons, according to a former colleague who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation.
Without identifying McCarthy by name, CIA Director Porter Goss announced the firing in a brief message to agency employees circulated Thursday. Such dismissals are highly unusual.
Agency spokesman Paul Gimigliano confirmed an officer had been fired for having unauthorized contacts with the media and disclosing classified information to reporters, including details about intelligence operations.
“The officer has acknowledged unauthorized discussions with the media and the unauthorized sharing of classified information,” Gimigliano said. “That is a violation of the secrecy agreement that everyone signs as a condition of employment with the CIA.”
Citing the Privacy Act, the CIA would not disclose any details about the officer’s identity, assignments or what she might have told the news media. A law enforcement official confirmed there was a criminal leaks investigation underway, but it did not involve the fired CIA officer.
The official said the CIA officer had provided information that contributed to a Washington Post story last year disclosing secret U.S. prisons in Eastern Europe. The law enforcement official spoke only on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter.
Goss has pressed for aggressive probes about leaked information.
“The damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission,” Goss told Congress in February, adding that a federal grand jury should be impaneled to determine “who is leaking this information.”
On Friday, another government official, also speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said the fired officer had failed a lie-detector test.
It was not clear if the person was taking a routine polygraph examination, as is required periodically of employees with access to classified information, or if the test was among those ordered by Goss to find leakers inside the agency.
Justice Department officials declined to comment publicly on the firing and whether the matter had been referred to federal prosecutors for possible criminal charges.
One law enforcement official said there were dozens of leak investigations underway. Another said there had been no referral from the CIA involving the fired employee, normally a precursor to a criminal investigation.
Both spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is under investigation.
Larry Johnson, a former State Department counterterrorism expert who worked briefly for McCarthy at the CIA in 1988, told The Washington Post. “I am struck by the irony that Mary McCarthy may have been fired for blowing the whistle and ensuring the truth about an abuse was told to the American people.”