Hogan's Alley

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mary McCarthy, Saint In The CIA?

R. Jeffrey Smith in the Washington Post, based entirely on the testimony of Mary McCarthy's anonymous friends in the CIA, would have us understand that her leaking of classified information about CIA mistreatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq and their rendition to other countries is deserving of cannonization.

Whether McCarthy's conviction that the CIA was hiding unpleasant truths provoked her to leak sensitive information is known only to her and the journalists she is alleged to have spoken with last year. But the picture of her that emerges from interviews with more than a dozen former colleagues is of an independent-minded analyst who became convinced that on multiple occasions the agency had not given accurate or complete information to its congressional overseers.

McCarthy was not an ideologue, her friends say, but at some point fell into a camp of CIA officers who felt that the Bush administration's venture into Iraq had dangerously diverted U.S. counterterrorism policy. After seeing -- in e-mails, cable traffic, interview transcripts and field reports -- some of the secret fruits of the Iraq intervention, McCarthy became disenchanted, three of her friends say.

The first thing that must be observed is that the initial claims of other "sources" in the agency that McCarthy was innocent of leaking would now seem to be called into question, if not downright disproved.

Secondly, if McCarthy and those in her camp were concerned about the diversion of resources and focus away from anti-terrorism activities, how do those who have now leaked classified information about data mining of phone calls, aimed solely at preventing terrorist activities, justify their disloyalty on patriotic grounds. Perhaps they don't. Maybe leaking has become so endemic in intelligence circles that all that matters is that one feels justified for any reason, secrecy, rules and authority be damned.

This is a genie that can not be put back in the bottle. There will always, in every future administration, be individuals who disagree with particular actions. Under these new rules sanctioned by the media, their consciences are now the only relevant guide to what should be secret in the spy game.