Senior CIA official Mary McCarthy has denied leaking information to Dana Priest about the CIA’s secret Eastern European prisons. She has argued that she did not have access to intelligence about these prisons, though seems to be admitting to unauthorized discussions with journalists.
A couple of comments. First, just for the record, many CIA officials and analysts have contacts with journalists. Heck, many journalists during the Cold War were doing the bidding of the CIA. But more importantly, the CIA frequently learns as much from journalists covering a story if they develop good mutually useful communications as analysts do on their own.
Any decent analyst or official who did not have contact with journalists, academics, trade association reps, and others would be lousy at their job in my book.
I will be attending the American Political Science Association annual conference over Labor Day weekend in Philadelphia this year — and I always meet several CIA officials trolling the conference there. Perhaps these officials have “authorization” to be doing what they are doing — but I have had some serious discussions about terrorist-tracking with them that could not have fallen into the “authorized bin.”
One other thing. I was surprised when the news of Mary McCarthy’s firing happened that so many immediately jumped to the conclusion that she was Dana Priest’s source on the secret CIA prisons.
I kept my powder dry on that one and did not post or link to any of these stories because they conflicted with something I had written about Priest’s work and sources some time ago:
But Dana Priest has had other major scoops as well — perhaps the greatest recent one being the revelations about secret detention centers abroad where American authorities and/or their proxies are detaining prisoners in an “off the books” manner.
Immediately, after Priest’s story, Senate Republicans began attacking each other — thinking that one or more of them had spilled classified information to Dana Priest as the revelation of such detention centers was allegedly made by Vice President Cheney at a Republican caucus meeting in the Senate. Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert actually called for an investigation of who leaked the information to Priest rather than calling for an investigation of the secret detention facilities.
TWN has spent the last several days groveling, promising baby-sitting sessions, trading information I had from some research in areas others were interested in for information on Dana Priest’s work — and it has been tough. Dana Priest is an astoundingly good investigative journalist and does not leave a large footprint.
But TWN has confirmed from multiple sources that the Senate Republican blame-fest after the Dana Priest article was even more theatrically absurd because Priest had no single source on that story. She had many, many sources in the U.S. and in Europe.
We have reached such a level of obsession with information and sources — and have personalized and celebritized some of these sources and commentators — that we incorrectly assume that a single person walks out with information that a reporter like Dana Priest might use. Her work deserves a Pulitzer because it is based on old-fashioned, disciplined investigative journalism that involved interviews with literally hundreds of people.
The detention center story is ripe for others to write more. There is evidence out there on these centers — and more work can be done. But don’t look for a single source; look for the dozens who will convey what has been happening and confirm.
There was no single U.S. Senator and no single CIA official who gave Priest her Pulitzer-prize winning scoop, which I thought she deserved the day the story broke.
My hunches are that her source(s), are in Europe — not the United States. Dana Priest made two long trips through Europe and Eastern Europe these last couple of years and developed much of her material on the secret prisons there.
But fascinating that President Bush wants to polygraph for those who leaked on the CIA prisons, and those who exposed the warrantless wiretap program, but not a single member of his staff for exposing Valerie Plame Wilson’s secret CIA identity.
According to some inside the intel arena, Valerie Wilson’s work had a lot to do with monitoring Iran’s nuclear weapons appetite and capabilities and possibly helped feed Iran nuclear technology junk that could distract and complicate Iran’s weapons program efforts. If true, this is quite consistent with the Iran Chapter in Jim Risen’s new book, State of War.
I’m not going to say anything more here than say that Wilson was “possibly” doing this.
But if this account of Plame-Wilson’s activities is true, those who exposed Valerie Plame Wilson helped undermine American national security in much more major ways that haven’t yet been disclosed.
Where are the polygraph tests for your staff, Mr. President?
— Steve Clemons