Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mole hunt, take two

Turns out fired CIA analyst Mary McCarthy may not be the "secret prisons" leaker after all. Oops.

Howard Kurtz has his usual matter-of-fact analysis of the media coverage that led many (including yours truly) to that conclusion.

I think the media's response was perfectly logical. The CIA fired her, saying she had flunked a polygraph and admitted unauthorized contacts with reporters and, the official guidance went, she helped The Post's Dana Priest on the secret prisons story.

McCarthy made no comment, issued no statement, and didn't have a lawyer or a spokesman issue any statement. Ergo, she was not disputing the charges.

Except now she is.

Although the whole thing is still a bit strange. She has still made no comment, issued no statement, etc. Instead, a friend of hers is putting out the denial--several news cycles after the story broke.

Headlines may have overstated what was known, as headlines sometimes do; reporters don't write headlines, and that's what sometimes happens when a copy editor tries to condense a complex story down to six words on deadline.

Anyone who read Priest's stories would have known that she had multiple sources. But it made sense to conclude that she had one primary source, and that McCarthy was it.

So the mole hunt goes on. Oh that the agency would put as much effort into weighing the morality and legality of its covert activities so that such leaks were unnecessary.

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Blogger Lex said...

Yeah, if government in general were half so zealous about pursuing what leaks are ABOUT, rather than the leaks themselves, the country would be a safer, happier place.

But that would be too easy, I guess.

4/25/2006 12:18 PM  
Anonymous Marc Schneider said...

I agree with Lex, but, on the other hand, there is a real issue about how far the government can and should go to protect its secrets. As the Valery Plame case shows, not all leaks that come out are designed to be a public service. So, we are faced with the problem that we have a government that can and does use secrecy to cover up bad acts, but, at the same time, also has things that legitimately need to be kept secret. I don't know how to balance this.

And what is the media's obligation here? I'm digressing here, but my concern is grand jury leaks. It seems to me this is stuff that should legitimately remain confidential yet the media seems daily to report on leaked grand jury testimony.

4/25/2006 3:04 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I made this point in my original post on the McCarthy firing: You take things on a case-by-case basis. Leaking is a crime; leak and get caught, and you face trial. But there ought to be two valid defenses:

1. The information should never have been classified to begin with;

2. Leaking exposed a larger crime and so was the lesser of two evils.

Yes, there's a certain subjectivity to those criteria. But life isn't always neat.

4/25/2006 3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, you're saying the "end justifies the means." Especially if it's something you agree with. If it's something you don't agree with, I doubt you would support it.

And Marc, we still don't even know if it was illegal to discuss Valerie Plame or not. Fitzpatrick didn't even look into proving if she was undercover; so it's pretty clear she wasn't. When Plame and her husband met with a NYTimes reporter...Nicholas Kristof....for breakfast on the morning of May 4th, 2003 and talked.....she outed herself. Three days later, Kristoff wrote a story listing them both as "anonymous sources." According to what we've learned in the past couple of days regarding Mary McCarthy.....Plame should have been fired and/or brought up on charges. And I wouldn't doubt that she's not one of those CIA employees under investigation. If she's not....she certainly should be.

4/25/2006 6:30 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

So, you're saying the "end justifies the means.

Of course. Revealing classified information is not inherently immoral, because classifying information is not inherently moral. Surely you're not arguing that it should be okay to use the classification process to cover up a crime?

As to the rest: obviously everyone will have a different set of criteria as to what justifies revealing classified data. I'm okay with leakers being prosecuted, and with the presumption that leaking is wrong. Given that uphill battle, if they can persuade a court that the leak was justified, good. If they can't, prison.

4/25/2006 6:48 PM  
Anonymous maxtrue said...

Over at Centerfield, some think 1. there might not be secret prisons (because "proposed" secret prisons are "classified" before they are or are not actually created. Finding “proof” of classified prosons does not necessarily mean they exist (Bobby) 2. there are clear legal channels to "leak" that don't seem to have been used in this leaking case 3. the leak was partisan in nature and actually McCarthy created the "rendering" policy under Clinton that lead to proposed secret prisons 4. leaks by Republicans were "not" leaks and "other" leaks are criminal transgression that should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Wow....is this really centrist in balance?

I see two issues going on here. Forgive the lists please: 1: the effect of these "leaks" on public perception (quite damaging to the Bush administration) and 2. the process of leaking as it relates to either the harmful erosion of strategic action or the beneficial adjustment of "illegal" or dubious policy by kicking "classified" behavior into the forum of informed debate. Watergate comes to mind.

Should an intelligence officer with evidence that the US is preparing to pre-empt Iran with nukes march into Biden's office and leak? How about classified tests of pathogens on US cities? An assassination of a world leader? What channels encourages whistle-blowers to come forward and offer them protection? Does the expansion of executive interpretation of the War Powers Resolution of 1973 by recent administrations make many wonder if “apparent” abuse of power is really abuse? Is domestic spying on internet communication illegal? If so, then isn't Klein a hero? The fact we are debating this indicates the haze cast over what decades ago would have been reasonable assumptions about what legal is. Is leaking torture not only worthy of whistle-blowing, but also the refusal to comply on the part of officers asked to participate?

On the other hand, leaking has become a means to inform the public debate. Is it time to clarify what international laws, executive prerogative and Constitutional constraints when violated constitute defendable whistle-blowing and refusal to comply? I think this instance brings many threads together. I drew harsh rebuke by some for suggesting McCarthy's case deserves such debate (at least on a thread dedicated to her). It seems this event has polarized even the center. What better place than center to handle this delicate question without ideology? If Goss shakes a partisan stick and Global Strike and “rendering” yield an absolute executive power, we are heading down a dark and unconstitutional road. I don't have many answers, but I know we must find them before a greater disconnect forms between what really goes on and the critical public debate that alone has the authority to decide what should go on.

4/25/2006 11:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leaking is not a question of what's moral or immoral. It's about what's legal or illegal. The CIA holds lots of our country's secrets. Its employees must sign a code of conduct which includes "not leaking" the nation's Classified information. And who says a "secret prison" in another country in war time is illegal? I see no Democrat leaders making that claim. But that's a separate issue. It's not for Mary McCarthy or anyone else to decide what should be secret and what shouldn't be. It's the authority of the President of the United States. Always has been. And last I looked McCarthy wasn't elected to anything. CIA employees like her, IMHO, are a danger to our nation.

4/26/2006 4:31 PM  

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