Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mole hunt

I'm writing this while sitting curled up in a window seat on the eighth floor of a hotel overlooking the Chicago River. No, it doesn't suck.

But I digress....

The CIA thinks that it has found and fired the person responsible for alerting reporters to the existence of the agency's secret prison network. Her name: senior analyst Mary McCarthy.

She apparently confessed after failing a polygraph test. If so she isn't likely to face criminal prosecution, as polygraph tests aren't admissible in court.

Predictably, some people are calling her a traitor and others are calling her a hero. I'm not sure "hero" is fully justified, but I still come down in the latter camp.

There's no question that the leak was an important one, and necessary. A secret extrajudicial prison network is something so contrary to American values that it deserves public input and scrutiny. And the revelation that such a network exists is not detailed enough to damage security. If you think it is, then answer this question: tell me where one of these prisons is located, and who is held there. I'll wait.

McCarthy appears to have considered the leak carefully, telling reporters enough to get the story before the public but not enough to endanger operatives or compromise the operation of the system. That allows us to debate whether such a system should exist. If we decide "yes", then it can continue to operate unhampered. If we decide "no", then we can shut it down.

The administration cites the leak as having damaged relationships with other countries. Well, cripes, it should, if we're using their facilities or airports without telling them. It's only McCarthy's responsibility if her information turns out to be false. So far, that doesn't seem to be the case.

The administration also says the leak has damaged the CIA's credibility with other intelligence agencies, who question whether Americans are able to keep secrets. But that's a false question. The secret prison network is an extraordinary operation. Like the NSA surveillance program, there are deep and legitimate questions about its legality and morality. I don't see the harm in demonstrating that such troubling programs will come to light somehow. Maybe it will limit the appetite for such programs.

Leaking classified information is a crime, and I'm not going to argue that it shouldn't be. If something other than polygraph results tie McCarthy to the leak, she may well have to serve prison time. But there should be two acceptable defenses to such charges. One, that the information was improperly classified to begin with. Or two, that the activities being protected were illegal themselves, and thus by breaking one law McCarthy obeyed a higher law -- the Constitution. If she can persuade a judge of either case, she should go free and have a grateful nation's thanks.

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it difficult to believe anyone would defend McCarthy's actions. When she was Senior Intelligence Officer at the Clinton WH she disagreed with Clinton when he was going to bomb the Sudan pharmaceutical factory. He bombed anyway. And she didn't leak the intelligence because she is a Democrat and obviously didn't want to hurt that administration. We cannot have partisan CIA employees or intelligence officers taking it upon themselves to do this sort of thing....thinking they know better than the elected president. It was right that she was fired and she probably should face charges. There will be many others in the CIA to follow. I say: good riddance.

4/23/2006 6:33 PM  
Blogger M. Simon said...

So far no secret extrajudicial prison has been found by the Euros.

In addition there is a procedure to take such information to the agency head and then to Congress. Did she follow the proceedure first?

I have more to say here.

4/23/2006 8:43 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Disagreeing about something as public as a bombing is a far different thing than alerting the public to a program that they would never find out about otherwise. The secret prison network, if it exists, is something that the public deserved to have input on, IMO. So revealing its existence was the right thing to do.

M. Simon, you appear to be arguing that the prisons don't exist and that this was some sort of sting operation to ferret out leaks. Okay, that's a theory.

4/24/2006 6:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sean--you are saying it should be up to the CIA employee to determine what should be public and what should not....based on their own personal conscience. Surely you realize that varies from one person to the next. We CAN'T have that! The CIA....by it's very nature....is a SECRET organization. We can't have moles inside the organization working AGAINST the administration....no matter what administration is in power. You are saying that a CIA employee KNOWS beter than our elected president and administration officials who are charged by virtue of their positions to make such decisions.

Guess who?? BTW, kewl blog!!
JP5

4/25/2006 1:36 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Hey JP5! Welcome!


I think anyone who leaks does so knowing that they face legal sanctions for doing so. And they should. But that does not mean leaking is automatically wrong. An administration should not be able to commit an enormous crime and then cover it up simply by classifying all the relevant data.

Leak secrets without justification, and you go to jail. Leak secrets with justification, and you might deserve a medal. Every case is different.

4/25/2006 2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are with the CIA...YES, leaking is automatically wrong.

Do you think that every single act that goes on in war time should be public? You'd better think about that one a little longer.
JP5

4/25/2006 6:36 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

If you are with the CIA...YES, leaking is automatically wrong.

I disagree. There are easy hypothetical cases. What if I knew the president had committed murder? Should I stay quiet simply because the president had classified that information?

Do you think that every single act that goes on in war time should be public? You'd better think about that one a little longer.

I did not say "every single act." I think we're talking about extraordinary situations where the leaker is convinced the behavior they're revealing is illegal or immoral. And they have to be willing to go to jail if they're wrong. Or, possibly, even if they're right.

Leaks that do not meet that high threshold would clearly be both wrong and illegal and result in harsh punishment.

4/25/2006 6:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sean--
There is a LEGAL process for actual whistleblowers. That is the process one would go through if they knew of a murder...such as in your outlandish example. But what McCarthy did wasn't "whistleblowing." What she did was purely for partisan political reasons. The reason I know that is because she didn't "leak" to discredit Bill Clinton and she certainly could have. You are saying that a CIA career employee gets to be the decision-makers here. However, I dare say you would not defend it if the President were a Democrat and that CIA employee was a conservative who simply didn't agree with his/her policies and was seeking to do political harm. Am I right?
JP5

4/26/2006 4:58 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

As I note in a subsequent post, it now appears McCarthy isn't the sole or even primary leaker about the CIA prisons. She may not have discussed it at all.

That said, let's assume for the sake of argument that she is the leaker. You don't know what McCarthy thought, did, who she told, or why. Maybe she tried the legal route and got rebuffed. Maybe the program was so secret that the usual legal route didn't function.

The Clinton parallel is false. The example I'm aware of was her opposition to bombing the Sudanese factory. But he went ahead and did it. So what was there to leak? The bombing was on the front page.

Besides, warrantless spying programs and secret prison networks are a whole other level of secret skullduggery. I seriously doubt Clinton did anything approaching that during his terms. So maybe there just wasn't anything to leak.

4/26/2006 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What there was to leak was the intelligence that she believed wasn't strong enough to bomb. She could have leaked it and let people judge for themselves. I'm not saying she should have. I don't happen to think a person in her position should be leaking Classified information period. The decisions as to what to do with the intelligence is not hers to make: no matter who is president!

Point is, being a good little Democrat, hired by Clinton, she wasn't about to do anything to harm him or his administration. She was all-too willing to try and do that to the Bush administration.

And I don't frankly care who she might have told, or what she might have thought or done. She should have been fired for what she did...and probably should be prosecuted. She harmed our National Security. Any advantage we had....we no longer have.
JP5

4/29/2006 6:19 PM  

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