The New McCarthyism
A look at the CIA leaker's independent streak and the al-Shifa intelligence.
12:00 PM, Apr 25, 2006 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
THE MEDIA has been quick to lionize Mary McCarthy, the recently fired 61-year-old CIA analyst who allegedly leaked classified information to the Washington Post's Dana Priest. According to several recent accounts, it is not clear what information McCarthy was accused of leaking. But on Sunday, the New York Times ran a tribute to McCarthy.In it we learn from a gaggle of former intelligence officials that McCarthy is a woman of "great integrity," and "quite a good, substantive person." Larry Johnson, the former CIA analyst who told us not to worry about the threat of terrorism two years before 9/11, even tells us that she is a "sacrificial lamb."
Adulation from fellow colleagues aside, the lynchpin of the Times piece is that McCarthy has an "independent streak." She is no partisan, the Times wants you to know, and she has questioned the use of intelligence by both Democratic and Republican administrations. To demonstrate this independence, the Times piece leads with the claim that McCarthy bucked the Clinton administration in August 1998 when she objected to the destruction of a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant suspected of doubling as a front for al Qaeda's WMD efforts. The plant, named Al-Shifa, was one of two retaliatory targets chosen by the Clinton administration in the aftermath of the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
But in recounting the story of al-Shifa and Mary McCarthy's role in evaluating the intelligence surrounding the facility, the Times leaves out nearly every salient fact--including evidence that the Clinton administration used to tie Saddam's Iraq to al Qaeda.
IT IS TRUE that McCarthy at first objected to the strike on al-Shifa. This was made clear in the 9-11 Commission's report (p. 117):
Two days before the embassy bombings, Clarke's staff wrote that Bin Ladin "has invested in and almost certainly has access to VX produced at a plant in Sudan." Senior State Department officials believed that they had received a similar verdict independently, though they and Clarke's staff were probably relying on the same report. Mary McCarthy, the NSC senior director responsible for intelligence programs, initially cautioned Berger that the "bottom line" was "we will need much better intelligence on this facility before we seriously consider any options." She added that the link between Bin Ladin and al Shifa was "rather uncertain at this point." Berger has told us that he thought about what might happen if the decision went against hitting al Shifa, and nerve gas was used in a New York subway two weeks later. [Emphasis Added]
The Times left out, however, that McCarthy had changed her tune by April 2000. As Daniel Benjamin, a fellow NSC staffer, wrote in 2004:
The report of the 9/11 Commission notes that the National Security staff reviewed the intelligence in April 2000 and concluded that the CIA's assessment of its intelligence on bin Laden and al-Shifa had been valid; the memo to Clinton on this was cosigned by Richard Clarke and Mary McCarthy, the NSC senior director for intelligence programs, who opposed the bombing of al-Shifa in 1998. The report also notes that in their testimony before the commission, Al Gore, Sandy Berger, George Tenet, and Richard Clarke all stood by the decision to bomb al-Shifa. [Emphasis Added]
IN ITS LIONIZATION of McCarthy, the Times did not report that she had changed her mind on al-Shifa and fallen in line with her fellow NSC staffers. Nor, did the Times report that every top Clinton administration official who was involved in the decision to strike al -Shifa stands by that decision today. Instead, the Times reports, "Clinton administration officials conceded that the hardest evidence used to justify striking the plant was a single soil sample that seemed to indicate the presence of a chemical used in making VX gas."
But, the intelligence surrounding al-Shifa was not limited to a single soil sample. Instead, the Clinton administration relied on multiple threads of intelligence, all of which pointed to Iraqi collaboration with al Qaeda in Sudan.