ON APRIL 19, 2006, security personnel from the Central Intelligence Agency escorted a senior CIA official from her office, withdrew her Top Secret clearance, and terminated her employment. The CIA did not name the officer. She was fired after she "acknowledged having unauthorized discussions with reporters in which the officer knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence, including operational information."
The CIA did not name her, but several news organizations reported that the official was Mary McCarthy, whose most recent position at the Agency was in the office of the inspector general. Two days later, when McCarthy denied disclosing classified information to reporters, she asked a former colleague, Rand Beers, to make the statement on her behalf.
It was an interesting choice. McCarthy had worked for Beers on the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. They had apparently remained close, even after Beers quit his position in the new administration and became a leading critic of the counterterrorism policies of George W. Bush. Or perhaps the two had remained close because Beers quit his position to criticize the Bush administration.
Beers was the senior foreign policy adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004. In March 2004, Mary McCarthy contributed the maximum amount allowed under campaign finance laws--$2,000--to the Kerry campaign. She increased her giving as the competitive campaign drew to a close. On October 5, 2004, she gave another $5,000 to the Democratic party in Ohio, a state that many observers believed (correctly, it turned out) would decide the election. And on October 29, 2004, McCarthy gave an additional $500 to the Democratic National Committee Service Corps. Federal records show that Michael McCarthy, of the same home address, gave an additional $2,000 to the Kerry campaign and $500 to Barbara Mikulski, a Democratic senator from Maryland. In all, the McCarthy household contributed some $10,000 to Democrats during the last election cycle.
The New York Times reported McCarthy's $2,000 contribution to the Kerry campaign (but not the others), and articles sympathetic to McCarthy by the Associated Press and Newsweek at least made mention of Beers's association with the Kerry campaign. But virtually none of the other press found the facts in the preceding paragraph worth reporting.
In the current political environment, that's an odd oversight. Hardly a day goes by that we don't hear about the war between the White House and the CIA over politicized intelligence. Administration critics claim the White House selectively uses intelligence to support its policies, and administration supporters complain about a rash of leaks from unelected bureaucrats at the CIA determined to undermine those policies.
Observe these battles through the prism of the mainstream press, however, and you get the distinct impression that only one side is fighting: the White House. Something closer to the opposite is true and has been since the summer of 2003.
Consider. On May 6, 2003, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a column on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, focused on President Bush's allegation that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa:
I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.
The envoy reported, for example, that a Niger minister whose signature was on one of the documents had in fact been out of office for more than a decade. In addition, the Niger mining program was structured so that the uranium diversion had been impossible. The envoy's debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted--except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway.
We now know that Kristof's "person" was Joseph Wilson. And we know that it was not possible for Wilson to have concluded that the documents were forged in February 2002 because, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the U.S. government did not receive the forgeries in question until October 2002. It was the first--and most reckless--of many lies Wilson would tell. The column ran under the headline "Missing In Action: Truth." No kidding. The column would set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the indictment of Scooter Libby, then Vice President Cheney's chief of staff.
On May 30, 2003, Kristof wrote a follow-up called "Save Our Spooks":
A column earlier this month on this issue drew a torrent of covert communications from indignant spooks who say that administration officials leaned on them to exaggerate the Iraqi threat and deceive the public. . . . These people are coming forward because they are fiercely proud of the deepest ethic in the intelligence world--that such work should be nonpolitical--and are disgusted at efforts to turn them into propagandists.
Some of these "nonpolitical" intelligence professionals were so outraged, Kristof reported, that they had formed a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. The VIPS bought Wilson's claim that he had "determined that the Iraq-Niger report was a con-job" and his assertion that his "findings were duly reported to all concerned in early March 2002." False and false. At one point, the VIPS called for active intelligence officials to leak documents that would undercut the Bush administration and its claims on Iraq.
Not that some of these officials needed any encouragement. On June 9, 2003, New York Times reporter James Risen wrote under the headline: "Captives Deny Qaeda Worked with Baghdad." His article focused on two al Qaeda leaders, Khalid Sheikh Muhammed and Abu Zubaydah:
Abu Zubaydah, a Qaeda planner and recruiter until his capture in March 2002, told his questioners last year that the idea of working with Mr. Hussein's government had been discussed among Qaeda leaders, but that Osama bin Laden had rejected such proposals, according to an official who has read the Central Intelligence Agency's classified report on the interrogation. . . . The Bush administration has not made these statements public, though it frequently highlighted intelligence reports that supported its assertions of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda as it made its case for war against Iraq.
A source described as "one official" made the accusation directly: "I remember reading the Abu Zubaydah debriefing last year, while the administration was talking about all of these other reports, and thinking that they were only putting out what they wanted."
You get the picture. The Bush administration selectively used intelligence to make its case, and nonpolitical intelligence professionals were simply setting the record straight. Only that's not what happened.
Whoever leaked the debriefing to Risen apparently gave him only part of it. Zubaydah did tell interrogators of bin Laden's reservations about being beholden to Saddam. (Newly released Iraqi documents demonstrate that despite these reservations, which date to at least 1992, bin Laden requested operational support from Saddam.) But the report also included this line, which contradicted the whole thrust of Risen's article: "Abu Zubaydah explained that [bin Laden's] personal goal of destroying the U.S. is so strong that to achieve this end he would work with whomever could help him, so long as al Qaeda's independence was not threatened." One other nugget from Zubaydah's March 2002 debriefing was omitted. He named a senior al Qaeda associate who did have good relations with the Iraqi regime: Abu Musab al Zarqawi, with whom Zubaydah had plotted attacks in Jordan.
WHEN GEORGE W. BUSH chose Rep. Porter Goss, a former CIA officer, to succeed George Tenet as director of central intelligence, Goss was widely portrayed as a partisan intruder on an apolitical agency. Some Democrats said Goss "seems too partisan" for the job, the New York Times guilelessly reported. An editorial in the paper labeled Goss a "partisan Republican" and urged Bush to withdraw the nomination and let the CIA's acting director serve through the 2004 election.
On October 1, 2004, with Goss less than a week into the job, the Washington Post ran an article noting the concerns of intelligence professionals that Goss was bringing with him to the Agency four of his top staffers from the House Intelligence Committee. "Some also expressed concern that newcomers from the Republican-run House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence would bring partisan sensibilities to their new roles. Concerns about partisanship and the CIA have been at the forefront of public debate over the agency's future in the past weeks."
Two days later, one of those staffers, Michael Kostiw, was the target of a nasty leak about a shoplifting incident from the early 1980s. The story appeared in the Washington Post and cited "four sources who were familiar with the past events but who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information." Kostiw was to have been executive director of the CIA. Two days after the story ran, he withdrew from consideration.
Those leaks came shortly after another damaging leak, this one of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that challenged Bush's optimism and warned of possible civil war. The same day, John Kerry's presidential campaign incorporated the substance of this leak into its campaign message and charged that Bush was living in a "fantasy world of spin."
The leaks didn't stop after the election. The Washington Post ran its now-famous "secret prison" story on the CIA's handling of al Qaeda detainees in November 2005; the New York Times published its accusations of domestic wiretapping by the National Security Agency the following month.
Was Mary McCarthy a source for any of these stories? We don't know. Her lawyer, Ty Cobb, has said that she denies discussing any classified information with reporters. CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise Dyck, without naming McCarthy, says the official terminated last week acknowledged discussing classified information with reporters. A source that agreed only to be described as an "intelligence official," goes further. "There was a clear pattern of talking to the media."
We may never know why and what precisely McCarthy leaked. The fact that she contributed significant sums of money to John Kerry and Democrats may mean little more than that she wanted a better job in a new Kerry administration than she had been able to get under Bush.
In the midst of a three-year CIA-Bush administration battle over politicized intelligence, how can it be that journalists find these contributions irrelevant?
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.