Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 25, 2006

The Mary McCarthy story

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christian Beckner on April 25, 2006

Allow me to go somewhat off-topic for a post.

Most of you have likely read over the weekend about Mary McCarthy’s dismissal from the CIA , based on allegations that she was a source for Dana Priest’s secret European prisons story in the Washington Post last fall. Tonight the Washington Post revises this narrative dramatically, with her lawyer asserting that she was not the source for this story, and that the dismissal was based on unrelated contacts with reporters. Her lawyer added that:

But [attorney Ty] Cobb said she was “devastated” that her government career of more than two decades will “forever be linked with misinformation about the reasons for her termination,” and he said that her firing 10 days before she was to retire was “certainly not for the reasons attributed to the agency.” His comments constituted the first statement from her camp since her firing became public last week.

I know Mary McCarthy. I worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies from September 2003 to April 2005, and Mary was a visiting fellow-in-residence at CSIS for most of that time. Via a couple of projects on which we both worked and staff meetings, I became acquainted with her well enough to know that she was a smart, decent, and honorable person, and a credit to the American intelligence community.

I don’t want to excuse her (alleged) actions. If she did break CIA rules on unwarranted disclosure, then she should face appropriate repercussions, as she has. But anyone who served the nation admirably for 20 years does not deserve the weekend from hell and public scorning that she’s gone through. Why did the CIA and the Administration allow the major errors in the media’s coverage to stand uncorrected over the weekend, while her reputation was grievously slimed and besmirched? I was sickened to read the fevered rantings in the blogosphere about Mary over the weekend. A woman who spent the last twenty years working on protecting America doesn’t deserve this kind of unseemly rhetoric. It’s sad, and it’s the kind of vindictive discourse that is going to discourage good people from signing up to serve in the intelligence community.

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1 Comment »


Comment by William R. Cumming

April 25, 2006 @ 11:15 am

It should be noted that contract employees have greater rights to a full-scale adversary proceeding over the loss of a clearance (leading of course to loss of access) than federal employees, even at the CIA. In the period 1991-1992 at FEMA General Andrew Goodpaster led a blue-ribbon panel to fully analyze the personnel security system in FEMA leading to a substantial revision under Director James Lee Witt. This is because the continued existence without amendment of Executive Order 10450 allows the head of each federal department or agency to establish a personnel security system for its programs. Witt’s answer was to abolish the need for clearance’s for about 60% of the agency leading to a firm basis for a “Need to Share” culture as opposed to a “Need to Know”. Obviously FEMA is not the CIA but it does indicate that the culture of secrecy or not in each department and agency is a factor in its success or lack thereof. For example before 9/11 neither EPA nor HHS had orginal classification authority despite key assignments in Executive Order 12656, as amended.
If personnel security systems are administered by personnel who are vindicative, without adequate training and judgement, then the system can be used by unaccoutable persons to destroy the effectiveness and efficiency of a department or agency. The 9/11 Commision pin-pointed this issue but no reform or even Congressional oversight has occurred.

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