TOPICS > Politics

CIA Cracks Down on Leaks, Fires Senior Official

April 24, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: A 20-year veteran of the agency, Mary McCarthy, was fired on Thursday for leaking information about CIA secret prison camps to the Washington Post. The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for those stories.

CIA Director Porter Goss reportedly told CIA employees Friday that McCarthy had failed a polygraph test and then admitted to unauthorized disclosures. There’s no word on whether the government will take any further action against her.

Some perspective on this now from two career CIA employees. Richard Kerr spent 32 years at the agency. His last position was deputy director of central intelligence under the first President Bush.

Ray McGovern was an analyst for 27 years. He retired in 1990. He is now a member of the group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which has criticized the current administration for politicizing intelligence.

Mr. Kerr, should Mary McCarthy have been fired for what she did?

RICHARD KERR, Former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence: Yes, I believe so.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mr. McGovern?

RAY MCGOVERN, Former CIA Analyst: Yes, but that’s only part of the story.

JIM LEHRER: What’s the other part?

RAY MCGOVERN: Well, we need to create a context here.

JIM LEHRER: OK. All right.

RAY MCGOVERN: We’re not talking about petty crimes or misdemeanors; we’re talking about war crimes. She was cognizant of war crimes. She needed to do something about that, from a moral and a legal perspective. And she chose this way to do it, because the other ways were blocked for her.

JIM LEHRER: What are the rules, Mr. Kerr, that govern the contact of CIA officers with the press that Mary McCarthy violated?

RICHARD KERR: Well, I think any officer needs the permission and the authority of the leadership of the organization. This is not — it’s kind of historically been the case where individual officers cannot make the choices about who they talk to in the press or what they reveal in the press. These are decisions that are made by the public affairs people and, most directly, by the leadership of the organization.

And I would disagree with Ray, by the way, who happens to be an old friend and colleague. It’s not at all clear to me that his description of the activity is fitting.

But, in any case, I would say it is not her role to — as a junior officer, you argue against the policies or you argue against activity, as it’s being developed. There’s all kinds of ways to go through the organization to make your feelings known, to give your views of it. And I think going out independently, with that kind of discipline, no intelligence organization can work that way.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree in principle with that? And we’ll get back to your point earlier about what avenues were open to her if she felt the way she did.

RAY MCGOVERN: I think, Jim, this was an exceptional case.

JIM LEHRER: An exceptional case?

RAY MCGOVERN: Yes, really an exceptional case. Never before, in my experience for 27 years in the agency, was I aware of war crimes. Now, we’re talking about serious things here, and her…

JIM LEHRER: And you’re talking about, in her case…

RAY MCGOVERN: I’m talking about torture…

JIM LEHRER: … the allegation that she gave the Washington Post information about these so-called prison camps in Eastern Europe?


JIM LEHRER: And if she knew that, and she wanted to do something about it as a CIA professional, her only avenue was, in your…



RAY MCGOVERN: … I assume that she went through the proper channels. She was working for the inspector general, but the inspector general, however…

JIM LEHRER: The agency’s inspector general, right.

RAY MCGOVERN: Yes, he’s supposed to be independent, but he’s really a creature of the director. And the director marches down with the vice president to try to persuade Senator McCain to create an exception so that the CIA can torture people.

And so she’s faced with a situation that’s real. The director is in favor of torture. And their only other recourse is Congress. And Congress, the oversight committees — I hate to say this, but it’s a joke.

She can’t get any redress from Pat Roberts. I call him Patsy Roberts, because he’s a patsy for the administration. Pete Hoekstra, he criticized…

JIM LEHRER: The House Intelligence Committee chairman.

RAY MCGOVERN: … in the House side, yes, he criticized her yesterday. But, you know, that was the height of cynicism, because if he were doing his job it wouldn’t be necessary for Mary McCarthy to do these things.

JIM LEHRER: So she had no other option then, from your…

RAY MCGOVERN: That’s the way I see it. I knew Mary pretty well. She’s got a lot of integrity. And, you know, you can argue that she has a moral responsibility and a legal responsibility.

In other words, if she’s in the chain of command and she sees these kinds of crimes being perpetrated, under Nuremberg and other international law, she is required…

JIM LEHRER: She had to do this?

RAY MCGOVERN: … to do something.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Kerr, what do you think about that? She not only — she was required to do this. You heard what Mr. McGovern said.

RICHARD KERR: Well, first of all, I’m not absolutely sure that I agree with the idea that these are crimes, an international crime. But I would say that there are several mechanisms. There are mechanisms within the I.G. itself. And I would argue that the inspector general, John Helgerson, has shown a good deal of independence.

You have appeal to the director, into the organization itself. Now, it may not be as easy to do that today as it was in the past, but I never found a time in 32 years where I couldn’t march up the organization and talk to people about concerns I had.

JIM LEHRER: Well, let’s…

RICHARD KERR: And you also have oversight committees.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Well, that’s where I was going to go is, let’s assume, for discussion purposes only here, because we don’t know — nobody knows exactly what happened. But then let’s say she exhausted whatever avenues were available to her within the agency and get to Mr. McGovern’s point that, once having done that, what could she do about something that she felt so strongly about? What else could she have done?

RICHARD KERR: Well, my view of — she should have resigned.

JIM LEHRER: Resigned?

RICHARD KERR: And then she should have argued against the policy, but not to provide information on a classified basis that she had an obligation to protect. If every individual or senior officer in CIA decides they’re going to make the judgments of what policies or what activities the CIA are appropriate on their own, as an individual, you have an organization that cannot function.

After all, CIA functions as an organization that does illegal things overseas. That’s its business, collecting information. It does it not on the international law; it does it under U.S. law. So I don’t think you can have this significant lapse in discipline.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. McGovern?

RAY MCGOVERN: Well, that’s a good point that Dick makes. That’s the reason these prisons are overseas, because there is U.S. law, 18 U.S. Code 2441, the War Crimes Act, which forbids these activities, torture, rendition, putting people, disappearing people, and so forth. And so that’s why these things are created overseas.

But my point is: This is not American. This is not the country that we serve. And when we see this happening, somebody has to speak out.

JIM LEHRER: What about his point, though, that if she wanted to do this, she should have resigned and then gone public?

RAY MCGOVERN: I don’t think it makes any difference.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t?

RAY MCGOVERN: If she resigned, she’s still bound by the secrecy agreement that…

JIM LEHRER: I was going to ask about that. Doesn’t that hold after you leave the agency?

RAY MCGOVERN: Sure, it does. It holds for me; it holds for Dick. So it doesn’t really — it’s a specious argument, she could resign. I think that she probably thought she could do some good if she stayed in the agency.


RICHARD KERR: I think you should — in that case, I think a person has an obligation to resign. You don’t have to go to the specifics of the intelligence to the sources and methods to argue against a particular policy, so I think you can do that from the outside after you resigned.

But I think doing it as an insider really works against the fundamental operations of an intelligence organization. That’s unacceptable.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Let me ask both of you, beginning with you, Mr. McGovern, based on your — you were there for 27 years.

You were there for 32 years, Mr. Kerr.

And starting with you, Mr. McGovern, do you know of any cases — you don’t have to tell me what they are, obviously — where a CIA officer, a CIA employee leaked something to the press, got caught in some way or suspected in some way, and was dismissed in a very private, rather than public way, the way Mary McCarthy was?

RAY MCGOVERN: I do. A very senior person, just one level below the director, he was let go quietly.

JIM LEHRER: And so this is unusual?

RAY MCGOVERN: They’re making an example of Mary. It’s sort of a deterrent sort of intimidation technique. They’re running polygraph exams for everyone now. In our day, we got one every five years. Now they’re polygraphing everyone, so it’s part of this intimidation technique.

But she took that risk. And I admire her for that. She knew that she was going to have to take a polygraph exam.


RICHARD KERR: Well, I would just say that, first of all, the discipline that the agency — in terms of speaking, writing books while you’re still serving officers — the discipline within the organization has deteriorated. And I think it’s absolutely necessary to maintain the discipline.

So, I mean, I sympathize with Mary for what’s going to happen to her, is happening to her, or is going to happen to her. But I think the organization needs to discipline itself. And one way to do that is to begin working leaks.

Now, it cannot control leaks from the Defense Department or from other organizations, but it can control leaks from inside the organization, and it should do that.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Mr. McGovern that there were cases earlier where CIA officers did leak information to the press, got caught, but were not publicly fired?

RICHARD KERR: I know of probably the same example that he’s talking about, and I think there have been a couple of others where people were released for sloppy conversations with people that they shouldn’t have had and revealing activity about operational…

JIM LEHRER: Mr. McGovern, do you agree with Mr. Kerr that there is a big need now for discipline within the agency, that there things have gotten loose, in terms of not only talking to the press — well, you heard what he said — publishing books, and people violating the secrecy rules?

RAY MCGOVERN: In my day, we took our secrecy agreement very seriously. And we don’t dismiss that lightly. But I would suggest that these are extraordinary times.

Never before has my country launched — which by any definition, especially Nuremberg — amounts to a war of aggression. And Nuremberg defined…

JIM LEHRER: You mean in Iraq?

RAY MCGOVERN: Yes, which defined that as the supreme international crime, holding within itself the accumulated evil of the whole. What did they mean by that? They mean torture; they mean rendition, these kinds of things. And this is what’s going on.

And when the director is marching down the vice president to defend torture, and when the oversight committees are completely asleep, there’s no other recourse than for a person like Mary to have the guts to say, “Yes, I’ll probably get caught on this, but I’ll do it anyway.”

JIM LEHRER: So you believe — excuse me, I’ll be right there, Mr. Kerr — do you believe the American people listening to this tonight and who have been reading the stories the last couple of days, how should they view Mary McCarthy, Mr. McGovern, as a heroine?

RAY MCGOVERN: Well, I think they should realize that they would know nothing about this, they would know nothing about the torture, the renditions and so forth that’s going on in our name if Mary hadn’t gone to whoever she went to and told the story. It’s necessary for us to know this.

You know, information is the oxygen for democracy. If we don’t know what’s going on, how can we prevent this kind of abuse?

JIM LEHRER: And Mary McCarthy, an American hero, Mr. Kerr?

RICHARD KERR: No, I think she violated the trust. I think one of the things we’re going to have to look at — and I think Ray is being a touch unrealistic about this — we are in a war that is a different kind of war than we’ve been in before. We are going to take actions and be proactive in a way we’ve never done before.

One of the real questions is: Do we operate within the values, the traditional values of the American culture, or do we stretch those and become very proactive? I don’t think it’s at all certain that we can operate the way we have in the past.

Whether I agree with this particular policy is not relevant; we are going to find ourselves more and more reaching out, being proactive before things happen. We’re going to do things that, in the days of past, would have looked outside of our society and culture and seemed a little too aggressive.

JIM LEHRER: What about Mr. McGovern’s point that the American people deserve to know about these prisons in Eastern Europe?

RICHARD KERR: I don’t think there’s any right to know. I don’t see it written in any document that says there’s a right to know about classified programs that are in place to protect the United States and U.S. citizens.

If you do that, you cannot run an effective organization; you cannot do useful things, valuable things to protect the country. You have to have confidence in the administration and in the intelligence organizations. You have oversight.

I would agree with Ray that sometimes our oversight is lacking, and it’s certainly been lacking throughout these last several years.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

Mr. McGovern, do you want to respond to what Mr. Kerr just said about this isn’t the way to do it, you know?

RAY MCGOVERN: Well, again, my point is that there was no other way for Mary to make this known. She saw it as her duty to do that; I admire her for putting herself at great personal risk here.

And most people, you know, they see this stuff, and they go home, and they wait to retire, and then they write a book, and they go on “60 Minutes.” And then they say, you know, “I’m a celebrity.” She did the right thing when she saw that she couldn’t get any redress through the normal channels, when Congress was a joke, and so she went to the press, the fourth estate.

JIM LEHRER: The fourth estate. OK, we will — speaking for that, we will leave that there.

Thank you, both, very much.

RAY MCGOVERN: Thanks, Dick.

RICHARD KERR: Thanks, Ray.