Newsweek reported yesterday that Mary McCarthy denies being the source of last year’s Washington Post story about the secret CIA prisons. Today, WaPo quotes a senior intelligence official saying she’s right — sort of. And so a weird, murky story gets weirder and murkier.
According to Newsweek, McCarthy admitted only to having unauthorized “contact” with Dana Priest (and at least one other reporter), not to tipping her off about the prisons. McCarthy’s lawyer went a step further today, telling WaPo that McCarthy hasn’t leaked classified information of any kind. What’s more, he insists she didn’t even have access to the information about the prisons — which, if true, certainly explodes my theory about the importance of her position in the IG’s office.
Or does it? Today the Post added a few new wrinkles. Most notably, this one:
Nowhere in the [original] CIA statement last week was McCarthy accused of leaking information on the prisons, although some news accounts suggested that the CIA had made that claim.
Though McCarthy acknowledged having contact with reporters, a senior intelligence official confirmed yesterday that she is not believed to have played a central role in The Post’s reporting on the secret prisons. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing personnel matters.
Emphasis mine. So she wasn’t the main source for the prison story. Fair enough — but she’s not in the clear yet. Here’s what the CIA told Newsweek just yesterday:
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano re-affirmed on Monday that an agency official had been fired after acknowledging “unauthorized contacts with the media and discussion of classified information” with journalists. Gimigliano and other administration spokespersons said they were prohibited by law from disclosing the identity of the person who was fired. But government officials familiar with the matter confirmed to NEWSWEEK that McCarthy, a 20-year veteran of the CIA’s intelligence—or analytical—branch, was the individual in question.
Two questions, then. First, did McCarthy disclose any information about the prisons? And second, more broadly, did she disclose information pertaining to any other classified matter?
Where [her lawyer]’s account and the CIA’s account differed yesterday is on whether McCarthy discussed any classified information with journalists. Intelligence sources said that the inspector general’s office was generally aware of a secret prison program but that McCarthy did not have access to specifics, such as prison locations.
Could McCarthy have tipped Priest to the mere existence of the prisons, thereby setting her off down the investigative trail to dig up the nuts-and-bolts details from other agency staffers? If not, if McCarthy’s telling the truth about not having breathed a word of it to anyone, why doesn’t Priest follow Tom Maguire’s logic and just clear her? If McCarthy wasn’t a source for the prison story, then Priest doesn’t need to “protect” her; on the contrary, by keeping mum, Priest is letting her take the fall for something she didn’t do. Which naturally makes me suspect McCarthy was one of Priest’s sources.
All it would take to find out would be for the WaPo reporters who wrote today’s article to walk across the newsroom floor and ask their colleague. But of course they can’t, or won’t, which itself is an exquisite microcosm of media absurdity the last few years in terms of both the extent to which many reporters seem to have become part of the stories they cover and the ethical pretzels that situation puts their employers in. Andy McCarthy (no relation to Mary) made a similar point today at the Corner, reminding readers that an AP story which ran this past weekend stated that McCarthy had ‘fessed up to leaking on the prison story — a direct contradiction of today’s Washington Post article. And in which newspaper did that AP story appear? Right: the Washington Post. Either the source for that piece or the source for today’s piece is wrong, and one of the few people who knows for sure works right there on the premises. But because she relied on anonymous leakers, Priest has to keep silent and leave WaPo to twist in the wind.
More on today’s WaPo article from Steven Spruiell, who’s being cautious, and AJ Strata, who isn’t. Meanwhile, Rick Moran looks at VIPS, an organization which may or may not have anything to do with McCarthy but which might very well pop up later in other contexts as leak crackdown ’06 unfolds.