We are learning more about Mary O"Neil McCarthy, the CIA officer who was fired for leaking classified information to the Washington Post. Ms. McCarthy was at least one of the sources for the Post series on secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe, which won a Pulitzer Prize last week.
Ms. McCarthy had been an agency employee for 22 years at the time of her dismissal. She had strong ties to the Clinton Administration; disgraced former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (of "Secrets Down My Pants" fame) engineered her appointment as Special Assistant to the President for Intelligence Programs in 1998. Before that, she held a similar post at the National Intelligence Council (NIC), and previously served as National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for Warning (1994-1996), and the Deputy NIO for Warning (1991-1994).
You'll note that many media accounts describe the leaker as an "analyst," suggesting that she was, at best, a mid-level staffer. That was hardly the case; few analysts make the jump from a regional desk at Langley to the White House. A "National Intelligence Officer" is the equivalent of a four-star general in the military, or a cardinal in the Catholic Church. There are only a handful of NIOs in the intelligence community; they are in charge of intelligence community efforts in a particular area. As a senior officer for Warning, Ms. McCarthy was tasked, essentially, with preventing future Pearl Harbors. Observers will note that McCarthy's tenure in that role coincided with early strikes by Islamofacists against the United States, including the first World Trade Center bombing, and the Khobar Towers attack. It could be argued that Ms. McCarthy's performance in the warning directorate was mediocre, at best--but it clearly didn't affect her rise in a Democratic Administration.
Equally interesting is her meteoric rise within the intelligence community. According to her bio, she joined the CIA as an analyst in 1984. Within seven years, she had rise to a Deputy NIO position, and reached full NIO status by 1994. To reach that level, she literally catapulted over dozens of more senior officers--and I'm guessing that her political connections didn't hurt. By comparison, I know a current NIO, with a resume and academic credentials more impressive than Ms. McCarthy's, who reached the position after more than 20 years of extraordinarily distinguished service. McCarthy's rapid advancement speaks volumes about how the Clinton Administration did business, and sheds new light on the intelligence failures that set the stage for 9-11. We can only wonder how many other political hacks climbed the intel food chain under Clinton--and remain in place to this day.
Aside from her Democratic Party ties (she apparently wrote a check for $2000 to the Kerry campaign in 2004), I also detect the whiff of sour grapes in her motivation for leaking information to the Post. At the time she talked with reporter Dana Priest, Ms. McCarthy was apparently working in the CIA Inspector General's Office. The agency, citing the Privacy Act, hasn't divulged her pay grade or title at the time of her firing, but it seems certain that she was not at the NIO level. After the rarefied air of the Clinton White House, McCarthy had been banished to a relative backwater at Langley, and she was likely upset by the apparent demotion.
A decision on possible criminal charges against the leaker is pending. Mary McCarthy's fall from grace may not be complete.
One final thought: with her firing, McCarthy will likely lose her CIA pension. I wonder if the WaPo will offer her anything through their retirement plan?