Monday, April 24, 2006

The McCarthy File

As we noted previously, the career of fired CIA agent Mary McCarthy apparently suffered a major setback with the end of the Clinton Administration. Until that time, Ms. McCarthy had been on the intelligence equivalent of the career fast-track; in barely a decade, she climbed from obscure analyst at CIA Headquarters to the National Intelligence Officer for Warning (NIO), a feat of bureaucratic advancement that it simply stunning. A protege of legendary CIA officer Charlie Allen (who now runs the intel shop at the Department of Homeland Security), Ms. McCarthy catapulted over hundreds of more senior officers until she reached the apex of her career in the Clinton White House, as Director of Intelligence Programs--hand-picked by none other than National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.

But with the arrival of the Bush team, McCarthy was apparently banished back to Langley, and wound up with a rather mundane posting to boot. According to press accounts, Ms. McCarthy was working in the agency's Inspector General (IG) directorate at the time she was fired. As a member of the IG staff, McCarthy's duties included the investigation of complaints by agency staffers, and helped ensure organizational compliance with the rules, regulations and statutory laws that govern intelligence organizations.

While the work of an IG is important, it is not viewed as a plum assignment, nor a job suitable for someone on the fast-track. The agency won't divulge Ms. McCarthy's specific duties at the time for her firing, but there is no indication that she was serving as the CIA IG, the highest-ranking official within that directorate. If that's the case, then McCarthy must been demoted at some time or the other. A National Intelligence Officer (the job she held in the mid-1990s) is the equivalent of a four-star general, with an Senior Executive Service (SES) grade and salary to match. It is quite likely that Ms. McCarthy was still an SES while working in the IG office, but that assignment represented a substantial demotion from her salad days as an NIO, and as a senior staffer for Bill Clinton.

That begs some obvious questions: first of all, when McCarthy left the Clinton White House, what position did she enter at Langley? Normally, for a "returning" senior civil servant, the agency would attempt to place the individual in a slot commensurate with their past duties and experience. For McCarthy, that would mean re-appointment as a NIO, or at least a Deputy NIO. With her White House and Democratic Party connections, such a posting would seem virtually automatic. But apparently, that didn't happen. That fact alone should raise a few eyebrows in the security establishment, because a former NRO with superb political ties should have easily segued to another high-level assignment, despite the change in administrations.

Which brings us to question #2: what exactly happened that led to McCarthy's posting in the CIA IG? Did she spend the last five years of her career in that backwater, or did she return to an NIO-level job, before being shifted to the IG's office? That distinction is important, because it could provide a possible motivation for her eventual contact with the WaPo. Ms. McCarthy's Democratic Party activism was clearly a factor, but her move from the White House to a bureaucratic dead-end provides another, powerful influence on her decision to leak.

Finally, it would be interesting to know McCarthy's status within the CIA's agency transition program, as it relates to her identifiction and dismissal. Various accounts suggest that McCarthy had already entered the program (designed to prepare departing spooks for retirement or a new career) at the time the agency initiated the investigation. Once again, the timeline is critical. I've never worked for the agency, but I'm told that the transition program becomes you're "full time job" over the last few weeks of your CIA career. In other words, your old duties cease, and you no longer report to your office. If McCarthy was talking to Dana Priest while in the transition program, then her decision to leak was made much earlier--and any materials passed to the WaPo were gathered weeks, perhaps months in advance.

McCarthy's IG role and status in the transition program also raises questions about other possible participants in the leak effort. Here's are some thoughts to support that suppostion. If you're going to leak exceptionally sensitive information, who better than someone about to leave the agency, and retire before they can be discovered? Using McCarthy for the leak would allow others to remain on the inside, and continue provding information to a friendly news media.

The former NIO's planned retirement might also have been intended to provide legal cover for the disclosure effort. The leaker (or perhaps, leakers) apparently reasoned that the agency would be reluctant to prosecute her after she left Langley, to avoid the possible compromise of other intel programs and sources. McCarthy clearly erred in believing that she could get out of Langley before being discovered; but on the legal count, the leaker(s) may be correct. NRO's Andrew McCarthy (no relation) openly wonders why the fired CIA officer hasn't been arrested, while noting noting the possibility that she will never face criminal sanctions.

Did Mary McCarthy have any help? That's an intriguging question. Here are some thoughts that suggest she might not be the only leaker. First, it is clear that the covert prisons were a closely-held secret. That would suggest that they fell under a SAR/SAP (Special Access Required/Special Accees Program), with its own set of security rules, and (possibly) special facilities where only those "read-in" could discuss the program. Correspondingly, only a small number of agency employees knew about the prisons--until Dana Priest published her front-page expose? Was Mary McCarthy among that number? Perhaps, but that raises another important issue: why would the agency assign a departing staffer to handle IG issues relating to one of its most sensitive programs?

Unfortunately, the answers to such questions are in short supply, and it should probably stay that way.

Can we connect the dots between Mary McCarthy and a wider Democratic conspiracy to undermine the Bush Administration? Hard to say, but Mac Ranger makes a compelling case.


Boghie said...

The following quote from Ms. McCarthy’s biography might point to a rather more inauspicious reason for a ‘demotion’.

“Until July 2001, she served as special assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programs on the National Security Council (NSC) Staff, under both Presidents Clinton and Bush.”

Apparently, the first reference to reach President Bush of al Qaeda attempting an attack inside America was the August 6 Presidential Daily Brief that the Libbies squeal about. Why? Could the Administration have been less than enthused with her editing qualities as Special Assistant to the President.

Honestly, I am not familiar with these terms or the command structure in the CIA, NSA, or Executive Branch – the first time I heard of an SESer was a couple of weeks ago…

Kitty said...

Another great job! I'm keeping my readers up-to-date by with your posts.

CW said...

Mary McCarthy was on sabbatical at CSIS after leaving the White House in 2001, until returning to CIA IG in 2005, apparently to begin the retirement program. Googling her will quickly reveal that fact.

The job in the CIA IG appears to have been a "placeholder", giving her a slot to fill back in HQ while preparing to retire.

Da Man said...

It all depends on the meaning of the word 'leak'. If 'leak' means 'to urinate', then Ms. McCarthy did not 'leak' onto reporter Dana Priest.

Boghie said...

Can someone actually check out what her position was between January 2001 and July/August 2001.

"Until July 2001, she served as special assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programs on the National Security Council (NSC)"

Everyone keeps stating that she was bounced out in 2001...

Yes, but in July 2001...

There was an August PDB referencing the potential for al Qaeda hits inside the United States.

We were hit in September 2001...

Was she "special assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programs" as late as the end of July 2001?