Friends Say McCarthy Learned of Denials About Detainees’ Treatment
A senior CIA official, meeting with Senate staff in a secure room of the Capitol last June, promised repeatedly that the agency did not violate or seek to violate an international treaty that bars cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees, during interrogations it conducted in the Middle East and elsewhere.
But another CIA officer — the agency’s deputy inspector general, who for the previous year had been probing allegations of criminal mistreatment by the CIA and its contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan — was startled to hear what she considered an outright falsehood, according to people familiar with her account. It came during the discussion of legislation that would constrain the CIA’s interrogations.
That CIA officer was Mary O. McCarthy, 61, who was fired on April 20 for allegedly sharing classified information with journalists, including Washington Post journalist Dana Priest. A CIA employee of two decades, McCarthy became convinced that “CIA people had lied” in that briefing, as one of her friends said later, not only because the agency had conducted abusive interrogations but also because its policies authorized treatment that she considered cruel, inhumane or degrading.
Whether McCarthy’s conviction that the CIA was hiding unpleasant truths provoked her to leak sensitive information is known only to her and the journalists she is alleged to have spoken with last year. But the picture of her that emerges from interviews with more than a dozen former colleagues is of an independent-minded analyst who became convinced that on multiple occasions the agency had not given accurate or complete information to its congressional overseers.
McCarthy was not an ideologue, her friends say, but at some point fell into a camp of CIA officers who felt that the Bush administration’s venture into Iraq had dangerously diverted U.S. counterterrorism policy. After seeing — in e-mails, cable traffic, interview transcripts and field reports — some of the secret fruits of the Iraq intervention, McCarthy became disenchanted, three of her friends say.
In addition to CIA misrepresentations at the session last summer, McCarthy told the friends, a senior agency official failed to provide a full account of the CIA’s detainee-treatment policy at a closed hearing of the House intelligence committee in February 2005, under questioning by Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the senior Democrat.
McCarthy also told others she was offended that the CIA’s general counsel had worked to secure a secret Justice Department opinion in 2004 authorizing the agency’s creation of “ghost detainees” — prisoners removed from Iraq for secret interrogations without notice to the International Committee of the Red Cross — because the Geneva Conventions prohibit such practices.
Almost all of McCarthy’s friends and colleagues interviewed for this report agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because her case still could be referred for prosecution and because much of her work involved highly classified information.
As a former director of intelligence programs in the Clinton administration’s National Security Council, McCarthy was entrusted with deep secrets regarding the nation’s covert actions overseas. She was a contributor in 2004 to the presidential campaign of Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), and a former colleague of two Clinton aides — Richard A. Clarke and Rand Beers — who had publicly assailed what they considered President Bush’s misguided focus on Iraq.
By many accounts, those traits helped fit McCarthy precisely into the current White House’s model of a disloyal intelligence officer: She dissented from Bush administration policy, and she let others know.
But McCarthy’s friends, including former officials who support aggressive interrogation methods, resist any suggestion that she handled classified information loosely or that political motives lay behind her dissent and the contacts she has told the agency she had with journalists. She was, in the view of several who know her well, a CIA scapegoat for a White House that they say prefers intelligence acolytes instead of analysts and sees ulterior motives in any policy criticism.
They allege that her firing was another chapter in a long-standing feud between the CIA and the Bush White House, stoked by friction over the merits of the war in Iraq, over whether links existed between Saddam Hussein’s government and al-Qaeda, and over the CIA-instigated criminal inquiry of White House officials suspected of leaking the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.
“When the president nominated Porter Goss [as CIA director in September 2004], he sent Goss over to get a rogue agency under control,” Steven Simon, a colleague of McCarthy’s at the National Security Council from 1994 to 1999, said Goss’s aides told him. Simon said McCarthy’s unusually public firing appeared intended not only to block leaks but also to suppress the dissent that has “led to these leaks. The aim was to have a chilling effect, and it will probably work for a while.”
Goss himself was forced to resign earlier this month.
CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise Dyck, without naming McCarthy, denied that the firing was meant to suppress dissent. She said it was provoked solely by the officer’s admission to CIA investigators to having provided classified information to the media. “You can’t ignore an officer ignoring their secrecy agreement,” Dyck said.
Many lawmakers have said they share this viewpoint, and some have called for tougher CIA sanctions to enforce the secrecy rules.
But McCarthy, in e-mails to friends, has denied leaking anything classified. She has not denied speaking to Priest but has said she was unaware that the CIA had secret prisons in Eastern Europe, the most attention-getting detail in Priest’s articles last year. Her lawyer has said the same thing publicly.
Assessing whether politics played a role in the firing is difficult, given the reluctance of those involved to lay bare the underlying facts. The CIA has declined to disclose the evidence it collected against McCarthy. McCarthy declined to be interviewed for this article, and her attorney, Ty Cobb, said the CIA has precluded him from discussing what McCarthy said in CIA interviews and polygraph examinations between February and April 18.
Reporters at The Washington Post and other publications do not discuss sources for articles beyond what is published. Priest’s disclosures about the secret prisons were attributed to multiple current and former intelligence officials on three continents.
McCarthy was drawn into the CIA’s wrenching internal debate over treatment of foreign detainees when she was recruited by Inspector General John L. Helgerson in the summer of 2004 to oversee the agency’s criminal probe of alleged wrongdoing in the war on Iraq. CIA Director George J. Tenet requested the probe shortly before he was replaced by Goss.
Both Helgerson and McCarthy were veterans of the agency’s Intelligence Directorate; neither had worked in the Directorate of Operations (D.O.), whose employees in Iraq and Afghanistan were at the heart of the abuse allegations and whose leadership often resents independent scrutiny. But McCarthy was in some ways well prepared for the job, because she had tangled with the D.O. previously over several of its covert-action programs.
A historian by training and a passionate hockey fan, she had two brief jobs in academia and a stint at a risk-assessment firm before joining the agency’s Africa and Latin America divisions. In 1991, she became a deputy to legendary CIA analyst Charlie Allen, then the agency’s chief warning officer. After McCarthy succeeded Allen in 1994, Allen paid tribute to her “strong views” on the need for “extraordinary rigor” in analysis.
The job involved supervising a tiny staff tasked with separating wheat from chaff and calling attention to imminent crises, but afforded marginal clout in influencing the agency’s intelligence-gathering priorities. It left her frustrated, and in articles published in a small-circulation intelligence journal in 1994 and 1998, she decried the agency’s adherence to an “old analytic culture” and its reluctance to reorganize to improve its warning capability.
Much of the intelligence community was marked by “ingrown bureaucracies that have become isolated and smug” instead of risk-taking, McCarthy said in one article. She also warned that in all the reviews of major U.S. intelligence failures, “there emerges abundant evidence . . . that analysts often shaped their judgments with policy in mind.”
In 1996, then-national security adviser Anthony Lake, who shared her intense interest in Africa, recruited her to a White House job in which she helped conduct an annual review of all presidentially authorized covert-action programs. James B. Steinberg, who became deputy national security adviser at the end of that year, said McCarthy “did not see herself as carrying the water for any particular policy or perspective. . . . Is she someone I would trust to handle the information properly and sensitively? I would say, absolutely.”
As the National Security Council’s director and then senior director of intelligence programs, McCarthy helped enforce the classification rules at the White House and sometimes blocked staff access to documents or CIA programs. She also developed a reputation for bluntly expressed opinions about deficiencies in the intelligence and analysis prepared for President Bill Clinton.
“She gave the CIA a very hard time when she thought they were not doing what they were supposed to do,” a former colleague recalled. “She wasn’t snowed very easily. It is her nature to be a skeptic.”
McCarthy tangled with the Directorate of Operations over whether some covert actions were still productive. She concluded that evidence linking a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant with al-Qaeda was thin, and she lodged a dissent with the national security adviser before U.S. cruise missiles were fired at the facility in 1998. She also fought for a year with James L. Pavitt, then the head of the directorate, who opposed a White House-backed plan to deploy pilotless Predator planes over Afghanistan.
“Her personality was engaging, charming, persistent, and also loud and aggressive,” said a CIA official who experienced McCarthy’s occasionally painful grilling. “Sometimes she got a bee in her bonnet about something that others thought was not so important.” The exchanges, which one official called “head-butting,” helped harden McCarthy’s view that “the CIA is just very insular,” a former colleague said. “It is kind of a boys’ club” closed to “new ways of doing analysis.”
After Bush’s election, McCarthy stayed at the White House briefly and then accepted a temporary assignment at the CIA’s Science and Technology Directorate, where she felt “underutilized,” according to one friend. She enrolled in law classes in preparation for retirement and took a sabbatical at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Then Helgerson persuaded her to oversee his inquiry of detainee treatment in Iraq, and later Afghanistan.
Human Rights Watch
McCarthy’s findings are secret. According to a brief CIA statement about the probe in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, investigators set out to examine “the conduct of CIA components and personnel, including DO personnel” during interrogations. Tens of thousands of pages of material were collected, including White House and Justice Department documents, and multiple reports were issued. Some described cases of abuse, involving fewer than a dozen individuals, and were forwarded to the Justice Department, according to government officials.
Another report, completed in 2004, examined the CIA’s interrogation policies and techniques, concluded that they might violate international law and made 10 recommendations, which the agency has at least partially adopted. That report jarred some officials, because the Justice Department has contended that the international convention against torture — barring “cruel, inhumane, and degrading” treatment — does not apply to U.S. interrogations of foreigners outside the United States.
Little else is known publicly. The CIA inspector general’s reports have narrow circulation. When IG inquiries involve covert actions such as foreign interrogations, for example, the agency briefs only the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, instead of the full panels. So only a handful of people in Washington knew what McCarthy knew.
The CIA has rebuffed the ACLU’s legal requests to disclose about 10,000 pages of documents, arguing that they contain sensitive material about intelligence sources and methods. The presiding judge, Alvin K. Hellerstein, said in September 2004 that “if the documents are more of an embarrassment than a secret, the public should know of our government’s treatment of individuals captured and held abroad.” But he has not forced any disclosures.
McCarthy “was seeing things in some of the investigations that troubled her,” said one of her friends, and she worried that neither Helgerson nor the agency’s congressional overseers would fully examine what happened or why. “She had the impression that this stuff has been pretty well buried,” another friend said. In McCarthy’s view and that of many colleagues, two friends say, torture was not only wrong but also misguided, because it rarely produced useful results.
Officials at the CIA and the White House declined to say whether McCarthy’s firing, which came 10 days before her planned retirement, was discussed between them in advance. But a CIA official said that when Goss himself was asked to resign two weeks later, Bush thanked Goss indirectly for the action when he said Goss had “instilled a sense of professionalism” at the agency.
CIA officials have said that McCarthy nonetheless will receive her pension. At the time of her firing, the House was considering legislation, provoked in part by The Post article about secret prisons, requiring the CIA director to study the feasibility of revoking the pensions of those who make unauthorized disclosures of classified information. The legislation was approved by the House five days after the firing became public.
Staff reporter Dafna Linzer, researcher Madonna Lebling and research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.