Polygraph Didn’t Find Secret Prisons Source

It appears that CIA officer Mary McCarthy was not the source of Washington Post reporter Dana Priest’s information on the CIA’s secret prisons. In “Dismissed CIA Officer Denies Leak Role,” Post staff writers R. Jeffrey Smith and Dafna Linzer report that she denies it, and the CIA is not alleging it. Excerpt:

A lawyer representing fired CIA officer Mary O. McCarthy said yesterday that his client did not leak any classified information and did not disclose to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest the existence of secret CIA-run prisons in Eastern Europe for suspected terrorists.

The statement by Ty Cobb, a lawyer in the Washington office of Hogan & Hartson who said he was speaking for McCarthy, came on the same day that a senior intelligence official said the agency is not asserting that McCarthy was a key source of Priest’s award-winning articles last year disclosing the agency’s secret prisons.

McCarthy was fired because the CIA concluded that she had undisclosed contacts with journalists, including Priest, in violation of a security agreement. That does not mean she revealed the existence of the prisons to Priest, Cobb said.

Cobb said that McCarthy, who worked in the CIA inspector general’s office, “did not have access to the information she is accused of leaking,” namely the classified information about any secret detention centers in Europe. Having unreported media contacts is not unheard of at the CIA but is a violation of the agency’s rules.

In a statement last Friday, the agency said it had fired one of its officers for having unauthorized conversations with journalists in which the person “knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence.” Intelligence officials subsequently acknowledged that the official was McCarthy and said that Priest is among the journalists with whom she acknowledged sharing information.

Priest won the Pulitzer Prize this month for a series of articles she wrote last year about the intelligence community, including the revelation of the existence of CIA-run prisons in East European countries. The Post withheld the names of the countries at the Bush administration’s request, and it attributed the information to current and former intelligence officials from three continents.

The articles sparked a wide-ranging CIA investigation that included polygraphing scores of officials who worked in offices privy to information about the secret prisons, including McCarthy and her boss, CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson. Nowhere in the 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.

Smith and Linzer also note that the polygraphing of a CIA Inspector General is not unprecedented:

Fredrick P. Hitz, who was inspector general at the CIA from 1990 to 1998, said his office was the subject of a leak inquiry after The Post wrote about a classified report he submitted to Congress on the Aldrich H. Ames espionage case. “I was polygraphed several times, as were some of my staff,” Hitz said in an interview. No source for the leak was found and the investigation was terminated.

For discussion, see The Polygraph and the Mary McCarthy Case on the AntiPolygraph.org message board.

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