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CIA sending message about leaks?

A CIA agent who was fired last Thursday for allegedly leaking to the Washington Post came out and said that she categorically denies the charge.

In the wake of the officer ousted for revealing the secret American gulag, the former head of the CIA in Europe says it wasn’t the prewar intel that failed, rather it was the prewar policy.

Like everything else involving secrets and intelligence and the Bush administration in the last five years, it all seemed cut and dried.  Someone leaked secret information to the media, including details of Soviet gulags repurposed as CIA prisons in Eastern Europe.  The agency investigated, gave out lie detector tests, and caught the leaker.  She confessed and was fired.

Like weapons of mass destruction and uranium in Niger and everything else, this whole story has now turned on its head.

The accused leaker is Mary McCarthy, a deputy of the agency’s inspector general.  McCarthy categorically denies that she ever leaked classified information to the media, saying she never even had access to the information she allegedly leaked.  A defense source says she did not specifically flunk the part of her polygraph test that asked whether she was the one who leaked information on secret prisons to Dana Priest of “The Washington Post.”

This means someone isn’t telling the truth here.  Either Mary McCarthy did leak, as the CIA claims, or she didn’t, as her lawyer says.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell joined Keith Olbermann to discuss the story. This is a transcript of their conversation on "Countdown". 

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, "COUNTDOWN":  This completely contradicts everything from last week, particularly the CIA’s announcement, in effect, We got her.  Is she claiming she was a scapegoat?  What’s going on here?

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, she is claiming, through her attorney, that she did not leak classified information.  She is acknowledging she did have unauthorized contacts with reporters.

So the CIA is now saying they stand by their statement of last week, that an unidentified officer was fired for unauthorized contacts with reporters and with the media. In observance of the Privacy Act, they never identified even the gender of whoever it was who was being fired. There is no dispute there, and McCarthy is acknowledging that.

The essence of the dispute is about her disclosing classified information.  She says she didn’t.  They say the unidentified officer, whom we have identified from other sources and now from her own admission, is Mary McCarthy. 

OLBERMANN:  If she did not leak classified information, how could her interaction with reporters be considered unauthorized?  Is any interaction with reporters unauthorized unless you have something in writing from your boss?

MITCHELL:  That is correct.  There is no dispute over whether or not it is improper at the CIA to have contacts with reporters. Perhaps it is not illegal, but it is improper if you don’t tell your bosses.  You can have contact if it’s approved by the higher-up.

It is a firing offense, but no one can recall anyone being fired for this.  There's another personal detail that she was due to retire.  She announced her retirement as of February 7.  It was basically her last day.  She told them she was retiring because she had gone to law school, passed the bar in November, and wanted to pursue an entirely different career in family law, specializing in adoptions.

At the CIA, you can’t just say, "I’m quitting".  There is an exit period where you are sort of debriefed and you go through all sorts of legal procedures.  Her last day was due to be April 30.  They fired her a week in advance.

OLBERMANN:  You can be fired after you have already quit and I know this from my own professional experience.  There is this mechanism in place. 

But what would be behind her claim that 'scapegoating' might not be an inappropriate term here?

MITCHELL:  She hasn’t said that, but some of her friends are saying that. Porter Goss and the CIA want to serve up a lesson that leaks are really serious and that they’ve got to be stopped.  Frankly, people within the CIA, even critics of administration’s prewar intelligence and all the rest, former and current CIA officers, say that leaks are terrible, and that no one should leak national security.  They take an oath not to do that.

She says she didn’t do that. 

The CIA is saying she did, or whoever this unnamed person is, of unknown gender, whom they won’t name, did do exactly that.  So they want to send a message out. Now they’ve found someone who was about to retire, and they’re sending a very tough message.  The bottom line is that no one is going to have the courage or the stupidity or the will to talk to reporters from now on.  Very few people will, because they can see from this example, what can happen to you.

OLBERMANN:  That CIA message that you mentioned, didn’t it just become a CIA mixed message that having lunch with a reporter is the same as giving secrets to a reporter?  Is that not going to turn what the purpose of this was, to some degree, up on its head?

MITCHELL:  Well, what is the purpose?  The purpose is, don’t even have lunch with reporters.  The purpose is, don’t have dinner with reporters.  Don’t pick up the phone if a reporter calls.  It doesn't matter what you say, you’re not supposed to have a contact with reporters without telling the higher-ups.

OLBERMANN: Thank you.