April 23rd, 2006

Voted for Dean

That they plugged the leak was leaked, yes. But it's a leak, even without that.

A couple of days ago, on Thursday, the CIA announced that they had found the person inside the Agency who had provided the Washington Post's Dana Priest with much of the initial information for the series of articles for which she won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting, about the CIA's use of secret CIA front companies' private planes to smuggle terrorism suspects out of their home countries, including America, to former-Soviet secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe, presumably so that they could do things with those suspects that would be not only illegal, but hard to conceal, if they did them here in America. It turns out that Priest got much of her information from someone inside the CIA, from an officer in the CIA's Office of Inspectors General named Mary McCarthy. There are so many interesting things about this that I don't even know where to start. For one thing, it's absolutely amazing, as John Dean said himself the other night in an interview, that they actually caught her. Remember that Richard Nixon lost the White House, resigning only days ahead of probable impeachment, over his use of every legal and illegal tactic at his disposal to try to find out who had leaked the Pentagon Papers and then again to find out who leaked that leak-plugging operation to Bob Woodward ... and that despite all that, his "plumbers" failed at both. But that's not even one of the really interesting parts.

For one thing, consider this. Only a week ago, a major independent investigative commission reporting to the European Union in Brussels concluded that the story was a crock of excrement, that there were no secret CIA prisons in Europe. So by calling what Mary McCarthy did a major leak of secret information, they've confirmed the existence of a covert operation that they were well on their way to covering back up. On Wednesday, they could have continued to point to the various denials, and to the recent investigation, to show that Dana Priest was blowing smoke up our collective rectums, that there was no extraordinary rendition program to smuggle torture victims into secretive CIA prisons. Then on Thursday they all but confirmed that such prisons existed, by charging the person who said so with illegal release of classified information. Was it worth that to them to make an example out of this leaker? Remember what they're giving up by admitting this. One of the reasons why they said that this series of articles was such a big deal was that it seriously endangered American diplomacy in Europe, that it turned a whole bunch of our allies against us. Was it worth it, right when they could plausibly have quieted down that furor, to stir it back up again if that was what it cost to make an example out of a leaker? Is it more important to them to prosecute Mary McCarthy than it is to keep, say, Poland or the Czech Republic (or for that matter, offended countries like Spain and the UK) as allies?

But the even more interesting part of this is who, exactly, Mary McCarthy is. This didn't just come from anybody at random, this came from possibly one of the most interesting people it could have come from. You see, Mary McCarthy is a former top CIA analyst who, until her recent firing, had recently been working in the CIA's Office of Inspectors General. And the implications of that are fascinating ... and important. For one thing, consider the fact that she was, for almost her entire career, an analyst. Not a covert operative, not anybody in the operations division of the CIA, but someone who worked her way up the chain of command in the analysis division. What this means is that she didn't know about the prisons from her own work. She almost certainly didn't find out about them from people she'd worked with, either. So what that means is that somebody from inside the operations division brought it to her attention as an inspector general.

Let me quickly review for you what an Inspector General is in the US federal government's executive branch. The idea was copied from the military services, and how it works in the civilian part of the executive branch is that every government agency (including the CIA) now has an Office of Inspectors General. The people who work in that office are all former members of the agency that they're inspecting. They're chosen from among those who are in good standing, and have impeccable reputations, inside that agency; no axe-grinders or disgruntled former employees. Then they're taken out of their former chain of command and given full independence. They may work in the same building as, and alongside, and with the same people they worked with before, yes. But their job security, pay, and promotions all depend on an entirely external, entirely separate bureaucracy, so that they have neither anything to gain or lose from what somebody in the agency they're inspecting thinks of them. And the last relevant detail is that what they are hired to do is to take referrals from inside the agency they inspect, from people who have questions about whether or not somebody in the agency is up to no good, and advise them. They perform their own investigations, bring in auditors as needed, seek subpoenas if (as rarely happens) necessary, and generally get to the bottom of any accusation, suspicion, or appearance of illegality in their former employer. Mostly they concentrate on financial matters, on enrichment scandals like bribery or kickbacks. They are trusted to do this, despite their former ties to the same agency, because they're chosen on the basis of their loyalty to the work of the agency itself, for their reputations as people who really resent it when people steal from the agency or divert funds because that impairs the work of the agency. So to have gotten where she was, Mary McCarthy had to have spent many years showing that she was a loyal CIA employee, someone who believed whole-heartedly in what the CIA does for a living, somebody who was totally committed to making sure the CIA's mission was protected from internal corruption. She would have had to have demonstrated, to some very nervous suspicious individuals both inside the CIA and inside the Offices of Inspectors General, that she was incorruptible and beyond reproach.

What that tells me is that somebody inside the extraordinary rendition process or secret prison operations, in the operations side of the CIA, took the question of the legality of what they were doing to the CIA Office of Inspectors General. It's the only way she would have heard of it in the first place. Furthermore, remember that to have gotten that job at all, she would have had to have shown that she could be trusted to use that information in the right way. If she thought it was illegal, it was her job to take it to the chain of command responsible for it and tell them what her opinion of it was as an inspector general. If she didn't get satisfaction out of her investigation and her own intervention, it was her responsibility to take it up her own chain of command inside the Offices of Inspectors General, a very short very flat hierarchy that ends up, very fast, in the Oval Office. Now consider that multiple people who've worked with her before have come forward and said that it was their experience that in the past, when Mary McCarthy had doubts about an analysis, that is exactly what she did. What that tells me is that she almost certainly did exactly what she was supposed to. She looked into it, concluded based on her own expertise that it was an illegal operation (or else she would have left it alone), followed the chain of command all the way up to President Bush or as close to there as the bureaucracy would let her get, and was told no.

So if we're being told that it was Mary McCarthy who talked to Dana Priest, that all but amounts to an admission by the White House that all of the following is true:
  1. Contrary to all prior denials, the CIA now admits that they are operating secret prisons in Europe.
  2. In the opinion of someone with an impeccable reputation and top-flight professional skills whose job at the CIA it was to analyze the legality of CIA operations, either those prisons themselves or something being done there is illegal.
  3. The Director of the CIA must have been told this, and didn't stop the operation.
  4. The President of the United States must have been told this, and didn't order it stopped.
That's an amazing series of implicit admissions.