Will CIA Firing Cloud Public Window on Government?

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The firing of CIA intelligence analyst Mary McCarthy this week for allegedly leaking classified information has touched off a red-hot debate about who gets to leak, who doesn't, and what it all means for what Americans know about their government.

To supporters, McCarthy is a woman of conviction who exposed actions she believed were against the law.

"This a matter of principle," said Ray McGovern, a former fellow CIA analyst, "where she said my oath, my promise not to reveal secrets is superceded by my oath to defend the constitution of the U.S."

To critics, she is a traitor who put the nation's security at risk.

McCarthy is accused of leaking classified information to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest -- whose report about secret CIA prisons won a Pulitzer Prize last week.

It's unclear if she'll be prosecuted. But in a statement Friday, Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said she deserved to be fired.

"Those guilty of improperly disclosing classified information should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Roberts said.

A Matter of Principle?

But McCarthy's supporters say if she revealed classified information, it's because she strongly believed what was happening was wrong. With unsympathetic superiors and a Congress that has been reluctant to investigate, she had no one to turn to but the press.

In a town where leaking is common, the decision about who to prosecute can seem partisan -- especially since President Bush himself authorized the leaking of classified information in the run-up to the Iraq war.

"In theory, it makes great sense to say it should be against the law to reveal classified information and anyone who does it should be prosecuted," said Tom Rosensteil, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "But in practice that would mean locking up half of the Cabinet of every administration."

Still, many are wondering if McCarthy's dismissal will have a broader silencing effect.

"It'll have a lot of people thinking twice before talking to people they've known for years as reporters," said James Bamford, a journalist and author who covers national security. "So I think there will be a lot less information coming out."

That could perhaps change the way Americans learn what their government doesn't want them to know.

ABC News' Liz Marlantes and Thomas Giusto originally reported this story for "World News Tonight."

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