WASHINGTON – A CIA officer fired for leaking classified information was appointed as special assistant to President Clinton and senior director for intelligence programs by former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, who pleaded guilty to stealing highly classified documents.
Mary O’Neil McCarthy was fired Thursday for reportedly leaking classified information that contributed to a Washington Post report about alleged secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe.
She most recently worked for the CIA inspector general’s office and served as a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Public records show McCarthy, a veteran CIA officer, had served as a special assistant to Clinton and, later, President Bush – a tenure that stretched from 1998 to 2001. She testified to the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.
The CIA acknowledged the dismissal of an officer over a media leak is extremely rare. It resulted from a 3-month investigation.
The Washington Post report in November about secret CIA prisons for terrorism suspects prompted an international controversy over U.S. detainee policies and also won a Pulitzer Prize.
The CIA would not say what the leak involved, and declined to identify the officer or describe the officer’s duties at the agency, saying that such disclosures would violate the Privacy Act of 1974.
“This CIA officer acknowledged having unauthorized discussions with the media in which the officer knowingly shared classified intelligence, including operational information,” CIA spokeswoman Michele Neff said.
Neff said the officer’s actions violated a secrecy agreement that CIA employees sign when they begin working for the agency.
The Washington Post reported that the CIA operated a network of secret prisons for terrorism suspects in countries overseas, including Eastern Europe. The report spawned a number of investigations in Europe that have yet to produce definitive evidence that the secret prisons existed.
McCarthy succeeded Rand Beers in the job of special assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programs. Ironically, she was named to the position by Berger, who pleaded guilty last fall to stealing classified information from the National Archives while preparing Clinton to testify to the 9-11 commission.
Last September, a judge ordered Berger to pay a $50,000 fine for his crime. Berger avoided prison time under the punishment handed down by U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson.
In addition to the fine, which exceeded the $10,000 recommended by government lawyers, he was prohibited from access to classified government materials for three years.
“The court finds the fine is inadequate because it doesn’t reflect the seriousness of the offense,” Robinson said as Berger stood before her.
During the hearing, Berger described his crime as a lapse of judgment.
“I let considerations of personal convenience override clear rules of handling classified material,” Berger said. “I believe this lapse, serious as it is, does not reflect the character of myself. In this case, I failed. I will not again.”
The stolen documents were copies of highly secret memoranda, possibly with handwritten notes, that allegedly were critical of the Clinton administration’s response to the “Millennium 2000” terror plot to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport.
Berger, who was an adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry when the scandal broke, has held multiple national security jobs since the Carter administration and recently was a foreign policy adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Public records show that McCarthy contributed $2,000 in 2004 to the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee.
Berger initially said he took copies of the classified documents regarding terrorism from the National Archives by “accident” and then misplaced them in what he described as an “honest mistake.” He later admitted, however, that after pilfering the documents, he destroyed three of the five with scissors at the office of his consulting firm.
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