Whistle Blowers, the CIA and the Public

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says that most government officials who leak confidential information think of themselves as true whistle-blowers. They are motivated by a desire to serve the public interest.


The firing of intelligence officer Mary O. McCarthy has again focused attention on the CIA. McCarthy was apparently the source of information about the government's secret prisons in Eastern Europe.

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has these thoughts about her dismissal and the efforts underway at the CIA to find and punish agents and officers who leak to the press.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Here we go again with the culture of the polygraph. In 1985, President Reagan, who complained of being up to his keister in leaks, ordered lie detector tests for a host of officials, including cabinet members. He backed off when Secretary of State George Shultz threatened to resign, saying that management by intimidation was no way to protect national security.

Now, CIA Director Porter Goss is returning to the polygraph after a couple of leaks that caused the administration intense embarrassment. Last December, the New York Times broke the Pulitzer Prize-winning story of President Bush's secret authorization to the National Security Agency to conduct domestic eavesdropping without warrants.

Last November, the Washington Post broke the Pulitzer Award-winning story of the CIA interrogating some of its most important prisoners in secret prisons in Eastern Europe. Mary McCarthy, who worked in the office of the CIA Inspector General and had agency-wide access, has been summarily fired. CIA sources tell the New York Times she admitted to having leaked the CIA prison story.

Colleagues of Ms. McCarthy say they cannot imagine her leaking classified information. Well, I've never met her, but I can. During my reporting days, it was my experience that an official willing to bend the secrecy rules was usually someone using this last resort means to protest against the effort to hide an activity that the public needed to know about.

For example, the CIA Inspector General wrote a report that his agency had been working on plans for the assassination of Fidel Castro in concert with the mafia, if you can believe it. My report on CBS led to investigations by a commission named by President Ford and by the Senate Intelligence Committee headed by Frank Church.

I am unwilling, even at this late date, to identify my source, but I will say I am convinced that my source was confident of acting in the public interest. I think the same was true of Mary McCarthy and whoever leaked the eavesdropping story, true whistle-blowers acting in the public interest.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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