Accuracy in Media

It appears that one of the main sources of Washington Post reporter Dana Priest’s dubious November 2, 2005, story about CIA “secret prisons” abroad was CIA officer and former Clinton official Mary O. McCarthy, whose firing by the agency because of her leaks to Priest and other journalists has been making headlines. She had been hired by Rand Beers of the Clinton National Security Council, who went on to serve as an adviser to the 2004 presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry. Mary O. McCarthy, identified as a “U.S. Government/analyst, ” is listed in Federal Election Commission records as a financial contributor to both the Kerry presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee in 2004.

It is truly unfortunate for Priest – and the Pulitzer Prize Board that just gave her a 2006 award for that questionable article – that these damaging revelations have come out at this time. It is another major scandal for journalism. On the other hand, those of us who suspected and warned about a secret CIA war against the Bush Administration have been vindicated. It turns out that President Bush has been fighting a faction within the intelligence community that has been working with the liberal press.

This war continues, with a Sunday CBS News 60 Minutes program about the former highest ranking CIA officer in Europe, Tyler Drumheller, who is attacking the White House for its use of intelligence information before the invasion of Iraq.

While Judith Miller of the New York Times was condemned and ridiculed by her colleagues – and eventually forced to resign from the paper – for using Bush Administration officials as sources, the question now before the house is whether Priest will lose her job because of her partisan journalism. This will be another test of media credibility. Accuracy in Media will insist on Priest’s resignation from the paper.

The case against Priest is supported by her public comments about her “sources” for the story. On November 3, 2005, during an on-line discussion of her article, Priest was asked specifically about my charge that her article reflected “the view of a faction in the agency that opposes this policy and wants to use the Post to convey its view publicly.”  Priest dismissed my column, saying it was laughable and that most of the CIA people she had met were George W. Bush supporters. It looks like Priest was trying her best to obscure the political orientation of her sources. What’s more, her story was false. There’s no evidence that there are or were any secret CIA “prisons.”

Here is the complete exchange from the Post on this point:

Washington, D.C.: Cliff Kincaid writing in ‘Accuracy in Media’ says that your story on secret prisons yesterday ‘reflects the view of a faction in the agency (CIA) that opposes this policy and wants to use The Post to convey its view publicly. Once again, the secret war against the Bush administration is on display for all to see.’ While I don’t expect you to reveal your sources to us – although go ahead if you want to do so – you should at least be able to tell us if there is any truth to the notion that currently serving CIA officers are trying to undermine the Bushies. Are they?

Dana Priest: I’ve always found this view amusing, and rather convenient for the White House, which likes to point to someone else when its own policy decisions don’t work out right or fail to achieve the stated goals (like other administrations, I would add). Most CIA people I’ve met probably voted for George Bush. And the CIA is responsible for executing the war on terror and capturing the vast majority of the terrorist suspects around the world. No one from the CIA and no one who used to be in the CIA proposed that I write the article I did. On the contrary.”

If McCarthy was a Priest source, as has been reported, then it is absolutely clear that Priest deliberately deceived the public about where she got the story. Talking about CIA officers voting for Bush was a diversion. She was covering up.

As to the charge that CIA officials “proposed” that she write a certain article, I never made that charge. It was clear, however, that CIA employees opposed to Bush were behind the story. To make matters worse, it appears that the leak was disinformation – an attempt to discredit U.S. policy through the use of false information.

The European Union’s antiterrorism chief, Gijs de Vries, is the latest official to say there’s no proof of the “secret prisons.” He says, “We’ve heard all kinds of allegations. It does not appear to be proven beyond reasonable doubt.” This followed the findings of a European human rights investigator, Dick Marty, who said that he was unable to confirm existence of the “prisons,” as reported by Priest. The CIA program, if it existed, appears to have involved temporary detention of suspected terrorists. The Post, in an effort to make America look bad, made it sound as though the U.S. had established a system of gulags on foreign soil. It was hogwash.

Yet Priest was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, according to the Pulitzer Board, for her “persistent, painstaking reports on secret ‘black site’ prisons and other controversial features of the government’s counterterrorism campaign.” But that is clearly bunk and the Pulitzer Board did not do its homework. To repeat: there is no proof of any such prisons, and it looks like Priest was given a bogus “scoop” for the purpose of undermining the administration’s war on terrorism. The Post should do the right thing and return her Pulitzer. Former CIA officer McCarthy and other leakers should be prosecuted for illegally providing classified information to the media.

But the scandal could get even bigger. What if we also find out that McCarthy was a key source for New York Times reporter James Risen’s story about the National Security Agency (NSA) monitoring international communications between al-Qaeda operatives here and abroad?  Risen’s sources for this story, as detailed in his book, State of War, were “government officials,” apparently at various agencies, “who know about the NSA operation?” One aspect of the story turned out to be true – there was an NSA program to monitor al-Qaeda operations on U.S. soil – but it was spun by the Times in a dishonest way as to suggest that ordinary Americans were the targets of a “domestic spying” program. Bush called it a terrorist surveillance program, which is more accurate.

Clearly, Risen – and the co-author of his story, Eric Lichtblau – also got an undeserved Pulitzer. They did their best to paint Bush as a modern-day Nixon conducting illegal investigations. But according to the Pulitzer Board, they were honored for their “carefully sourced stories” on the NSA program. That’s laughable. Regardless of whether McCarthy was one of Risen’s sources or not, that prize should also be sent back. They distorted the nature of the program so that its true purpose was beyond recognition. Their agenda was to undermine the administration. This wasn’t journalism; it was political propaganda. 

It’s a shame and a tragedy when the nation’s two major papers win Pulitzer Prizes for running stories harming national security that were clearly based on questionable sources with a partisan political agenda. 

If Dana Priest does not resign on her own, we will demand her resignation at the Washington Post annual shareholders meeting on May 11.

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