NBC's Mitchell Frets Firing Means CIA Staffers Will Lack “Courage” to Divulge Secrets

NBC's Andrea Mitchell complained Monday night, on MSNBC's Countdown, about how the CIA's firing of a staffer ostensibly for leaking top secret information to a reporter, will mean CIA officials will no longer have the “courage or the stupidity” to talk to reporters. After relaying how, through friends the fired staffer, Mary McCarthy, had denied being a source for the Washington Post's secret CIA prison story, though she conceded having unauthorized interaction with journalists, Mitchell contended that intimidation of the rest of the staff was the real motivation for firing McCarthy: “The purpose is don't even have lunch with reporters. The purpose is don't have dinner with reporters. Don't pick up the phone if a reporter is calling. It doesn't matter what you say, you're not supposed to have contact with reporters without telling the higher-ups." Maybe the CIA wouldn't have such concerns if they had any faith in journalists to act more responsibly than did the Washington Post's Dana Priest. (Partial transcript follows)

“Fired CIA officer denies leak of classified data; Attorney: Analyst had no access to information she is accused of leaking,” read MSNBC.com's headline over its 7:47pm EDT-posted story.

The 8pm EDT April 24 Countdown began with “Breaking News” on screen over this explanation, “'Fired' leaker categorically denies divulging classified CIA information.” Olbermann's first guest: NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell. Picking up three-fourths through the segment, after Mitchell related how McCarthy had already submitted her resignation in February, with her CIA time concluding in a week, so she could switch to a career as a lawyer:
Keith Olbermann, referring to how she was fired after she had already quit: “But does it not support her theory, or what would be behind her claim, that scape-goating might not be an inappropriate term here?”

Andrea Mitchell, from NBC's Washington bureau: “Well she hasn't said that, but certainly her friends are saying that. Look, Porter Goss and the CIA want to serve up a lesson that leaks are really serious and they've got to be stopped. And frankly, people within the CIA, even critics of administration pre-war intelligence and all the rest, former and current CIA officers, say that leaks are terrible and that no one should leak national security. They take an oath not to do that. She says she didn't do that. The CIA is saying she did, or whoever this unnamed person is of unknown gender, who they won't name did do exactly that. So they want to send a message out, now they've found someone who was about to retire and they're sending a very tough message. The bottom line is that no one is going to have the courage or the stupidity, however you put it, or the, ah, the, I don't know, the will to talk to reporters from now on. Very few people will, because they can see right now from this example, what can happen to them.”

Olbermann: “But that CIA message that you mentioned, didn't it just become a CIA mixed message, having lunch with a reporter is the same as giving secrets to a reporter? Is that not going to turn what the purpose of this was, to some degree, up on its head?”

Mitchell: “Ah, but what is the purpose? The purpose is don't even have lunch with reporters. The purpose is don't have dinner with reporters. Don't pick up the phone if a reporter is calling. It doesn't matter what you say, you're not supposed to have contact with reporters without telling the higher-ups.”

My previous NewsBusters items on the CIA leak:

-- Journalists on Sunday Shows Hail Leaker's Actions to Expose Improper Prisons

-- Schieffer Denounces “Dubious First” Firing of Leaker & Totenberg Praises Stories

-- Pulitzer Prizes Award Journalists Who Undermined Anti-Terrorism Programs
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center