CIA watchdog took polygraph in leaks

Inspector general among those tested in spy agency's crackdown attempt

April 24, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The crackdown on leaks at the Central Intelligence Agency that led to the dismissal of a veteran intelligence officer last week included a highly unusual polygraph examination for the agency's independent watchdog, CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson, intelligence officials with knowledge of the investigation said yesterday.

The polygraphs, which have been given to dozens of employees since January, are part of a broader effort by CIA Director Porter J. Goss to re-emphasize a culture of secrecy that has included a marked tightening of the review process for books and articles by former agency employees, according to a lawyer who represents many authors who once worked for the CIA.

Authors say the agency's Publications Review Board has been removing material that would easily have been approved before. While the board in the past has generally worked with retirees to make manuscripts publishable, it more often now appears to be trying to block publication, the authors say. And reprimands for violations have become more stern, including letters warning of possible Justice Department investigations.

"There's been a fundamental shift in practice at the Publication Review Board," said Mark S. Zaid, the lawyer. "There's literally been a reinstitution of the 1950s attitude, that what happens at CIA stays at CIA."

As the inspector general, Helgerson was the supervisor of Mary O. McCarthy, who was fired Thursday after admitting that she had leaked classified information to reporters about secret CIA detention centers and other subjects, agency officials said.

Goss and the CIA's deputy director, Vice Admiral Albert M. Calland III, volunteered to take polygraphs during the leak investigation to show they were willing to face the same scrutiny they were asking other employees to undergo, agency officials said. Helgerson likewise voluntarily submitted to the lie-detector test, they said.

But Helgerson's status as the independent inspector general - a post to which he is appointed by the president and from which he can be removed only by the president - makes his submission to a polygraph even more unusual.

L. Britt Snider, who served as inspector general from 1998 to 2001, said in an interview last night that he had not taken a polygraph examination as inspector general, though he said he was given an initial polygraph when he arrived at the agency in 1997 as special counsel to the director.

"I've never heard of it, and it's certainly unusual," Snider said. He called it "awkward" for the inspector general to be, in effect, investigated by the agency he ordinarily investigates.

But Snider, and another former senior intelligence official, said that it would not be improper if Helgerson volunteered for the polygraph to set an example for others.

Reached by telephone yesterday, Helgerson declined to comment and referred a reporter to a CIA spokesman, who said he could not comment on any aspect of the leak investigation.

Helgerson's office, which investigates alleged lapses in the ethics or performance of agency employees, has investigated some of the touchiest disputes of recent years.

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