Ousted CIA officer denies accusation

Evidence in leak case against McCarthy scrutinized

she may avoid criminal charges


WASHINGTON -- Despite the CIA's goal of cracking down on leaks of classified information, the government may forgo criminal charges against a senior agency officer fired last week for disclosing operational secrets, according to current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials.

The officials cited a series of obstacles to pursuing the case, including the fact that the employee was fired in part over polygraph results that would not be admissible as evidence, and that she is accused of leaking secrets the government would be loath to air in court.

The strength of the CIA's evidence against the fired employee, Mary O. McCarthy, has also come under new scrutiny. McCarthy's attorney, Ty Cobb, said that contrary to the CIA's statement last week, she did not disclose classified information or confess to doing so to agency investigators.

Asked about the possibility of prosecution, Cobb said: "I don't think there's any basis at all here for further action. We deny that she leaked classified information and deny that she had access to the information attributed to her."

The CIA announced the firing on Friday, saying that a senior employee - subsequently identified by other intelligence officials as McCarthy - had admitted to unauthorized contacts with the press and to disclosures of classified information.

In particular, McCarthy was accused of contacts with a reporter for The Washington Post who won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this month for stories about secret CIA prison facilities overseas for terrorism suspects.

A spokesman for the CIA, Paul Gimigliano, said yesterday that the agency "stands by the statements it has made on this issue from the start."

The conflicting accounts prompted the Senate Intelligence Committee to request a staff briefing on the matter, committee officials said yesterday.

"We're interested in finding out exactly what happened," said a senior committee aide. "I think people are sort of puzzled."

McCarthy had been a CIA employee for two decades, starting as an Africa analyst and later moving into senior positions on the National Security Council staff at the White House and, most recently, in the CIA's inspector general's office.

Cobb said that McCarthy, 61, was fired just 10 days before she was scheduled to retire. "She hasn't been active at the agency since February, other than to cooperate with this inquiry," he said.

Former colleagues described her as cautious and respected. "I thought she was a competent, quiet, good intelligence officer," said Richard Kerr, a former deputy CIA director who worked with McCarthy. "She was certainly someone you had respect for and saw not as an ideologue or someone who would end up putting herself in this position."

The agency's internal probe is part of a broader government campaign against leaks. In recent months, FBI agents have interviewed current and former Justice Department officials in connection with a probe into the sources for New York Times stories last year on a secret counterterrorism program in which the National Security Agency eavesdropped on the international phone calls of U.S. residents.

Greg Miller writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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