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CIA officer fired over media leak was key senior analyst

Paper: She once guarded most sensitive secrets

WASHINGTON -- The CIA's decision to fire a top intelligence analyst accused of leaking classified information became a political issue almost immediately after it became public last week.

The officer was a senior analyst nearing retirement, Mary O. McCarthy, who the agency said leaked information to news organizations about a secret network of CIA prisons.

McCarthy was once responsible for guarding some of the nation's most sensitive secrets as a senior aide for the National Security Council, The New York Times reported in today's editions, citing several current and former government officials.

In that role, McCarthy often focused on ways to prevent White House leaks of classified information and covert operations, and she aired any concerns she had about intelligence operations through internal channels, the Times said. McCarthy lost her security clearance as part of her dismissal, which was disclosed Friday, but she has not been charged with any crime.

Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised the CIA for identifying a source of the leaks, and encouraged vigorous investigation of other open cases. ''Those guilty of improperly disclosing classified information should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Roberts said.

Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, called on President Bush to hold accountable those in his administration who leaked information about Iraq intelligence and the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. ''Apparently, President Bush doesn't believe what's good for the CIA is good for the White House," he said.

In McCarthy's final position at the CIA, she was assigned to its Office of Inspector General, looking into allegations that the CIA was involved in torture at Iraqi prisons, according to a former colleague who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation.

Without identifying McCarthy by name, CIA Director Porter Goss announced the firing in a message to agency employees circulated Thursday. Citing the Privacy Act, the CIA would not disclose details about the officer's identity, assignments, or what the officer might have told the news media.

A law enforcement official said the CIA officer had provided information that contributed to a Washington Post story last year that disclosed secret US prisons in Eastern Europe. The Post's Dana Priest won a Pulitzer Prize last week for her reporting on a covert prison system set up by the CIA after Sept. 11, 2001, that at various times included sites in eight countries. Government officials have said the leak did significant damage to relationships with allied intelligence agencies.

Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said on the newspaper's website: ''We don't know the details of why [the CIA employee] was fired, so I can't comment on that. But as a general principle, obviously I am opposed to criminalizing the dissemination of government information to the press."

In a separate development yesterday, a spokesman for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice branded as ''utterly false" a lawyer's contention that the secretary of state leaked national defense information to a lobbyist charged with receiving and disclosing such information. The assertion was made as a federal judge granted a defense request to issue subpoenas for Rice in the trial of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, former lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

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