For Dana Priest, Only Motives Are Classified

April 22nd, 2006 10:51 PM

I've been as riveted as any self-respecting blogger by this week's revelations about the CIA's Mary McCarthy, whose leak to the Washington Post's Dana Priest about foreign terrorist detention centers earned the former a pink slip plus possible criminal charges but the latter a Pulitzer. It now appears that McCarthy was a fairly enthusiastic contributor to Democratic causes including some guy named John Kerry (start with Tom Maguire for details). (Update: An attorney for Cobb says McCarthy denies being the source for the story, or leaking any classified information. This contradicts what the CIA said. As Drudge says, Developing.)

I want to add to the record by noting Priest's past dismissal of the idea that anyone in the CIA was leaking with the intent of harming the Bush Administration. As I blogged at the time, this came up in a live chat on Nov. 3, 2005 a day after her secret prison story (my bold):

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 it's 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.

Now, it matters little whether Priest or McCarthy was the first to propose revealing classified information--great minds think alike after all. What matters is that Priest says she was amused even by the idea of partisan motives. What matters is that motives either make no appearance in these stories, or are remarkably disinterested. This came up in another revelation last year, with Priest writing about a secret paramilitary group called the Scorpions that may have run amok. Here's the story. Here's the live chat. Here's part of what I blogged, when I managed to get two questions in:

Manassas, Va.: In your story yesterday about the Scorpions, what were the motivations of the officials who compromised the secrecy of this classified program? On those rare occasions when The Post uses anonymous sources, aren't you supposed to give us some insight into why anonymous sources are speaking to you?

Dana Priest: In most stories like this, it's an issue of trying to help me get it right, with some proper context, rather than wrong in some way. Both those stories took a very long time to put are right about unattributed sources but only if they have some particular motive. In this case, I don't see an obvious one other than the one I just stated.

And the followup:

Manassas, Va.: Dana, thanks for taking the question on motives, but isn't there usually something going on more than some source being nice enough to help you get it right? Couldn't the motivations range from everything to a sincere interest in stopping the kind of abuse said to be committed by the Scorpions to outright opposition to the war effort? And don't you agree that conveying that kind of information will help us evaluate the situation?

Dana Priest: In some cases yes. But I won't apply it to this case.

Nor any other case that I can think of.

Cross-posted at PostWatch