Larry was a guest tonight on Keith Olbermann’s show, discussing the firing of Mary McCarthy. Olbermann conducts an excellent interview of Larry, focusing on Ms. McCarthy as a scapegoat, and Director Porter Goss’s politicization of the CIA.
Countdown is repeated at midnight ET/9pm PT and 6am ET/9am PT. (This week, MSNBC began repeating Keith’s show the next morning, immediately following the three-hour Imus in the Morning.)
Transcripts are usually available after noon ET the next day. [UPDATE, April 29: Below, I’ve added the relevant parts of Keith Olbermann’s transcript since MSNBC only retains links to its transcripts for a couple weeks.]
Updated: 11:36 a.m. ET April 26, 2006
Guests: Larry Johnson, Greg Mitchell, Rick Klein, Jerry Della Femina, Paul Mooney
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The new McCarthyism. Fired 10 days before she was to retire for leaking secrets to a reporter, secrets she says she never even knew. Mary O. McCarthy will not say it, but others will. She is the CIA‘s scapegoat.
In a moment, the analysis of one of Mary McCarthy‘s former employees at the agency, Larry Johnson, on the possibility that we have ourselves a scapegoat.
The modern-day McCarthy‘s categorical denial on Monday that she leaked any classified information only fueling arguments that something is very wrong with this CIA picture, the White House finally weighing in on the flap today, sort of. Short-timer Scott McClellan, confronted with the question of how it is that the CIA was able to get to the bottom of the black sites leak case so quickly, when almost three years after Valerie Plame‘s name was leaked, it still has not uncovered who (INAUDIBLE).
I‘m guessing here that the outgoing press secretary still has a couple of references to the war on terror left in his playbook.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The leaking of classified information is a very serious matter, and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information can severely harm our national security.
We have talked previously about the terrorist surveillance program and how that unauthorized disclosure of that program has shown the enemy our playbook.
We are engaged in a difficult and long war against a bunch of ideological extremists who want to do everything they can to stop the advance of freedom in this world, and want to harm innocent Americans and innocent people in the civilized world.
And that‘s why it‘s important that we not show them our playbook, so the leaking of classified information is a matter that the president takes very seriously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And we‘ll show those communists—terrorists.
Time now to call in Larry Johnson, former CIA officer, former deputy director of the State Department‘s author—Office of Counterterrorism.
Larry, welcome back.
LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Did the case against Mary McCarthy smell at all fishy to you even before her denial that she was the source of the leak to “The Washington Post”?
JOHNSON: Absolutely. I was one of the first ones out of the box saying that, for several reasons.
If you look at Dana Priest‘s article, there were multiple sources, many who had ties to the counterterrorism center, that were not identified by name or even very many particulars. But it was clear that wasn‘t Mary‘s background.
I used to work for Mary back in 1998-‘89, and she moved on up into the senior ranks of management, where she was handling—she was at the National Security Council, National Warning Office, other things. So she wouldn‘t have had any of the operational details that were reflected in Dana Priest‘s article.
OLBERMANN: You knew her. Are you sticking up for her because she‘s a friend, a former colleague with whom you enjoyed working? What?
JOHNSON: No. Actually, I left the agency because I didn‘t like her management style. But that had to do with some other issues unrelated to her integrity as an analyst. I‘ve always found that she had a lot of integrity as an analyst, particularly with the testimony of people like Rand Beers and John Helgerson (ph), who I know.
When they vouch for Mary as a—as someone who was a worker who could be trusted, that says a lot, because these men are not partisans, even though the tendency in Washington now is, anybody that who speaks up to defend anyone who says something critical about Bush is suddenly akin to a terrorist sympathizer.
OLBERMANN: So if she was an ideal candidate to be trusted, what do you think‘s going on? I mean, do you believe that someone might be framing her? Is she a scapegoat or (INAUDIBLE)–
JOHNSON: No, she‘s, I—
OLBERMANN: … did—if she had these connections nefariously to Dana Priest, might we better call her a sacrifice, a sacrificial lamb?
JOHNSON: No. What‘s going on here, Keith, is, this is the White House effort to intimidate the press. Porter Goss has politicized the CIA now. There‘s no doubt. Several years ago, you had most of the people in the Public Affairs Office, they were intelligence professionals. What you have there today are (INAUDIBLE), with the exception of one individual, most of the people up there now are political hacks, folks who cut their teeth up on Capitol Hill playing partisan politics.
And the last thing we need to have is our intelligence agency politicized. And yet what‘s going on here is, anyone that speaks out critical of the Bush White House, when you have Paul Pillar, for example, who came out and said the White House was wrong in trying to link Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden, what did the White House do? They put the word out through their operatives, they tried to smear Paul Pillar.
Mary McCarthy, I think, is the latest victim of this. And they tried to make an example of her. And one thing I can say about Mary, we may have had our disagreements, but she‘s tough, and she has integrity.
OLBERMANN: The subject of authorized versus unauthorized, this has become the black and white of the 21st century. Whoever the source of the “Washington Post” report was, is the worst transgression, in your eyes, leaking the existence of repurposed Soviet-era gulags into CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, or blowing the cover of a covert op like Valerie Plame Wilson?
JOHNSON: No intelligence capabilities were destroyed by the leak of the secret prisons. In fact, that came from multiple sources within the intelligence community who were alarmed that the United States was starting to engage in the very practices we used to condemn the Soviets for.
Whereas in the case of Valerie Wilson, not only was her cover destroyed, but an undercover company was destroyed. Intelligence assets that were involved with trying to determine, detect, and protect America against weapons of mass destruction, they were destroyed in that leak.
That was a case where the Bush White House participated in smearing and attacking innocent Americans. That‘s a far different thing, and I think far more heinous, than someone who tries to blow the whistle, or a group of somebodies, who blow the whistle on administration practices which take us down the road toward something that looks a lot like what we had when the Soviets were running gulags.
OLBERMANN: Former CIA officer Larry Johnson, former colleague with Mary McCarthy, not necessarily former friend. Many thanks for your time and your insights.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The repercussions of Ms. McCarthy‘s dismissal extending far beyond Ms. McCarthy herself. It has been suggested publicly that the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who broke the CIA prison story should be sent to jail for doing so, a new front in the ongoing war against the media.
For more on that angle of this story, time now to call in Greg Mitchell, editor of the trade magazine “Editor and Publisher.”
Greg, thanks for joining us again.
GREG MITCHELL, EDITOR, “EDITOR AND PUBLISHER”: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I asked this question a couple times last week. Is it coincidental, in your opinion, that in 10 days, these four events occurred in succession. Dana Priest wins the Pulitzer. Bill Bennett says she and others, reporters who broke stories like this, deserves jail time. CIA claims it‘s caught whoever leaked to Dana Priest in the first place. And that story leaks out.
MITCHELL: Well, Dana Priest was the favorite for the Pulitzer. It was no surprise that she would win. So conceivably they could have been planning this in advance. It wouldn‘t surprise me. It is awfully suspicious that it would happen in that order. Certainly she was one of the top journalists in the country, and her series was expected to win.
OLBERMANN: Did news organizations in the last part of this sequence, did they largely get tripped up by the leak of Mary McCarthy‘s name? Why is there an assessment here? Is there self-reflection? Is there introspection about why there was a drag time of nearly 72 hours before anybody got her denial or basically even allowed for the possibility that she had not confessed? I mean, did the media not collectively screw this story up?
MITCHELL: It was a very bad performance. If they didn‘t out and out say that she was the leaker, and she had done—or had confessed to these nefarious deeds, they certainly suggested it in trying to connect the dots. And what it did was, it allowed the long weekend into Monday for conservative commentators and supporters of the Bush administration to paint her as a traitor, to say that she was obviously guilty, and, of course, also link her to the Dana Priest article directly, where common sense would tell you that—or even a reading of Dana Priest‘s article that she had dozens of sources.
And so I think it was a poor performance by the press.
The other question I think that has to be raised is, why didn‘t the CIA come out and say more? Why didn‘t they—why did they imply or suggest that she had definitely been the source for Dana Priest‘s article?
So there‘s a lot of introspection that should be going on right now.
OLBERMANN: Well, it was Friday night. The agency now closes for the weekend, as we know. Is—give me your read on this from your perspective in dealing with these folks around the country and the papers and other elements of the, of the industry. Is the news industry afraid for investigative reporting now, or has not this kind of attempt to virtually criminalize it always backfired on everybody who‘s tried this throughout American history?
MITCHELL: Well, it‘s often backfired. And I‘d be very careful, if I was the Bush administration, or Porter Goss, in this case, because actually the press has been—well, they‘re supposed to be watchdogs. They have often given the administration a pass and had been rather sleepy.
But I think what they‘re doing is maybe awakening the watchdog, or kicking the watchdog. And when the watchdog gets kicked, it often becomes an attack dog. And I think that we‘re seeing this now, where the media, or large portions of it, are banding together in a defensive way, and saying OK, we, we‘re going to fight back if need be.
OLBERMANN: A last issue here. As we speak, all the Washington tea leaves, Web sites, and news organizes and blogs and whatnot are suggesting that the White House is about is to appoint a new press secretary, semi-anchor, semi-opinion guy, Tony Snow from Fox News. Is he any more qualified or any more unqualified, perhaps, than anybody else, or doesn‘t it matter anymore?
MITCHELL: Well, I presume you didn‘t turn it down first yourself.
OLBERMANN: They‘re not asking me, you can be sure of that.
MITCHELL: But, yes, I‘d be surprised if he takes it, because—and maybe you could reflect on this yourself. You know, it‘s difficult to, you know, be the pundit, be the opinion person, and it‘s a lot different having to face reporters who are peppering you with difficult, sometimes insulting questions. It‘s difficult to have 30 different pieces of policy or instructions or talking points to keep in your head at one time, instead of two or three subjects that maybe you‘re comfortable with.
It‘s a very difficult situation, and I‘d be surprised if he left the comfort of pundit—of the pundit chair for the hot seat of the—whoever‘s going to follow Scott McClellan.
OLBERMANN: Yes, people like to be on TV, though.
Greg Mitchell of “Editor and Publisher,” great thanks for your perspective.
MITCHELL: Thank you.