April 26, 2012 | The Weekly Standard
The New McCarthyism
THE MEDIA has been quick to lionize Mary McCarthy, the recently fired 61-year-old CIA analyst who allegedly leaked classified information to the Washington Post's Dana Priest. According to several recent accounts, it is not clear what information McCarthy was accused of leaking. But on Sunday, the New York Times ran a tribute to McCarthy.In it we learn from a gaggle of former intelligence officials that McCarthy is a woman of “great integrity,” and “quite a good, substantive person.” Larry Johnson, the former CIA analyst who told us not to worry about the threat of terrorism two years before 9/11, even tells us that she is a “sacrificial lamb.”
Adulation from fellow colleagues aside, the lynchpin of the Times piece is that McCarthy has an “independent streak.” She is no partisan, the Times wants you to know, and she has questioned the use of intelligence by both Democratic and Republican administrations. To demonstrate this independence, the Times piece leads with the claim that McCarthy bucked the Clinton administration in August 1998 when she objected to the destruction of a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant suspected of doubling as a front for al Qaeda's WMD efforts. The plant, named Al-Shifa, was one of two retaliatory targets chosen by the Clinton administration in the aftermath of the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
But in recounting the story of al-Shifa and Mary McCarthy's role in evaluating the intelligence surrounding the facility, the Times leaves out nearly every salient fact–including evidence that the Clinton administration used to tie Saddam's Iraq to al Qaeda.
IT IS TRUE that McCarthy at first objected to the strike on al-Shifa. This was made clear in the 9-11 Commission's report (p. 117):
Two days before the embassy bombings, Clarke's staff wrote that Bin Ladin “has invested in and almost certainly has access to VX produced at a plant in Sudan.” Senior State Department officials believed that they had received a similar verdict independently, though they and Clarke's staff were probably relying on the same report. Mary McCarthy, the NSC senior director responsible for intelligence programs, initially cautioned Berger that the “bottom line” was “we will need much better intelligence on this facility before we seriously consider any options.” She added that the link between Bin Ladin and al Shifa was “rather uncertain at this point.” Berger has told us that he thought about what might happen if the decision went against hitting al Shifa, and nerve gas was used in a New York subway two weeks later. [Emphasis Added]
The Times left out, however, that McCarthy had changed her tune by April 2000. As Daniel Benjamin, a fellow NSC staffer, wrote in 2004:
The report of the 9/11 Commission notes that the National Security staff reviewed the intelligence in April 2000 and concluded that the CIA's assessment of its intelligence on bin Laden and al-Shifa had been valid; the memo to Clinton on this was cosigned by Richard Clarke and Mary McCarthy, the NSC senior director for intelligence programs, who opposed the bombing of al-Shifa in 1998. The report also notes that in their testimony before the commission, Al Gore, Sandy Berger, George Tenet, and Richard Clarke all stood by the decision to bomb al-Shifa. [Emphasis Added]
IN ITS LIONIZATION of McCarthy, the Times did not report that she had changed her mind on al-Shifa and fallen in line with her fellow NSC staffers. Nor, did the Times report that every top Clinton administration official who was involved in the decision to strike al -Shifa stands by that decision today. Instead, the Times reports, “Clinton administration officials conceded that the hardest evidence used to justify striking the plant was a single soil sample that seemed to indicate the presence of a chemical used in making VX gas.”
But, the intelligence surrounding al-Shifa was not limited to a single soil sample. Instead, the Clinton administration relied on multiple threads of intelligence, all of which pointed to Iraqi collaboration with al Qaeda in Sudan.
First, al-Shifa was not the only suspected facility in Sudan. It was merely the easiest target. As John Gannon, a former deputy director of the CIA, told THE WEEKLY STANDARD, “The consistent stream of intelligence at that time said it wasn't just al-Shifa. There were three different structures in the Sudan. There was the hiring of Iraqis. There was no question that the Iraqis were there. Some of the Clinton people seem to forget that they did make the Iraqi connection.”
Second, because the attack on al-Shifa was somewhat controversial, President Clinton authorized the intelligence community to discuss this evidence with the press shortly after the strike. At the time, the Associated Press laid out this evidence in detail: The al-Shifa plant was closely tied to the Sudanese government and to Sudan's “weapons development infrastructure”; bin Laden maintained close ties to the Sudanese government even after his expulsion; “bin Laden had worked with Sudan in testing and developing chemical weapons and was known to be seeking chemical weapons capability for the fundamentalist Islamic groups he financed”; Iraq was a customer of the plant (under a U.N. Oil-for-food contract, by the way) and, thus, had a pretext for sending “Iraqi officials who were linked to that country's chemical weapons program” to Khartoum and “help start up the plant.”
But most important, we learned that “telephone intercepts collected by the National Security Agency included contacts between senior Shifa officials and Emad Al Ani, known as the father of Iraq's chemical weapons program.”
SO THE STRONGEST PIECE OF EVIDENCE in the Clinton administration's hands was not “a single soil sample.”
As noted previously, every former top Clinton administration still defends the decision to strike al-Shifa. Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen defended the decision in his testimony before the 9-11 Commission. Apparently referencing the NSA intercepts, Cohen testified,
There was a good reason for this confidence [in the intelligence surrounding al-Shifa] including multiple, reinforcing elements of information ranging from links that the organization that built the facility had both with bin Laden and with the leadership of the Iraqi chemical weapons program . . .
Richard Clarke defended the intelligence linking Iraqi scientists to al Qaeda in the months following the strike. The 9-11 Commission's report adds that Clarke “for years had read intelligence reports on Iraqi-Sudanese cooperation on chemical weapons.” McCarthy's fellow NSC staffers Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon give an impassioned defense of the strike on al-Shifa in their book The Age of Sacred Terror.
Not to mention that the CIA reported to Congress that Iraq was working on chemical and possibly biological weapons programs in Sudan every year from 1998 through 2002. The language used in 1999 was typical:
In the WMD arena, Sudan has been developing the capability to produce chemical weapons for many years. In this pursuit, it has obtained help from entities in other countries, principally Iraq. Given its history in developing CW and its close relationship with Iraq, Sudan may be interested in a BW program as well.
WHERE DOES ALL OF THAT LEAVE US? In a rather bizarre circle of logic. McCarthy's former colleagues Clarke, Benjamin, and Simon argue that: (a) the decision to strike al-Shifa was justified because (b) the intelligence connecting Iraqi chemical weapons experts to al Qaeda's chemical weapons efforts was sound, but (c) this doesn't mean that Iraq and al Qaeda had a significant relationship because (d) somehow this collaboration occurred without either party realizing that it was working with the other
All of which is to say that Mary McCarthy's cohorts on the National Security Council's staff have played games with the intelligence surrounding al-Shifa, Sudan, Iraq, and al Qaeda for years. Maybe they've all got “independent streaks.”
Thomas Joscelyn is an economist and writer living in New York.