Profile: Dana Priest
Dana Priest was a participant or observer in the following events:
Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, one of the writers of the exhaustively researched and far more accurate account of Army Private Jessica Lynch’s ambush and capture in Iraq (see June 17, 2003), is interviewed on National Public Radio. Priest tries to explain why the original version of events as chronicled by the Post (see April 3, 2003) and other media outlets were so luridly incorrect: interviewer Neal Conan says that Priest and her colleagues now know “that were caused in the Humvee accident during the attack by Iraqi troops and the fact that probably Jessica Lynch was not the second coming of Audie Murphy, not that anybody should have expected her to be that. But nevertheless, The Washington Post and National Public Radio and many other news outlets reported a very heroic version of the story. How did that come to be?” Priest says that Lynch and her fellow soldiers indeed performed like heroes, fighting for their lives against an unsuspected and ferocious onslaught.
Relied on Presumably Credible Sources - According to Priest, she and two other Post reporters, relied on “people that we believe are credible and that have access to the sort of information that you would rely on in the very first instance to figure this out, which means intelligence information.… Three of us, in fact, gathered the information that made our story and which said she might have been shot and stabbed, and she fired off all her rounds. And these were people who we trusted over the months and years that we’ve dealt with them, and they were reading from classified, in most cases, intelligence reports. They were initial reports from the field that were both intercepted or eavesdropped conversations with Iraqi soldiers in which these soldiers were talking to one another through their cell phones or radio systems saying that there was a white female who was acting very brave and fighting them. And we went back several times to those sources and repeated—to find out the reliability of that. They thought it was pretty good, although still initial. Same with the stabbing and wounding. You were getting a lot of eyewitnesses on the ground as well. Some of them we quoted in our story, too, her bones had been so badly shattered in some cases that they were actually protruding out of the skin, and so there were some blood marks on her skin that you would have been able to see if you had gotten up close. And perhaps that’s why some people thought she was shot, but it could be other reasons as well.” Priest says “the fog of war and the fog of reporting during war” often causes inaccurate reporting. She does not believe that the initial reporting “was somehow staged and managed by the Pentagon… ”
Filming of Rescue Routine - As for the filming of the rescue by the covert commando unit, Task Force 20, that entered the hospital and took Lynch out, Priest says that all such units “carry cameras with them wherever they go, in part to learn lessons for themselves, but in this case they made some of that footage available. And as one public relations officer from Central Command told me, they were eager to get that film. It was edited when it came to them. When they saw it they thought it told a certain part of the story. And then, as he said, it was such an awesome story that we didn’t need to embellish it, which it was.”
Pentagon Allowed Inaccurate Media Stories to Spread - Priest says that she believes the Pentagon did not correct the story once it was reported because “it was such a positive story for them, and it was the media’s mistake, if you want to read it that way, for going with unreliable information, or information that turned out to be unreliable. So they may not have wanted to really correct the record in that regard. They did say some things that should have indicated to us that not everything was quite as we reported, but they usually said them on background. They never officially came out.” [National Public Radio, 6/17/2003]
The Washington Post publishes an article stating that in July, two White House officials had leaked the name and CIA employment status of Valerie Plame Wilson to at least six reporters, and told the reporters that Plame Wilson had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). The article is based on a leak of information by a “senior administration official.” Such an explosive leak is relatively rare from the Bush administration. Reporters Mike Allen and Dana Priest report, “It is rare for one Bush administration official to turn on another.” Asked about the motive for describing the leaks, the senior official says the leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity were “[c]learly… meant purely and simply for revenge.” The leaks were “wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish [Joseph] Wilson’s credibility.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Truthout (.org), 4/14/2006] The “senior administration official” will later be revealed to be State Department official Marc Grossman (see May 29, 2003, June 10, 2003, 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and October 17, 2003). [Truthout (.org), 4/14/2006]
'1x2x6' Theory - Author and blogger Marcy Wheeler, covering the Plame Wilson leak and the subsequent perjury trial of Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005) for the blogs The Next Hurrah and later Firedoglake, later writes that the Allen/Priest report states the “1x2x6 theory” of the leak, in which one anonymous source tells Allen and Priest that two senior White House officials called at least six Washington reporters to discuss Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Wheeler will note that one of those Washington reporters, Robert Novak, has denied being the White House’s “willing pawn” who leaked Plame Wilson’s identity when the other reporters refused (see July 14, 2003, September 29, 2003, and October 1, 2003). Wheeler will write, “Novak’s October 1 column was designed to refute the incredibly damaging quotes from the 1x2x6 source that clearly indicated the leak was planned.” She will speculate that the single anonymous source for Allen and Priest may be Secretary of State Colin Powell, but she will state that she is by no means sure, and has no proof of her speculation. [Marcy Wheeler, 8/29/2006]
Poor Reasoning - Wilson will later write that he is pleased to learn that “there was at least one Bush official who believed the conduct of his colleagues was ‘wrong.’ I was disappointed to read that he or she evidently judged it so not because it was a betrayal of national security but because it was beside the point and had done nothing to damage my credibility. Would the leak have been okay if it had really impeached my character and sent me skittering into some dungeon reserved for critics of the Bush administration?”
'Smear Campaign' Readied Well before Wilson Published Op-Ed - Wilson muses over the implications of the article. He concludes that if two White House officials had conducted such a large media campaign, “there must have been a meeting to decide on the action to take” (see June 2003). And because of the timing, the officials involved must have had the information on Plame Wilson “well before the appearance of my article on Sunday, July 6” (see July 6, 2003). How did the two officials learn of his wife’s status? he wonders. Was there a breach of security? Was the revelation of his wife’s identity inadvertent or deliberate? “Whatever the answers to these questions,” he will write, “I knew for certain that the initial disclosure of her status, whether deliberate or inadvertent, was the first damaging act, before the calls to all the journalists were placed.… [A] plan to attack me had been formed well before [the publication of his editorial]. It was cocked and ready to fire as soon as I crossed the trip wire and wrote about what I hadn’t found in Niger. My [editorial] triggered the attack, but I was not the only target of it. Now my wife was in their sights, as well. What then happened was not a case of the loose lips of an overly ardent junior defender of the administration flapping to one reporter, but an organized smear campaign directed from the highest reaches of the White House. A group of supposed public servants, collecting salaries paid by American taxpayers and charged with defending the national security of the country, had taken it upon itself to attack me by exposing the identity of a member of the CIA’s clandestine service, who happened to be my wife. Revenge and intimidation had been deemed more important than America’s national security for these co-conspirators.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 385-387]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Washington Post, Marcy Wheeler, Joseph C. Wilson, Dana Priest, Colin Powell, Mike Allen, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Marc Grossman
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; Newsday, 3/5/2004; Washington Post, 3/6/2004]
Entity Tags: Chris Matthews, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Wall Street Journal, White House Iraq Group, Ari Fleischer, Time magazine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrea Mitchell, Scott McClellan, Timothy Phelps, Newsday, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Erin Healy, Dana Priest, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, NBC News, Michael Duffy, Associated Press, New York Times, MSNBC, Mike Allen
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The CIA announces that it has fired one of its officers, Mary McCarthy, who, it claims, “knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence” with a newspaper reporter. McCarthy is alleged to have leaked information about the CIA’s network of secret overseas prisons to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest. The Post recently published a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories on the secret prison network; Priest was one of the main reporters for that series. McCarthy worked at the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, which was investigating allegations that the CIA was torturing detainees at Iraqi prisons. The CIA claims McCarthy has admitted to the leaks, though it will not acknowledge that she was one of Priest’s sources for the prison stories. But McCarthy’s attorney, Ty Cobb, says that his client “emphatically denies she leaked any classified information and the facts would demonstrate that she would not even have access to any of the information attributed to her leaking to anyone.” She is “devastated,” Cobb says, that her long career will “forever be linked with misinformation about the reasons for her termination,” and that her firing was “certainly not for the reasons attributed to the agency.” Cobb notes that McCarthy is only 10 days short of retirement, and says, “Her hope had been to leave with her dignity and reputation intact, which obviously did not happen.” McCarthy has planned for some time to leave the agency and become a public interest lawyer. Her retirement process began well before the CIA began investigating the Post leaks. [New York Daily News, 4/22/2006; National Journal, 4/25/2006; Washington Post, 4/25/2006]
Aggressive Internal Probe - The CIA has conducted an aggressive internal investigation, administering polygraph tests to McCarthy and numerous other officials. “This was a very aggressive internal investigation,” says a former CIA officer. “[CIA Director Porter] Goss was determined to find the source of the secret jails story.” [New York Times, 4/21/2006] The agency has not asked the Justice Department to open a formal probe into the allegations against McCarthy, and resultingly, few expect that criminal charges will be filed against her or any others who may be accused of leaking information. [Washington Post, 4/25/2006] The Justice Department has already opened a probe of the leaks surrounding the Post stories, but no word of the results of that probe has been revealed. No reporters have been interviewed about the leaks: Post spokesman Eric Grant says, “No Post reporter has been subpoenaed or talked to investigators in connection with this matter.” Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. says that he cannot comment on the firing, but “[a]s a general principle, obviously I am opposed to criminalizing the dissemination of government information to the press.” [New York Times, 4/21/2006]
McCarthy Often Spoke to Reporters - A former CIA official tells a reporter that part of McCarthy’s job was to talk to the press in authorized interviews. “It is not uncommon for an officer, when they are designated to talk to the press, to let something slip, or not report every contact.” Former Deputy CIA Director Richard Kerr says of McCarthy: “She was a very qualified analyst in a variety of jobs. She had strong views sometimes, but I don’t know anyone who would describe her as a zealot or ideologue.”
CIA Officials Often 'Ignored' When Attempting to Bring Up Issues - Kerr adds that if McCarthy did leak classified information to the press, she behaved wrongly and should be held accountable. “If she believed there was something morally wrong or illegal going on, there were mechanisms within the system to go up the line, or complain,” he says. “The other possibility for her or anyone else is to quit and speak once you are outside.” Former CIA analyst and State Department counterterrorism official Larry Johnson disagrees, saying: “During this administration, there have been any number of CIA officers who have brought up issues through channels internally. There have been intelligence officers who have brought up things within their own agencies, and even spoken to Congressional intelligence committees or presidential commissions. But they have found themselves completely ignored.” [National Journal, 4/25/2006] A former intelligence official who knows McCarthy says: “Firing someone who was days away from retirement is the least serious action they could have taken. That’s certainly enough to frighten those who remain in the agency.” [Washington Post, 4/25/2006]
Senator Praises Firing - Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praises the CIA’s action. However, he is allegedly guilty of a far worse intelligence leak (see April 21, 2006).
Critics Claim Partisan Basis for Leaked Information - Some supporters of the Bush administration will claim that McCarthy’s leaks were politically motivated, and will point to the fact that in 2004, McCarthy contributed $2,000 to the presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry (D-MA). [Washington Post, 4/25/2006] Columnist Melanie Morgan will accuse McCarthy of having “leftist ties,” and calls her a “revolting… liberal Democrat [sic] activist” who colluded with Priest, another “leftist,” to publish information that would “undermine America’s fight against terrorism.” She will also accuse McCarthy and Priest of working to help defeat Senator Curt Weldon (R-PA) in his 2006 re-election bid, and of having “suspicious” ties to Sandy Berger, the Clinton administration’s national security adviser, and former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke. She concludes: “The Clintonites are so desperate to regain power that they are willing to sell out our national security to do it. And the reporters who serve as agents for this effort are rewarded for executing their role in the effort.… And the people who are hurting America are being rewarded.” [WorldNetDaily, 4/28/2006]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), John Kerry, Leonard Downie, Jr., Central Intelligence Agency, Eric Grant, Larry C. Johnson, Dana Priest, US Department of Justice, Washington Post, Sandy Berger, Ty Cobb, Melanie Morgan, Mary McCarthy, Pat Roberts, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Richard A. Clarke, Richard Kerr, Porter J. Goss
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Ty Cobb, the lawyer for fired CIA agent Mary McCarthy (see April 21, 2006), denies that his client leaked classified information to any reporter, and denies that his client gave any information about secret CIA prisons to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest (see November 2-18, 2005). A CIA source confirms Cobb’s statement, saying that the agency no longer asserts that McCarthy was one of Priest’s key sources. Instead, the agency now says it fired McCarthy because she had “undisclosed contacts” with Priest and other journalists. Such contacts violated her security agreement, agency officials say.
No Leaks of Classified Information - The original allegations that McCarthy revealed classified information to journalists are, apparently, no longer operational. Cobb says that McCarthy, who worked in the CIA inspector general’s office, “did not have access to the information she is accused of leaking,” namely the classified information about any secret detention centers in Europe. Cobb says that his client, who is 61, was just 10 days from retirement when she was fired, and had held senior positions at both the White House and the National Intelligence Council, is “devastated” over her firing. She believes her career will “forever be linked with misinformation about the reasons for her termination,” and, her lawyer says, her firing was “certainly not for the reasons attributed to the agency.” McCarthy had begun her retirement process in December 2005, and was planning on pursuing a legal career after leaving the agency. She will be allowed to retain her pension. A former intelligence official says, “Firing someone who was days away from retirement is the least serious action they could have taken.”
Firing Designed to Intimidate Others? - He adds, “That’s certainly enough to frighten those who remain in the agency.” The official is not the only one to believe that McCarthy was fired to intimidate other potential leakers and whistleblowers who may feel impelled to reveal questionable activities such as the CIA’s secret prison programs. Thomas Blanton, the director of George Washington University’s National Security Archive, says the Post articles about the secret prisons contained nothing that would warrant prosecution. “It’s the fact of the thing that they’re trying to keep secret, not to protect sources and methods, but to hide something controversial,” he says. “That seems like a hard prosecution to me.” Kate Martin, executive director of the Center for National Security Studies, says, “[E]ven if the espionage statutes were read to apply to leaks of information, we would say the First Amendment prohibits criminalizing leaks of information which reveal wrongful or illegal activities by the government.” [Washington Post, 4/25/2006] In 2007, former senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson will write, “By firing Mary, who was only 10 days away from retirement, the CIA management under [Director] Porter Goss was sending a clear signal that no one was to step out of line and if they did, the results would be harsh.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 245-246]
Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, in a news analysis, writes that by signing executive orders to close Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009), stop torture of terror suspects, and void Justice Department legal orders concerning torture and interrogations (see January 22, 2009), President Obama has “effectively declared an end to the ‘war on terror,’ as [former] President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the US government in battling its enemies will not be limitless.” She continues: “While Obama says he has no plans to diminish counterterrorism operations abroad, the notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.… It was a swift and sudden end to an era that was slowly drawing to a close anyway, as public sentiment grew against perceived abuses of government power.” [Washington Post, 1/23/2009]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.