How a CIA Leaker Got Axed

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Just days after a Washington Post reporter won a Pulitzer prize for a story about secret CIA prisons, the Agency's Director, Porter Goss, Thursday fired a spook who admitted having been one of the sources for the story.

A Government official told TIME that the fired officer admitted to conversations with the press after irregularities were spotted in a lie detector test. Soon after, Goss moved quickly to fire the individual.

Goss spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise Dyck would not discuss details but said the unauthorized disclosure was discovered in the course of "thorough internal investigations" that examined which CIA officers might have had access to classified information that had appeared in the news media. "Through the course of these investigations, a CIA officer acknowledged having unauthorized discussions with reporters in which the officer knowingly shared sensitive intelligence," Millerwise Dyck said. "Every person who works at the CIA signs a secrecy agreement specifically stating they're prohibited from discussing classified information with any individual who is not properly cleared to receive that material. This individual violated that agreement."

Millerwise Dyck would not say whether the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate this particular person's alleged disclosure, which could be a federal crime. But she said generally that "it's routine when classified information appears in the public domain in an unauthorized way that a crimes report is filed with the Department of Justice." It was such a report that launched the investigation into who disclosed then-CIA spy Valerie Plame's identity to reporters, leading to a major ongoing investigation and the indictment of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby.

Goss told the Senate intelligence committee on Feb. 2 that he had ordered "an investigation of finding out what leakage, if any, is coming out of that building. And I'm afraid there is some coming out. I've called in the FBI, the Department of Justice. It is my aim, and it is my hope, that we will witness a grand jury investigation with reporters present being asked to reveal who is leaking this information. I believe the safety of this nation and the people of this country deserve nothing less."

A legal expert said that the fact that the ex-CIA employee allegedly admitted some form of unauthorized disclosure could accelerate the normally lengthy process of determining whether this specific case will be formally investigated or prosecuted. It could also be folded into the existing overall investigation into who may have leaked the story about the CIA's secret detention network. "There is an open investigation into that case," one U.S. official confirmed.

A spokesman for House intelligence committee chairman Peter Hoekstra applauded the break — branding the former employee's unauthorized disclosure an illegal leak and calling for its prosecution. Jamal Ware said Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, "applauds the diligent and hard work done by the CIA to identify this person who took it upon themselves to illegally leak our nation's secrets. Chairman Hoekstra is fully supportive of any and all efforts to prosecute this person and anyone else who illegally discloses our national secrets." Ware called the rare identification of a leaker "a solid victory in the effort to halt illegal leaks."

Citing stringent federal privacy laws, the CIA would not reveal any identifiying information about the dismissed employee — including their length of service or whether they were an operational spy or analyst, for example, or even their gender. As a result, it was not immediately possible to seek comment from the individual.

Several other investigations into leaks to reporters are currently under way in Washington, including one to discover who told New York Times reporters about the Presidentially ordered National Security Agency secret program to tap domestic calls to suspected terrorists without obtaining warrants beforehand.