There’s word today that the CIA has fired a senior career official over the leak of the so-called “secret prisons” story to the Washington Post. Opponents of the Bush administration have tried hard to cast the leak as the work of a “whistleblower,” exposing wrongdoing, as opposed to a “leaker” out to exact political revenge, as in the Valerie Plame affair. But unlike the Plame matter, there’s no doubt that the secret prisons story damaged U.S. national security. In January, I wrote a story for the magazine describing that damage. It focused on the two countries, Poland and Romania, suspected of assisting the U.S. in the incarceration of high-value terrorists. Here’s an excerpt:
In Europe, the reaction [to the Post story] was immediate and intense. The EU said it would launch a probe of both Poland, which is an EU member, and Romania, which hopes to become one. Both countries might be punished if the story were true, EU officials said. Romania denied the whole thing, sort of; in a statement that perhaps sounded more definitive than it was, Romania’s premier said, “I repeat: We do not have CIA bases in Romania.” In Poland, the new government — it had been in office for just a few weeks and had played no role in whatever had happened before — also issued a denial.
But, at least in Poland, the story caused enormous anger and unhappiness behind the scenes. In an interview with National Review, one source with knowledge of the Polish government’s dilemma would not address the facts of the story, but called the damage “horrific.” The source cited two reasons. First, the Polish government believes that it is now, as a result of the Post story, on al-Qaeda’s hit list, setting off fears that Warsaw or Krakow could follow Madrid and London as European terrorist targets. And second, the leak shook the pro-American Polish government’s faith in the United States. Poland has been a loyal ally of the U.S., sending troops to Iraq and keeping them there when others withdrew. That decision has been costly not only in lives — 17 Poles have died in Iraq — but also in terms of Poland’s relations with largely anti-U.S. European governments. And now Poland worries about whether it can trust its most powerful ally. “The next time we are asked to do an operation in common, we will always think twice about your intelligence community’s ability to keep a secret,” the source said.