Mary McCarthy’s Meteoric Rise

Through a second party, Mary McCarthy has denied that she is the source of the CIA secret prisons/rendition story that won Dana Priest a Pulitizer. She does not deny “inappropriate contact” with Priest and other journalists. I have no strong opinion on this particular, which will sort itself out in due course.

More interesting is an emerging meme in the blogosphere, as seen in Allahpundit‘s much-linked* roundup, is that McCarthy rose to very high levels in the CIA with incredible speed, thus demonstrating her incredible political connectedness. The progenitor of this claim seems to be Spook86, an anonymous blogger who purports to be a retired intelligence officer.

Equally interesting is her meteoric rise within the intelligence community. According to her bio, she joined the CIA as an analyst in 1984. Within seven years, she had rise to a Deputy NIO position, and reached full NIO status by 1994. To reach that level, she literally catapulted over dozens of more senior officers–and I’m guessing that her political connections didn’t hurt. By comparison, I know a current NIO, with a resume and academic credentials more impressive than Ms. McCarthy’s, who reached the position after more than 20 years of extraordinarily distinguished service. McCarthy’s rapid advancement speaks volumes about how the Clinton Administration did business, and sheds new light on the intelligence failures that set the stage for 9-11. We can only wonder how many other political hacks climbed the intel food chain under Clinton–and remain in place to this day.

There’s just one small problem with this argument, however: McCarthy is 62 years old. That means she was roughly 39 years old when hired by the CIA. So, it’s not as if she was an intern hired at the GS-7 level and then magically an NIO in ten years. Indeed, she was a PhD Africa historian with a book and substantial business experience to her name. She might well have entered the Agency as a GS-14 or GS-15.

Jumping to the Senior Intelligence Service in seven years from that level would be impressive but hardly so spectacular as to raise eyebrows. Indeed, by 1994 she was 49 years old. Spook86’s distinguished friend, presuming he started his distinguished career right out of college at 22 or 23, would have been only 42 or 43. If he completed his more-impressive-than-University of Minnesota PhD before entering government service, maybe he was 28 or 29 and thus the same age as McCarthy.

*There’s an advantage in being part of a Michelle Malkin startup, apparently. The site, in operation roughly 24 hours, already has 110,000 plus unique visitors.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brian says:

    McCarthy�s rapid advancement speaks volumes about how the Clinton Administration did business

    Considering the political hacks that have advanced through the Bush administration, I would say this sheds more light on how politicians in general conduct business.

  2. McGehee says:

    She does not deny �inappropriate contact� with Priest and other journalists.

    So many punchlines…

  3. DC Loser says:

    Deputy NIOs are mostly GS-15 types. Not exactly unheard of for someone to make it to that grade in seven years, especially if she came in as a 13 or 14. I hate to say it, but it does help to be a woman, especially during the Clinton years. I don’t really have feelings either way about that, if she was qualified (and I think she probably was), she deserved to have the job.

  4. oldradus says:

    First the conservative blogosphere trashes McCarthy’s reputation because of allegations that she leaked information embarrassing to the Bush Administration.

    Then, when Ms. McCarthy’s lawyer disputes the claim and it becomes clear there is no basis for that claim, the conservative blogosphere changes gear and trashes McCarthy’s as a political hack.


  5. Ugh says:

    Um, isn’t Spook86 missing the obvious here? Namely, who was President during the bulk of McCarthy’s years with the CIA in the time period he discusses? Joined in 1984, and made full NIO status in 1994. Reagan/Bush I were president from the time she joined until January 1993, which encompasses the 7 years that it took her to “rise to a Deputy NIO position.” Clinton was President for, at most, two years of her tenure during this period.

  6. legion says:

    I’m rather curious about Spook86’s grasp of time. If McCarthy joined the CIA in 1984, and rose to Deputy NIO “within seven years,” that means the vast majority of her “meteoric rise” occurred prior to 1991 – during the era of Reagan and Bush senior.

    Apparently, “how the Clinton Administration did business” was with a time machine…

  7. legion says:

    Dangit Ugh! Stop pressing that button! 🙂

  8. Roger says:

    Overlooking the timeframe provides a perfect example of neo-con paranoia re Clinton. Everything’s Bill’s fault, from the Bush recession, to the piss-poor Bush handling of the terrorist chatter culminating in 9/11, and now even things that occurred before Clinton was Pres. The neo-cons understand the beauty of paranoia–it all makes sense. Clinton! Aaaaaagh!