“What’s Going On Here?”:The Secret Service’s Vindictive Leak

I was going to use another "fish rotting from the head" picture, but Thomas of Beckett's murder---which Henry didn't direct, mind you!---seemed more appropriate.

I was going to use another “fish rotting from the head” picture, but Thomas of Beckett’s murder—which Henry didn’t direct, mind you!—seemed more appropriate.

Last week, we learned that Secret Service Assistant Director Edward Lowery suggested that unflattering information the agency had in its files about a Republican Congressman ­who had been critical of the service—and who hasn’t been?— should be leaked to public as the agency’s revenge. And it was.

“Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out,”  Lowry wrote in an e-mail to a fellow director on March 31, commenting on an internal file that was being widely circulated inside the service. “Just to be fair.” Soon an internet source reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had applied to be a Secret Service agent in 2003 and was rejected. That information was part of a Chaffetz personnel file stored in a restricted Secret Service database and required by law to remain private.

During an inspector general’s investigation, Lowery denied that he directed anyone to leak the private information about Chaffetz to the press and said his e-mail was simply venting. How Clintonian. No, he didn’t direct anyone to do it: he just said that it should be done, as in Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”

So far, this self-evident dodge has been enough to keep Lowery in his job, because as those who are honest and fair know, there is no accountability in the Obama Administration, and if a Republican Congressman is embarrassed, everyone knows the President is smiling about it. Lowry was  promoted to the post of Assistant Director for Training a month ago to help reform the agency after outrageous security lapses that Chaffetz had helped expose and criticize.

That’s some reformer! Continue reading

Law vs. Ethics: A Snatched Bar Mitzvah Gift, A Leaky AG, An Embarrassing Scoreboard, and”OINK”

Oink

I try to keep my legal ethics seminars up-to-the-minute, so while preparing for yesterday’s session with the Appellate Section of the Indiana Bar, I came across a bunch of entertaining stories in which the ethics were a lot clearer than the law, or vice-versa. All of them could and perhaps should sustain separate posts; indeed, I could probably devote the blog entirely to such cases.

Here are my four favorites from the past week’s legal news, involving a mother-son lawsuit, a brazenly unethical attorney general, a college scoreboard named after a crook, and police officer’s sense of humor: Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Michael Kinsley

“As the news media struggles to expose government secrets and the government struggles to keep them secret, there is no invisible hand to assure that the right balance is struck. So what do we do about leaks of government information? Lock up the perpetrators or give them the Pulitzer Prize? (The Pulitzer people chose the second option.) This is not a straightforward or easy question. But I can’t see how we can have a policy that authorizes newspapers and reporters to chase down and publish any national security leaks they can find. This isn’t Easter and these are not eggs.”

—-Pundit and former editor of Slate Michael Kinsley, reviewing the book by Edward Snowden co-conspirator Glenn Greenwald’s book, “No Place to Hide.”

This is the heroic image the press has of itself, as it protects useful criminals and traitors. Unfortunately, it's a self-serving fantasy.

This is the heroic image the press has of itself, as it protects useful criminals and traitors. Unfortunately, it’s a self-serving fantasy.

I lost much of my respect for Kinsley (full disclosure: we’re college classmates; he’s a celebrity journalist, I’m not) when he was shouting liberal talking points at Robert Novak every week on “Crossfire.” I knew Mike was more nuanced than that, and later he admitted as much in various essays: it was all for show. He later admitted that he sometimes endorsed books without reading them completely, and began writing these odd op-eds that appeared to mock the very position he seemed to be taking. Kinsley is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease*, and perhaps that’s a factor in his self-conscious sense of remove from his own writings, but the impression he has given for decades now is of a detached intellectual who looks down his nose at the very profession that feeds him, and who finds it amusing that the rubes still hang on his words, when he doesn’t give them much thought himself.

This quote from his review of Greenwald’s book (hmmm…did Kinsley actually read this one?) fits the bill. It is sloppy, but sufficiently specific to be unethical. He is essentially suggesting censorship of the press, which is an irresponsible position. The publishing of leaks should not be infringed. Chasing them down, however, is another matter. Current laws, if Democrats would leave them alone, are currently sufficient to discourage criminal acquisition of national security documents: just throw journalists who won’t reveal their criminal—that’s what they are you know, like Snowden—sources in jail until they crack, rot, or both, for obstructing justice When journalists actively aid and abet the theft of documents and data, like Greenwald did, before they are acquired and published, prosecute them too, along with their souces. Publishing such documents or using them for investigations are legitimate and First Amendment-protected activities, but nothing in the Constitution protects the leakers, traitors and thieves, or journalists who conspire to help them break the law—which is the stealing, not the publishing.

I have called what the press does with stolen material “information laundering.” That function, unfortunately, is too important to the role of the press in our democracy to regulate or constrain it, no matter how often it is abused. Still,  this should not make those who aren’t journalists immune from prosecution, or journalists who cross the line that divides reporting the news from making it.

* This is a correction; the original post said MS. I apologize for the error; I shouldn’t have relied on memory.

__________________________

Sources: New York Times

Cartoon: Doyle, Baylor

A Handy Review of Dishonest Scandal-Obscuring Talking Points

Ah, yes, such pretty "talking points"!

Ah, yes, such pretty “talking points”!

Let me begin by noting that I would not prefer to keep writing posts about Benghazi, the I.R.S., Attorney General Holder, and his inept and politicized Justice Department. All of the related scandals involve outrageous misconduct by the Democratic administration, together with the resulting attempt by Republicans to both uncover what occurred in the face of concerted Administration stonewalling and obfuscation, and to score political points while embarrassing President Obama and Democrats in the process. Since in this matter the offenders are either Democrats or those under a Democratic administration, it is impossible to comment on the matter fairly with out appearing partisan to some otherwise reasonable readers.

I should not have to write repeatedly about these collective failures, fiascoes and abuses of power, and would not if the leaders responsible would just tell the truth, stop spinning and using smoke screens, apply appropriate sanctions and consequences to the individuals involved. This Administration refuses to do that, and too many major media outlets refuse to do their jobs and pressure them to do that. Instead, a massive disinformation campaign has been mounted, presumably coordinated by the White House and the highest levels of the Democratic party, to minimize the situations involved, confuse the public about what occurred, misrepresent the seriousness of the implications of the events, and allow them all to fade away, ideally while performing political jiujitsu on Republicans and promoting a public backlash that might even benefit Democrats, as the impeachment of President Clinton did in 1998.

This must not be allowed to happen. I am under no delusions that I have any influence over whether it does happen or not: this blog has a good sized audience for an ethics blog, but that is like a restaurant saying that the pickled lizard-brains seem to be popular tonight.  I do believe that publishing my best objective ethical analysis during this disturbing  period might, might, somehow bolster the efforts of those who do have such influence.

Yesterday at the Congressional hearings on the I.R.S. targeting of conservative groups, a couple of misleading arguments by administration defenders officially reached dishonest talking point status, joining many others we have heard for the past two months (or more) and continue to hear. “Talking points,” used in this context, are arguments, statements and phrases devised by political strategists,  usually field-tested in focus groups and polls, and then emailed out to officials, party members, operatives, talking heads, friendly journalists and columnists and others to repeat in public statements in the media, over and over again, to influence public opinion. They are designed to shift blame, confuse the issues, inject false facts, and to appeal to rationalizations and bad logic.

It’s a cynical exercise, and infuriatingly obvious to the relative  few Americans who watch a lot of TV, listen to a lot of interviews and check multiple sources, have open minds and IQ’s above freezing.  It’s ridiculous, in fact: suddenly Democrat after Democrat after progressive talk show host (or, at other times, Republicans and conservative talking heads—this is not restricted to Democrats)  “independently” make the same dubious points using almost the same words.  But I’m not the target audience; they know anyone paying close attention is on to the technique. It’s aimed at those less involved citizens who pick up on the new excuses and circulate them to their friends and colleagues, who may not be paying attention to the media at all. It’s aimed at partisans controlled by confirmation bias: you will instantly see the talking points repeated in blog comment threads. These kinds of talking points are designed to make coherent debate and analysis impossible.

Before addressing yesterday’s  additions to the current talking point garbage pail, let’s review the haul so far. Now take your Pepto Bismol…

Benghazi Continue reading

Heroes, Dunces, Truthtellers, Liars, Spinners, Incompetents, and Fools: More Ethics Forensics On The Government Scandal Wave

bosch

This is a mercurial story, several in fact, but one of its most valuable uses is to allow us to sort out various individuals and institutions for their trustworthiness and character based upon their words and conduct regarding the multiple scandals hurtling around Washington.

  • Fool: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Mn). Bachmann is talking impeachment, which has signature significance: any elected official who brings up impeachment now or anytime before hard evidence turns up proving that President Obama personally delivered  a bag of gold to the IRS leadership to make sure proprietary tax information was leaked is an utter, irresponsible dolt. 1) No President has ever been convicted after their impeachment, and heaven knows we have had multiple Chief Executives factually guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is a waste of time, an all-encompassing political warfare glut that this nation can’t afford at this point, especially when the U.S. Senate is in control of the same party the impeached POTUS belongs to. Yes, I agree with the principle that corrupt Presidents should be punished; I’m glad Bill Clinton got his just desserts, but I also know that if he and the rest of the government had been concentrating on what was going on in the world rather than hiding blue dresses, the Twin Towers might be standing today, and 3000—10,000?—-Americans wouldn’t be dead. Impeachment is like using a nuclear bomb: it’s a useful threat, but the reality is too horrible to permit. 2) Anyone who thinks making Joe Biden President is a solution to anything is certifiable. 3) There is nothing at this point that would support a legitimate impeachment. 4) Putting the scandals in that context just supports the agreed-upon White House and media spin that this is all about politics. Shut up, Michele.

“Argo” and the Horrible Thought

Thanks a bunch, Ben.

Thanks a bunch, Ben.

“Argo” prompted a disturbing thought that has been haunting me since I saw the picture. I am sorry that I had the thought, and hoped that it had been successfully banished by time and hope. Unfortunately, the juxtaposition of “Argo” winning the Best Picture Oscar combined with the inappropriate and intrusive appearance of Michelle Obama to announce it, complete with a politics-tinged speech that was as gratuitous as it was manipulative, caused that thought to begin burning in my brain again. Alas, here it is.

At the conclusion of “Argo,” former President Carter is heard emphasizing the obvious, that in 1980 he would have loved to have taken credit for the audacious  rescue of the six American Embassy workers from Iran that was engineered by his CIA. But, Carter says, do so would have endangered the remaining hostages, and though it would have helped his politically besieged Presidency (which was lost to Ronald Reagan that same year, in part because of Carter’s perceived weakness in handling the hostage crisis), giving all of the credit to Canada was the right and responsible thing to do.

I am no admirer of Jimmy Carter’s policies, personality, Presidency or leadership. He is, however, an ethical man. He was President before the hyper-partisanship that has rotted our politics, before the “perpetual campaign” style of leadership launched by Clinton, and before every act by every main stage player in Washington appeared to be dictated by the need to hold power, rather than by the needs of the people. My horrible thought is that I believe the current President and his  Machiavellian political advisors would not have done as Carter did, if the “Argo” scenario played out in 2012, as that Presidential election approached. This White House, facing the prospect of defeat, would find a way to leak its participation in the successful rescue, judging its retention of power a higher goal than protecting the hostages that may well have died anyway.

I wish I didn’t have this thought, but I cannot banish it. The unseemly chest-thumping and credit-grabbing over the killing of Bin Laden, the leaking of details about the deliberations leading to it, the deceptive handling of the Benghazi disaster, and yes, the inability of the President’s political strategists to resist attaching the President or his wife to anything remotely positive—even the Academy Awards— while refusing to accept responsibility for any mistake, miscalculation or failure (See Bob Woodward on the disinformation campaign regarding the looming sequester, beginning with Obama’s outright lie in the third Presidential debate, “The sequester is not something that I’ve proposed.”), all have me convinced that the days when we can trust a President to risk his own grip on power for the good of the country are gone, perhaps forever.

As I said, it is a horrible thought, and I fervently wish I didn’t have it. I want to trust and admire our nation’s leaders, the President most of all. But the leaders of both parties have earned this level of distrust, and I see no signs that they are capable of making that horrible thought, and other too, go away.

Unethically Leaked Unethical Manuscript Shows That Sarah Palin Is Unethical

The Anchorage Daily News has obtained a leaked (read: stolen) manuscript of an unpublished book detailing a close former aide to Sarah Palin’s discovery of the Republican star’s many character flaws. Among other items, the book suggests that she knowingly violated federal election laws.

Now what? Let’s run down the ethical docket: Continue reading

Julian Assange: Not a Hero, Not a Terrorist, Not a Criminal, Just an Asshole

I know. Well, sometimes a vulgar word is the most accurate we have.

Our definition of journalism has yet to catch up with the cyber age, and freedom of speech does not distinguish among blogs, newspapers and dissidents. What ensures responsible use of First Amendment rights is ethics, not law. America allows journalists to act as information laundries, taking material that a private citizen was bound not to reveal by law, contract, or professional duty, and to re-define it to the world as what “the public has a right to know,” defined any way the particular journalist finds appealing.

Despite all the fulminating and condemnations by the likes of Mitch McConnell and Newt Gingrich on the Sunday talk shows, the U.S. can’t make Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a terrorist just by calling him one, nor can it fairly declare him a criminal for accepting the product of the unethical and often illegal acts of leakers, and making it public, just like the New York Times has done on many occasions…not under current laws.  Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who leaked many of the secret documents, is certainly a criminal. So was Daniel Ellsberg, who, to nobody’s surprise, is cheering Assange on and attacking his critics. . Assange, however, is not a criminal. He has not revealed any information that he accepted in trust while  promising not to reveal it. He is no more a criminal than the New York Times, if the New York Times was published in Hell. Continue reading

Unethical Post of the Month: Jonah Goldberg

In his latest post on the National Review website, conservative blogger Jonah Goldberg wonders why the CIA hasn’t had the sense to assassinate WikiLeaks founder and current renegade leaker Julian Assange. That’s right: Goldberg believes that in the national interest (for Assange has gathered and leaked massive amounts of classified information relating to U.S. military operations), the U.S. government should murder an Australian citizen without due process, a trial, or anything approaching regard for law, ethics, and human rights.

I make it a rule, in the interest of civility and respect, to control the urge to sink to pure name-calling, but really: what an idiot. And a dangerous one. Continue reading