Espionage is alive - no surprise here

Gabe Bradley

March 07, 2006

Let me ask you: Was anyone really surprised to learn that the CIA runs secret prisons in countries where prisoners aren’t granted the same protections they are here? Was anyone surprised that the NSA was using warrantless wiretaps to gather information on people here and abroad with suspected links to terrorist organizations?

I, for one, didn’t need a newspaper to tell me that these sorts of things are going on. Maybe that’s because I’ve seen too many spy movies. Yeah. That must be it. Either that, or I’ve read too many history books.

These are the types of things nations do. Espionage is one of several trades (including prostitution and magic) that bills itself as “the world’s oldest profession.” Spy planes and satellites are great. But we don’t live in a world where espionage can be conducted exclusively in the air.

Finding out what the enemy doesn’t want us to know is a messy business — intrusive by definition.

Was there anyone out there really naïve enough to believe we had somehow achieved a stage of enlightenment such that we no longer engaged in espionage? I suspect there are a few. Mostly, however, the “controversy” over secret CIA prisons and warrantless NSA wiretaps is political posturing by the president’s political enemies in Washington and the blue states.

Not surprisingly, the media have proved to be willing accomplices. The egos of the media elite have been badly bruised by the fact that President Bush is too busy running the country to invite them to the Oval Office for cookies, milk and a peak at classified documents. As such, they’ve branded the administration as excessively secretive and antagonistic toward the press.

If the media could just get over themselves for three seconds, they might see how ridiculous they look when they complain about White House secrecy. Of course the government isn’t going to blabber on and on about classified information and our intelligence capabilities. It’s not the government’s job to help reporters do theirs.

When sensitive information is illegally leaked to reporters, it puts lives at risk. We live in a country where we’ve decided that the benefits of a free press outweigh those risks. However, the media can’t expect the government to serve them a story on a silver platter.

The worst thing the Democrats could do, however, would be to make an election year issue out of secret prisons and warrantless wiretaps. Most Americans believe these measures are necessary for our security. To stand on the other side of that argument would be to perpetuate the image that Democrats are soft on national defense.

Moreover, if the Democrats stand up against these practices for political gains, the next Democrat to sit in the Oval Office will either be a bald-faced hypocrite or have his hands severely tied in matters of national defense.

We live in an era where several prominent intelligence failures (e.g., WMDs in Iraq) have demonstrated that we don’t have nearly enough solid intelligence on what our enemies are up to. Do we really want to be taking away options from our intelligence capabilities?

Americans won’t accept that. Those who stand on the other side are clearly trying to make political hay out of this issue — so desperate are they to tarnish the image of a president they’ve been unable to defeat at the ballot box.

The notion that the Bush administration’s approach to espionage or national defense is somehow more sinister or more secretive than any other in our history is patently ridiculous and woefully ignorant. President Kennedy is just one example that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Under President Kennedy, the United States was acting unilaterally throughout the globe with spotty intelligence because Europe was reluctant to cooperate and rise to its own defense. President Kennedy, who routinely used domestic wiretaps, IRS audits and FBI investigations as political weapons, would become furious with reporters and editors who didn’t spin a story the way he wanted. However, he avoided a reputation as antagonistic to the press because he used a carrot as well as a stick.

The implicit deal with many reporters was that he would stroke their egos and give them plenty of access to the glamorous aspects of the presidency just so long as they spun the serious stories his way. President Bush is either too serious or not savvy enough to relate to the sniveling sycophants of press in the same way. Probably a bit of both.

According to Richard Reeves’ book, “President Kennedy: Profile of Power” the president gave a speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Association in May 1961. In the speech, he asked for newspapers to show restraint and “self-discipline,” in what they published. He asked them to avoid stories that were not in the “national interest.” Of course, his audience didn’t want to hear this. What else is new?

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