Relevant Reads

Punishing Kiriakou: A Case for Discretion in Democracy

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THE NYT’S JANUARY 6 LATE EDITION led off with “From Spy to Source to Convict”, a story by reporter Scott Shane about former-CIA operative John Kiriakou, who on Friday, Jan. 25th, will begin to serve a 30-month prison sentence for being “the first current or former CIA officer to be convicted of disclosing classified information to a reporter.” A former case officer who, in 2002, co-led the team credited with capturing the now infamous waterboarding victim Abu Zubaydah of Al-Qaeda, Kiriakou pleaded guilty to “emailing the name of a covert CIA officer to a freelance reporter” thereby violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (which, passed in 1982, had been “aimed at radical publications that deliberately sought to out undercover agents,” thereby “exposing their secret work and endangering their lives”).

I don’t doubt his remorse; he says he “was simply trying to help a writer find a potential source and had no intention or expectation that the name would ever become public”—I’ve no reason to question any of that. Nor am I concerned with either his character or his service, which I sincerely appreciate by the way—I hate terrorists. But the law he broke is a law for good reason: in the words of Matthew Flinders, Englishman, politics professor, and author of Defending Politics, there is “a legitimate role for some degree of secrecy” in a democracy.

Need a democratic people’s demands for transparency be so stringent?

He helped me realize that hackers don’t ask for warrants—nor do identity thieves, drug traffickers, child pornographers, Islamist terrorists, wives who conspire to murder their cheating husbands, and kids who want to bomb their schools at lunchtime.

Even Shane, who’s been covering Kiriakou (sympathetically) and torture (unsympathetically) especially since 2009 when President Obama declassified the torture memos, admits the grievances of intelligence officials maintaining that leaks like Kiriakou’s have “damaged intelligence operations, endangered American operatives and their informants, and strained relations with allied spy services.” Shouldn’t the government and its agencies be entitled to some privacy in order to better protect our interests? Need we complicate the jobs of agents and analysts whose lives and techniques may be all that stand between us and the wackos of the world who’d have us all drop dead if not convert to Islam before a global despot—a real fascist?

9780199644421_p0_v1_s260x420 (1)This goes to the heart of one of Flinders’s key arguments in defense of democracy: that “dense accountability demands can undermine organizational effectiveness and thereby further undermine the public’s confidence in politics to deliver.” (Flinders is as guilty as I am of getting chippy—even personal—on this subject: “It is easy to sit at your desk and mock those who must decide whether to send troops to a war zone, if the risks of a terrorist threat merit the imposition of restrictions on civil liberties, or whether to redistribute resources from the sick to the homeless […] when you yourself have never had to make a major decision, justify it to the public, and then live with the consequences.” Oh snap.)

While media outlets prone to sensationalism continue to chip away at the average Western man’s diminished sense of self-awareness, relish in relegating an already intellectually deprived populace to a mob-like state of ignorance, push the phantom fact that apparently most if not all politicians are untrustworthy and oppressive thieves and connivers, and scrounge to find any vague speck of dirt on a lawmaker to substantiate that notion…(deep breath)…it’s often the case that governments by the people and (for the most part) for the people are taking the necessary steps to ensure our safety—even if we haven’t either a clue as to what those steps entail or, more controversially, any real entitlement to those clues to begin with.

It’s neither hard to imagine nor unreasonable to argue that there are circumstances under which our ratings-hungry media and the oft-witless general public it leeches would both be better served in the dark.

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