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We are NOT crooks!

Posted by Rick · January 22nd, 2004 · 1 Comment

During lunch, even though I should be doing my reading for law school, I like to break out whatever the most wonderful woman in the world has packed into my nifty Sportpack™ Golf Cooler and check out other people’s blogs. (One of these days, I’m going to learn how to use the blogrolling stuff and link them here; right now, I’m learning to use FeedDemon 1.0, though, for aggregating my favorite reads.)

So CalPundit today had a fascinating story about Republican congressional leaders hacking into the computers of their Democratic counterparts.

As I was reading it, I heard a startling noise behind me. Someone was cackling and exclaiming, “I am not a crook!

It isn’t really possible for me to improve upon Kevin Drum’s comments on CalPundit. What I find interesting is that there doesn’t appear to be a Watergate-style outrage over these incidents. Another issue I find interesting is the apparent insecurity of the computing system.

Where’s the Outrage?

I’m old enough to remember the scandal that forced Republican President Richard Nixon to resign. And as Drum noted, there’s not much difference between coming in through a loose window I failed to repair and stealing things from my home, or tapping into my computer because you discovered I hadn’t repaired a security hole, and stealing files from it.

Do we really want to agree with the way of thinking put forth by some Republican staffers on this issue?

Stealing assumes a property right and there is no property right to a government document. . . . These documents are not covered under the Senate disclosure rule because they are not official business and, to the extent they were disclosed, they were disclosed inadvertently by negligent [Democratic] [sic]staff. — Manuel Miranda, a former member of the Judiciary committee who was allegedly responsible for stealing some of the files.

Now, imagine: You’re sitting at work. Two weeks prior, you were informed by your doctor that you had malignant melanoma. Since you spend a lot of time at work, you started putting together — on your own time — your medical history and other information in your computer. Although it’s your office computer, you’re a relatively high-level person and there is no company policy that forbids your doing this. You have only told your closest confidant about the diagnosis. One of your co-workers — not your boss, not your close confidant; one of your co-workers — comes up to you and starts talking to you about your melanoma. How much will it matter to you that your medical history, collected into your computer, was disclosed inadvertently by you? Will you say to your co-worker, “Oh my. I didn’t mean for you to see that information. But it’s my fault because I didn’t realize my computer was insecure, so I’m okay that you looked at it.”

Somehow, I doubt it. Now imagine that instead of walking up to you to discuss this privileged information, the one who stole this information from your computer discussed it with others, maybe even John Novak. (Novak appears to have his own pool of criminals working to provide him with inside information. For more on that, see this article at the Intelligence Failure website.)

Sometimes, when I’m in my backyard, I forget to lock my front door. In spite of this oversight on my part, I can guarantee you that anyone walking into my house, uninvited, and perusing my documents will not avoid criminal trespass charges on the grounds that I left the door unlocked.

One more scenario: Imagine that instead of Republicans invading computers used by Democrats, the Democrats were invading the computers used by Republicans. Can you say “Uproar”? Can you say “Public hearings guaranteed to drag Democrats through the mud from now until at least after the election”? Can you say “criminal charges”?

Bring On the USA PATRIOT Act

No doubt one reason for the muted criticism is that it was Democrats who were attacked and not the other way around. And, to his credit, Orrin Hatch has reacted (albeit reluctantly) by cooperating with the Senate Sargeant-At-Arms in the investigation which has so far implicated a member of his own staff.

Other Republicans were not so pleased about this, however.

We have been given no notice, our consent was not solicited, and we are not aware of even a basic showing of cause to warrant such an inquiry. — Republican Senators John Cornyn, of Texas; Larry Craig, of Idaho; Saxby Chambliss, of Georgia; Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; and Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, to the Sargeant-At-Arms after he confiscated network servers during the investigation.

Welcome to the world of investigatory authority sans the Bill of Rights, boys! After all, the USA PATRIOT Act is not limited to use against terrorists.

Public Law 107-56
107th Congress

An Act

To deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes. USA PATRIOT Act, a.k.a., Public Law 107-56, 107th Congress (emphasis added).

Now, in this situation, the Sargeant-At-Arms did not actually need to rely on any special secret investigatory powers of which the Republican Senators were kept in the dark; Orrin Hatch himself was cooperating with the investigation. Most likely, he assented to the removal of the servers. (Though I suspect the Sargeant-At-Arms had the authority to remove them as part of a potential criminal investigation anyway.)

But the Senators may wish to make note of the fact that this is what secret investigations are like. And once the golem is free, no one is safe. To quote a must-read article by Chris Durbin,

The tragic flaw in most tales about golems, is that the creatures are typically almost indestructible, and are notoriously hard to control.

Having experienced first-hand what it feels like to have their property appropriated during an investigation in which they themselves may have no guilt whatsoever, they should appreciate the implications of providing even greater secret investigatory powers to police agencies and agents.

Plea for a Return to Civility & Fair Play

In the end, what this episode most points to is the need for a return to civility and fair play. It’s no secret that I don’t care much for the current Republican regime — and regime seems to me to be just the right word these days. At the same time, I would not condone spying on them, or stealing from them. The way to “beat” them is to find ways to convince them of the harms their policies will bring about. Barring that (or perhaps I should say “in addition to that”), we convince voters.

I realize this is a tough row to hoe. After all, if one side could expose the “dirty tricks” of the other side, this might win them a leg up in popular opinion. It might. And it would, indeed, be better if “dirty tricks” were somehow removable from politics — but then, if we could do that, we’d have to call it something else, wouldn’t we? The problem with condoning the illegal break-in and exposure of the “dirty tricks” of one side by the other is that we only want to do this when the other guy’s ox is being gored. Then, too, one person’s “dirty trick” is another’s “strategic move.”

Perhaps it will never be possible to have politicians without lies or dirty tricks. Yet, differences of opinion and strategy aside, we, the People, at the very least, should be able to say of our elected representatives: “They are not crooks!”

Categories: Politics-In-General


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Adrian // Jun 21, 2004 at 10:08 am

    You oughta check out the book “Silent Coup.” There’s provacative evidence that shows that Alexander Haig was deep throat, orchestrating Nixon’s exit because he (Haig) didn’t like Nixon’s policy of detente with the USSR.

    Apparently John Dean sent the burglars to the Watergate building to see what info the Dems had on his wife being an ex-hooker (!) and that Nixon (and Haig) knew nothing about it. When the scandal broke, Haig moved in, feeding info to Woodward which eventually led to Nixon’s resignation.

    Well, that’s what the book says anyway. It’s an interesting theory with some evidence that leads to those conclusions.

    Having read the book, it was interesting watching Nixon’s funeral on TV and seeing Haig there.

    “That’s not a lie. It is a terminological inexactitude.” — Alexander Haig


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