Saturday, July 9, 2016

Exculpatory Contortions and Protecting Classified Data

There is a truism captured by novelist John D. MacDonald that goes like this: "The thing you find the hardest to do is the thing you should do." By that yardstick, FBI Director James Comey fell short in delivering his official findings in the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's cavalier, inveterate mishandling of classified information. Despite his cultivated reputation for brains, nuance, and integrity, coupled with apologist theorizing to the effect that Mr. Comey was animated by noble aims to defend the reputation of the FBI while preventing his agency and himself from inviting scrutiny as the first ever to upend an entire presidential campaign by advocating an indictment, the FBI Director took the easy way out.

To do the hardest thing would have been to do what Comey had all along professed to hold paramount: objective reliance on facts and comprehensive investigation. Instead, after cataloguing security violation after serial security violation perpetrated brazenly by Mrs. Clinton and her minions from the outset of her taking the helm of the State Department, Mr. Comey launched into paralogisms and exculpatory contortions to opine that all the evidence his myrmidons had uncovered would somehow not rise to the level of supporting a recommendation to prosecute. In doing so, he abandoned the role of objective investigator to assume the mantle of prosecutor and grand jury.

On the one hand, Comey professed inability to see intent which he and he alone felt would be a necessary prerequisite to pursue a prosecution on the basis of gross negligence. Never mind that gross negligence exists as a prosecutable category precisely in order to punish serious misconduct where not meaning to do any harm to the victim is no excuse for the inevitable harm that follows. Just as the driver playing video games instead of watching the road did not "mean" to plow into a family out for a Sunday drive in an opposing lane of traffic, this does not absolve him of blame when he is the one crossing into the wrong lane and causing their demise. So should it be that an official, however imperious, pampered, and highly placed, should not be let off the hook for starting from the outset to do all her official government business with the most sensitive of classified material via a means expressly prohibited for no discernible reason other than to hide records from public disclosure and bypass the inconvenience of having to follow security rules that come as a condition of gaining access to the most sensitive national security information. As Comey's initial proclamation of investigative findings demonstrated, Mrs. Clinton and her enabling minions repeatedly violated basic security rules -- i.e. the law -- from the outset of her tenure as a cabinet secretary. Then they lied about it.

At the same time as Comey threw aside his own findings to reach an unsupported conclusion of carelessness vs. criminality, he acknowledged that anyone else taking such cavalier liberties with national security would face serious consequences. Indeed they would and have. Ask David Petraeus, John Deutsch, and any number of others whose cases have recently surfaced in media reports highlighting this double standard: one set of security rules and sanctions for elites occupying a Clintonian perch, and another see for mere mortals.

For those of us whose formative years involved using, generating, and protecting classified information at the special access or codeword-protected level akin to what Mrs. Clinton alleged never to have mishandled, the excuses just don't wash. Mrs. Clinton did what she did without authorization and without suffering any consequence. She exposed the nation's secrets to hostile intelligence for nothing more than a combination of personal convenience and a desire to spare herself future scrutiny by fellow citizens exercising their rights to Freedom of Information Act requests or to archivists probing official records for future historical studies of American government in action. To let her off the hook the way Comey did was, in a single stroke, to vaporize his much touted reputation as a straight shooter and man of integrity.

Integrity means doing what isn't easy and accepting the consequences. Sadly, this is a lesson Mr. Comey chooses to spare himself.

Perhaps, then, another John D. MacDonald passage would be instructive for him:

"INTEGRITY ... is not a conditional word. It doesn't blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won't cheat, then you know he never will.

"Integrity is not a search for the rewards of integrity. Maybe all you ever get for it is the largest kick in the ass the world can provide. It is not supposed to be a productive asset. Crime pays a lot better.

"I can bend my rules way, way over, but there is a place where I finally stop bending them."

-- Nick Catrantzos

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sniper Searches Misguided in Wake of Scattergun Terror

The body count at the worst mass shooting in American history that happened in Orlando last weekend has given rise to the usual, knee-jerk speculation about the extent to which the shooter was (a) a lone wolf vs. a terrorist trained and directed by the likes of ISIS, (b) a demon bent on carrying out a hate crime made possible by inadequate restrictions on the weapons he used. Both musings miss the point from a defender's perspective.

To begin with the point about weapons, Omar Mateen was a licensed security guard who had already come under FBI scrutiny in the past. Such scrutiny surely went beyond the standard background check that presently constitutes a precondition for the legitimate purchase of firearms. Absent anything but routine attention to the results of his background investigation, Mateen or anyone else in his position typically encounters no substantive barriers to gearing up for a terrorist attack. Why? He has no prior convictions or run-ins with the law, hence enjoying the freedom of maneuver and civil rights of any citizen in good standing.

Thus far, no one has produced evidence that Mateen used automatic weapons to inflict his carnage on the defenseless victims he murdered in Orlando. He didn't have to. They were sitting ducks. As a security guard, he no doubt worked among people who either had guns themselves or who knew other counterparts who worked as armed guards. Thus, if he had been too cheap to buy his own firearms, he probably would have known where to go to steal them. It is doubtful to the point of implausibility that imposing a new layer of gun controls into Mateen's world would have presented any more than a minor hurdle for him to clear on the path to carrying out the Orlando slaughter.

The Lone Wolf Canard

As for the Monday morning quarterbacking rush to categorize the shooter as a self-motivated hater rather than some agent of ISIS who plotted this attack in some terror cell, it offers no comfort to the bereaved to opine that their loss was not a matter of specific targeting. Whether a defenseless victim falls to the sniper fire of an assassin who planned specifically to take him down or whether that same individual dies as a result of having been mowed down by the indiscriminate, scatter shot of a bullet addressed "To Whom It May Concern" rather than one with his name on it, the shooter remains the enemy. And so does the ideology that led him to think it acceptable or, in his culture, commendable to slaughter people who are in no position to shoot back.

Two Enemies

The enemies here are not gun laws which, in a free society, tend to restrict the law-abiding citizen while offering little more than a nuisance to the assassin. After all, a murderer bent on slaughtering innocents and indifferent to surviving his own attack is hardly going to balk at the prospect of risking a lesser felony by buying, possessing, carrying, or stealing whatever weapon suits his purpose, whether that is a gun, a truckload of fertilizer, or a weaponized pressure cooker. Nor is the enemy some sort of hate speech or intolerance that blames the victims.

The enemies are the murderers and their enabling ideology. Someone has to pull the trigger and someone, some system of inculcation, ideology, and belief, has to legitimize barbaric slaughter of innocents by condoning and even encouraging such action. Whether that ideology expresses the worst of its barbaric maleficence through an ISIS terrorist cell that acts as a sniper assassinating carefully selected victims or whether that ideology infects willing adherents with the kind of programming that convinces them it is okay to kill indiscriminately as long as one is slaughtering the infidel, it behooves defenders to keep their focus on defeating the two enemies.

Waste no time splitting hairs over the relative dangers of terror cells vs. lone wolves. When the house is on fire, we don't put down the extinguisher to launch into a debate over whether the cause of the fire was a wayward cigarette ash or an unattended frying pan on the stove. First put out the fire. Leave the armchair debate about causes for a time when it won't interfere with defensive action.

- Nick Catrantzos