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October 05, 2003

Plame Disclosure Should Not Be Crime

I've sat here for the last week avoiding blogging on the whole Plame affair. Sure I love that is exposes the vindictiveness, lies and disregard for the public interest of the Bush administration.

But the sudden progressive concern for preserving the anonymity of CIA agents leaves me cold. Not that agent names should be revealed casually, but the idea that an agency -- involved in illegal assassinations and anti-democratic coups for the last half-century -- has suddenly become a sacred cow is ridiculous.

If someone discovers that a CIA agent has been involved in bad actions, I am all for them revealing their identity and undermining their ability to continue to do so.

The basic line by the Bushies is that folks like Plame at the CIA have gone rogue and have been leaking to the press in order to undermine the democratically elected President's policy. If the shoe was on the other foot and CIA agents were involved in trying to undermine a progressive President, I'd want names.

Not that I buy the Bush story, but that's a political evaluation and belongs in the political realm of discussion. Allowing the government to maintain secrecy through criminalizing debate on the actions of government employees is the enemy of democracy. Without debate, that means that the CIA will be able to engage in all manner of evil actions with no one able to blow the whistle on its actions-- and that is not a hypothetical but a well documented history that needed more, not less exposure to the American public.

CIA History of Evil: Just to remind people of a few highlights of the CIA's sordid history conducted by its agents-- all of which should have been exposed by patriotic Americans in government at the time.

1953 Coup in Iran: CIA helps engineer overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Iran, installing the brutal Shah regime that would help nurture anti-American hatred through the next fifty years.

1954 Coup in Guatemala: Protecting United Fruit and other US multinationals, the CIA trained leaders and instigated the coup that overthrew the recently elected democratic government of Guatemala, leading to decades of death squads and murder among the country's peasants.

1961 Coup in Congo CIA funded and directed overthrow and assassination of the recently elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba-- bringing in the brutal kleptocracy and murders of the next four decades.

1965 Indonesia Coup: CIA supported Suharto coup and developed lists of Communist Party leaders targeted for assassination-- part of the estimated 250,000 people killed that year as part of the coup.

1973 Coup in Chile: CIA subversion of the economy and assassinations used to overthrow elected Allende government and bring in the Pinochet dictatorship.

1975 Angolan Intervention: US intervened in Angola to undermine the Marxist government, helping fuel a bloody war for the next decades-- and lying to the American people about the motives for intervention.

Nicaragua War in 1980s: This included the illegal mining of the Managua harbor (condemned by the World Court) and including turning a blind eye to drug smuggling into the US by its allies, and subverting subsequent elections.

So no, I have no excitement about seeing anyone in or out of government charged with a crime for exposing the actions of a CIA agent. The more exposure the better.

If the exposure was for vindictive political reasons, the American people don't need to indict Bush administration officials. They have a more effective tools- it's the ballot box next November.

Update: By the way (looking at comments), just because someone exposing a CIA agent can't be thrown in jail doesn't mean there is no way to protect such secrets. First, they can lose their job-- a pretty good deterrent to anyone without good reason to be exposing bad actions. Second, any agent or other person whose life or career is harmed could sue in civil court for ACTUAL damages-- the problem with criminalization is that there is no measure of actual harm; it's just a protection of secrecy on behalf of the government. Third, anyone exposing agents for political gain can be punished or their allies can be punished politically at the polls. But crimininalizing speech-- and that is exactly what we are talking about -- is the enemy of democratic debate and accountability. Most people in government will responsibility keep their mouths shut about such secrets; we don't want laws that criminalize the exceptions needed to expose wrong-doing by government.

Posted by Nathan at October 5, 2003 11:49 AM