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October 27, 2005

This is the Real Scandal

This American Prospect article and other investigations by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica have focused on the role of Italian intelligence and possible meetings with the White House in creating the Niger "Yellowcake" fraud to sell the Iraq war.

The skullduggery of intelligence agencies in subverting democracy, both at home and abroad, is one of the scandals of the modern democracies. And thank god that journalists are exposing the undercover agents likely involved in these deceptions, such as Italian Sismi agency member, Antonio Nucera, who was a vice-captain working in the intelligence agency's eighth directorate, with responsibilities involving weapons of mass destruction and counter-proliferation.

And yet would progressive prefer that it be a crime for the public to be told the identitities of such rogue agents? That's the gist of the 1982 law making it a crime to disclose the identity of agents. In this case, the story is about Italian agents, but Nucera basically has what sounds like a similar job as Valerie Plame.

Now, progressives can probably agree that Nucera's actions (if confirmed) were deceptive, while Plame's were done in support of the truth, but the law as enacted was specifically passed to prevent people like Phil Agee and others from exposing exactly the kinds of crimes that The American Prospect and La Repubblica are exposing in the case of the Italian intelligence agency.

The hard fact is that secret intelligence agencies are incompatible with democracy. Of course, people can make the case for their need in a dangerous world, but their existence -- backed by the resources of governments -- is often a greater danger to democracy than the supposed threats they are supposed to fight.

And those intelligence agencies become an even greater danger if people who discover their misdeeds are prohibited from revealing that information. Maybe we can live with such secret agencies, but not if their misdeeds are protected from exposure based on the threat of criminal sanction.

Posted by Nathan at October 27, 2005 09:46 AM