Official Secrets – a true story about government lying

A few Americans may know the name Valerie Plame. It is highly unlikely Americans know the name Katharine Gun. But, a few Brits might. They are both heroes for calling their respective governments on the carpet for the same event – the illegal invasion by the US, UK and its allies into Iraq.

More on Plame later. There is an excellent movie released in 2019 (directed by Gavin Hood) called “Official Secrets” starring Keira Knightley as Gun. But, who is she and why is she a hero? Katharine Gun was an analyst for the UK’s GCHQ, the UK counterpart to the US’ NSA. She read a memo from a NSA department head that asked the UK to join the US to spy on other members of the UN Security Council to pressure them into voting in favor of invading Iraq. In other words, the US wanted the UK to help them lie to support a war where innocent people would die and British (and American) soldiers would be at risk.

Now, Americans likely do not know a seven-year British inquiry investigated the Iraq invasion beginnings and found that Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush misled the British people about the rationale to invade Iraq. But, let’s scroll back to right before the invasion when Bush was seeking support from the UN Security Council.

At that time, Peter Goldsmith, the UK attorney general, held the position that unless authorized by the UN Security Council, the invasion would be illegal. But, after meeting with the Americans in Washington, he changed his opinion to rely on the fringe position of using the 1991 UN Security Council OK for the Gulf War. In other words, if the UN Security Council did not agree this time, the US would invade under this pretense and that is what occurred.

Before Goldsmith’s change of mind, Gun released the memo to someone who shared it with a news reporter played by Matt Bright. Then, she turned herself in. Gun violated the Official Secrets act, but she said our spying is supposed to make our citizens safer, not used to lie to them for an unjust war. She took a great risk and was charged with a crime after about a year of anguished waiting. *

Ben Emmerson, her attorney, played ably by Ralph Fiennes, built a case on her breaking that law out of “necessity” to save British lives which was a permissible defense. Knowing the Deputy AG, Elizabeth Wilmshurst (played by Tansin Greig), resigned over the AG’s change in posture and that documents of her resignation and Goldsmith’s council to Blair codified their concerns, Emmerson requested the files and Gun pled innocent.

Gun could have pled guilty and received a shorter sentence, but she risked it all to make the Blair government defend itself. Then, the surprise came in court. The government dropped the charges rather than have to release any incriminating documents. The Blair government did not want to reveal its decision-making process.

Gun’s actions were applauded as were Valerie Plame’s. Plame was a CIA operative whose husband, Joseph Wilson, was a former ambassador. Her story is told in the movie “Fair Game,” with Naomi Watts playing Plame and Sean Penn playing Wilson.

Plame asked her husband to use his connections to trace a lead on a supplier to Saddam Hussein’s alleged WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction). Wilson found the supplier to be unrelated to any WMD supplies, so he was unable to confirm this hypothesis. Yet, his report was misused and said he did find a connection. Wilson was angered at the betrayal of his work and wrote an op-ed in The New York Times saying so.

In an half-handed attempt to save face and denigrate Wilson, VP Dick Cheney’s staff member, Scooter Libby, outed Plame as a CIA agent in the press. This is a crime, of which Libby was found guilty and served jail time. To date, Libby is the only person to serve jail time for the invasion of Iraq. Plame testified to Congress about the secretive WMD research led by the Cheney folks and the efforts to discredit her and her husband.

Gun and Plame are heroes. 4,600 American and British soldiers died in Iraq with over 32,000 injured. The estimates of Iraqi deaths are between 150,000 and 1 million. And, we still have a presence in Iraq sixteen years later. Hussein may be gone, but the Middle East remains an unsolvable and unstable problem and the US reputation is viewed very unfavorably by more than Iraqis.

Gun said it best. I work for my country and its people. When a government lies to its people for unjust causes, she felt she had to speak up. She said she would do it again. Let me add one more thought – leaders must exhaust all options before they send its citizens into harms way. They owe it to them. Lying to enable war is beyond poor stewardship. In this case, it was illegal.

* London’s The Observer published the memo in a headline article after confirming its authenticity through several channels, which are portrayed in the movie. Yet, it made a simple, but huge mistake. An editor ran the article through spell-check and the system corrected American spellings of words like “favorable” and “recognize” with the British spellings of “favourable” and “recognise.” This change was seized upon by the Drudge Report who published the memo was fake, discrediting the article. All interviews with the reporter were canceled at that point. Per the movie, this was a contributing cause for Gun’s admission of leaking the document. She wanted people to know and recognized she was putting herself in jeopardy.

A little context on safety

Last night’s Republican National Convention focused on keeping America safe. This is an enviable goal, but while bashing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on Benghazi and terrorism, three key points were missing as context.

First, while we have eight Congressional committee efforts to get to the bottom of Benghazi, at no time was it discussed that a GOP-led Congress cut funding for embassy security the previous summer. But, more importantly, why have we not investigated information that supported the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) claim that led to an invasion of Iraq which has killed 1,000 times more Americans than Benghazi not to mention many allied troops and Iraqi citizens?

This is even more important when it should be noted a member of Vice President Dick Cheney ‘s team named Scooter Libby went to jail for outing a CIA operative named Valerie Plame. The reason is her husband Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson was asked to do reconnaissance on a source of WMDs. He found no such link, but his information was intentionally misused. When Wilson wrote an op-ed piece countering this, Libby leaked Plame’s CIA cover to discredit him which is a crime.

Per the last committee’s findings, there was agreement with the findings of a report done two months after Benghazi occurred which was prepared by Admiral Mike Mullens and Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering. There are things that could have been done better with Benghazi, but eight committees worth of investigation seems highly disproportionate. And, as Speaker of the House candidate Kevin McCarthy revealed last fall that the purpose of the taxpayer-funded committees was to discredit Hillary Clinton.

Second, as I have written about before, I am having a hard time reconciling the GOP’s NRA influenced pro gun stance with making us safer. Like many Americans, unless we improve gun governance, I see very little that can be done to stop motivated lone gunmen. In multiple surveys, a significant majority of all Americans and a majority of Republican voters agree with the following steps. We must not allow the sale of weapons to people on a no-fly terrorist watch list. We need background checks on every gun sale transaction. We need extended waiting periods to allow time for the background checks and due to the number one reason for gun deaths in America being suicide.

In my view, a candidate can talk until he is blue in the face about stopping mass shootings, but until we have better gun governance, it is all talk. There is not much any President can do to otherwise stop these shootings except involving the various communities in being watchdogs and reinforcing police and investigative efforts. And, we should not alienate groups of Americans, as we all have a role in seeing less violence. No American subgroup is more American than another or less for that matter.

Third, with respect to the GOP candidate, he has already made us less safer with his campaign rhetoric and he isn’t even President. Who says this? Five retired generals and two former CIA directors, of different political parties, have all said that Trump’s comments have been a recruiting brochure for ISIS. One of these former directors, Michael Hayden has noted the danger a Trump Presidency would hold. He went further to say that much of what Trump professes is ill-advised and goes against our ideals and some of which is unconstitutional. And, one of the most effective commercials against Trump is from a sixth retired general who says Trump does not have the “temperament or judgment” to be Commander-in-Chief.

So, being safe is an enviable goal. We just need some context as to what that really looks like. And, as a final sidebar, we do not need to hear from Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani about being safe, as his comments over the past few weeks have been not only off base, but inflammatory toward race relations in America. His comments are in-keeping with divisive comments of his friend The Donald.

 

 

 

Tuesday’s gone with the wind – a few odds and ends for this Tuesday

As a tribute to the great southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, I will use a chorus line of one of my favorite songs of theirs, to highlight a few odds and ends this Tuesday – “Tuesday’s Gone.” If you don’t know the song, give it a listen. You may also like “Call Me the Breeze” and “Simple Man” as well by the band. But, before Tuesday’s gone with the wind, here you go.

Economic recovery continues, but the recovery is continually challenged by people not spending. Wal-Mart announced a 5th consecutive quarter of negative same store results, year over year. They cite dampened wages as the culprit. When you have a heavy sales economy, people need to make a decent wage rate or they do what every else does, spend less. In this ongoing debate about minimum wage increase, this is a key outcome by not getting more money into people’s hands. By the way, you can trace the desperate nature of the retailer, car dealer or college, etc  in direct proportion to their eagerness to sell you something. I have had “final offers” made to me over and over again – but you said it was final three times ago.

Moral Monday’s in North Carolina have started up again, but the issues remain the same. They did help get more notice on the poor teacher pay plight which came to a head last year by limits and changes made by our conservative General Assembly. They have promised to do something this session and they need to or opportunity will be lost. The other issues remain – expand Medicaid to those in need, repeal the voter restrictive Voter ID Law which has been ruled unconstitutional in four other states and is on trial right now here, eliminate the severity of the unemployment benefit cuts which are highly punitive, and avoid fracking in our state. I attended my second Moral Monday yesterday and witnessed a diverse group of a couple of thousands people including doctors, teachers, professors, ministers and students. Their voice needs to be heard and heeded.

Failing to remember history, even recent history, can blind your reasoning, especially when people are adamantly against something they were for a few years ago. Former Senator Jim DeMint is adamantly against Obamacare, which is strange because it was patterned after Romneycare which he strongly advocated in writing, TV appearances and campaign speeches for Romney, as something we should do for the whole country. He particularly liked the mandate, as it shows personal responsibility, which he hates today. Newt Gingrich went on TV with Nancy Pelosi to show a united front that global warming was real and man-influenced and we need to do something about it. Newt noted he was wrong before to say it was a hoax. This change was in 2006. Then he ran for President in 2012 and he said he was wrong to say he was wrong. In this cases, two wrongs do not make a right. The make a wrong a wrong.

Finally, our friend Karl Rove won’t stop making a scandal out of nothing. This time Hillary Clinton is the target. Instead, why don’t we talk about a real scandal and ask Rove why his subordinate Scooter Libby went to jail. The greater question is why did not Rove who admitted later that he knew the same information that Libby did. Libby outed a CIA operative (Valerie Plame) in the press to discredit her husband who was a former Middle East ambassador that took issue with the Bush White House misusing his information inappropriately as evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction as a reason to invade Iraq. The ambassador’s report said for the trail he looked into, there was no evidence, yet the White House said he did find something. Please feel free to Google various combinations of Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and Valerie Plame. My problem with this, is over 4,000 US soldiers (and countless civilians) died because of making up the WMD reason on false or unverified intelligence. That is a scandal.

Speaking of trails, happy trails to you on this Tuesday. Have a great week. I would love to hear your feedback.

 

Lesson to Leaders – We need you not to cheat

Paraphrasing a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher: It matters less that you lied to me, as it matters more that I can no longer trust you. In any relationship, this quote describes the unfortunate epiphany when one realizes that another party has lied to them. Trust is built over time, day by day, brick by brick. Yet, a lie can bring the whole building down and cause you to re-earn that trust. Today, I want to focus on leadership letting us down by not shooting straight with us. Oftentimes, when a leader lies or cheats, it is to protect his job or gain a huge return.

Many of the companies who failed us under the financial crisis – Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual, AIG and so on, either no longer exist, were bought by someone else or received a huge bailout to make it through. Some of the bigger ones who survived, such as Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, are still dealing with issues they perpetuated or acquired from one of the above companies. At the heart of these problems were companies trying to make huge amounts of money off selling mortgage loans to people who could not afford them, packaging the bad loans in bundles and selling them off as reasonable assets. One of the fallacies of spreading risk by bundling is if all of the risk is crap, it won’t be better when bundled.

Yet, the leaders of these companies failed to be good stewards to the customers, fellow employees and managers, shareholders and regulators. If you read “Crash of the Titans” about Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, you will realize that only a handful of people in Merrill knew what was going on, but the CEO lied to his other direct reports and lied to his shareholders when questioned. As a result, the shareholders and public were misled. If you follow-up on Lehman Brothers, who went under, you will see that the CFO moved $50 million to the onshore books from the offshore books for the regulators’ eyes and then moved it back again. This was reported by “60 Minutes.” Yet, to this day, no one from Lehman has gone to jail.

In each of these cases, you will find cheating and lying at the heart of the story. As I have said in earlier posts, the banking industry used to be one of the more trusted professions, but these liars and cheaters (let’s call them what they are), breached this trust. Some conservative leaders balk at the requirements of Dodd-Frank regulations which introduced accountability and the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Agency initially run by now Senator Elizabeth Warren. This agency has already fined financial companies over $600 million (as of last summer) and counting for malfeasance and misrepresentation. So, the answer to those who balk is “tough, these foxes brought it on themselves and we have to guard the henhouse.”

Unfortunately, this plays out in spades in political circles. We have legislators who are so beholden to their funders, they are less inclined to tell you what they think, as they must go along with what the funders think. Please refer to my previous post on “The Routine Bigger Conspiracies” for how this misrepresentation can manifest itself on some bigger issues. It goes even further when we look at the job preservation motivation. Legislators worry more about keeping their job than doing their job. This is the very reason nothing has happened on gun control laws. They are failing to do the right thing because of a huge funding source in the NRA.

Recognizing that the GOP congressional leaders seem too zealous on the Benghazi episode, when you set aside the unhealthy motivation of “gotcha politics,” there are legitimate questions that need to be asked and answered. If the President had been less concerned with spin-doctoring from the outset, some of these questions would not exist. The real answer would seem to be “we failed to read the risks correctly and we did not have protection in place and people died.” The same goes for Senator Mitch McConnell who had a report buried in October (as reported by the New York Times) that showed trickle down economics failed to work. As this was key talking point of the GOP Presidential candidate, it seemed to be politically motivated.

I have also noted on several occasions over my disdain over the previous administration’s fabrication of a story of Weapons of Mass Destruction based on faulty data. People would say they did not know, but that is not true as Scooter Libby, who worked for Karl Rove, went to jail for something Rove later said he knew about as well. As you recall, Libby leaked the name of Valerie Plame to the press, who was a CIA operative and whose husband (and former ambassador) reported at the behest of the CIA that there were no nuclear building materials being sent to Iraq by Libya. This report was misused by Bush/ Cheney and when the ambassador complained in the press, Libby leaked Plame’s name to discredit him. In essence, this is one of the smoking guns that showed Bush/ Cheney lied to the American people and many Americans have paid the ultimate price for this deception.

And, it also flows to state and local politics. To give some brief examples, in NC the Speaker of the House knew he did not have enough votes on a bill, so he sent everyone home at midnight only to call everyone back in from a 1 am vote. He knew others would leave, so he alerted his crowd to pass the word to stay and the yea votes now outnumbered the no votes. On a bill to move the potential to frack for natural gas, one of the legislators voted yes incorrectly and rushed forward to say she needed to change her vote. It was not allowed and the bill passed by one vote. Last week, a NC Committee Chair knew he did not have enough votes, so he took a voice vote – all in favor say “aye” all opposed say “no.” He purposefully heard the loudness differently than others, bragged beforehand he would find a way, and said it passed.

We citizens, customers and shareholders need you to do business in the right way. When you cheat, we seem to be the ones who get screwed. As I told one the Committee Chair, I do not care if you disagree with me, but I do care if you cheat. I said I did not know your name last week, but now I do. Please help us hold people accountable. When you hear that someone does not want regulation, I can assure you it the voice is echoing what is told to them by those who are regulated. We need less bureaucracy, but make no mistake, the foxes need regulation. Someone has to hold people accountable, because it is obvious that market and legislative practices will not.