Monday, June 06, 2005


I have to admit that the identity of Deep Throat never kept me up at night, and Nixon's crimes seemed pretty settled by history. I wasn't born yet during the Watergate scandal, and I haven't immersed myself deeply enough into that period's chronicles to have a clear sense of how it felt to people living through that time. So, I tend to read Watergate through the prism of today, as seems to be a common enough failing. I've been reading the post-revelation news, as you have, and I've been reading the indictments of the contemporary press (Billmon, Atrios, Digby, etc.), as you may have, but here's the piece of the autopsy that stands out to me. From Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker:
Many people in government were outraged by the sheer bulk and gravity of the corrupt activities they witnessed in the White House. Reporters were their allies and confidants. Those men, who dealt with the most sensitive national-security issues, had their worst fears confirmed by the revelation, in July, 1973, of the White House’s taping system, which recorded their meetings and conversations with the President.
Over the last five years, we've seen tens of government officials sufficiently outraged by the Bush administration that they were willing to go on the record under their own names to denounce its practices. And one by one, they've all been accused of bad faith: "they're just bitter at having been passed up"--"they just want to sell books"--"Bush-hatred will gain them upper-westside cachet" and it goes on. These open leakers are discredited and destroyed in the public realm: enough fog is cast to ambiguite their clear indictments

There are deep sources who are engaging in secret Watergate-style leaks today. My favorite candidate for the first term is Dick Armitage, who not only carried water for Powell but also had a less, erm, metaphysically encumbered idea of loyalty. My sense, though, is that generally these dissonant voices are operating tactically: on a specific issue or story, putting out a politically savvy leak that had Washington as its primary target. There have been a number of leaked reports on US military abuses, but I wonder about the genuineness of these leaks, given current FOIA standards and the coordinated responses to them.

For me, what stands out in the comparisons of today to the Watergate era is this idea that one could find hard evidence of the executive's intentions. Nixon taped his offhand conversations? Was he mad? I do understand that within his worldview, it was unthinkable that anyone would ever gain access to these tapes whom he had not explicitly authorized to do so; my understanding is that these tapes represent in part his desire to control other people's conversation. But as all computer users these days now know, private data is rarely guaranteed to be such; I suspect that most politicians have learned either by example or by experience that detailed records--particularly of political skullduggery--can be used more devastatingly against oneself in the long run. The result is that the political opposition has had myriads of informants, named and otherwise but that there's been an unfortunate lack of smoking, scilllizing white-hot guns.

Oh, and there's the on-going problem at our permanent intelligence-gathering and -analyzing institutions that people feel as though their expert opinions are being warped into political talking points. Disgruntled? Clearly, some of them are. Solid proof of wrongdoing into the highest causes?


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