Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why we should care about the sex lives of our intelligence officials

While the following essay centers around Anthony Weiner of Twitter pic fame, the same concepts are true today, in the midst of our most recent sex scandal. Even more troubling than the outing of a congressman's privates, er, private life, is the outing of a secret for someone in the intelligence community like General Petraeus. 

For those who don't know, a precondition to joining the agency (and continuing to be employed by the agency), is the passing of a lie detector test. Why is this test administered? To determine if an applicant is truthful, qualified, made of the right stuff? Yes, but also to determine whether the person has any secrets that might be used against him if he was in a situation where he could be blackmailed. If a person confesses to the almighty agency all of his unsavory adventures, then he no longer has anything to hide and he is no longer a security risk. However, if a person keeps secrets (of the kind that he would do extreme things to keep quiet), he is automatically a security risk. We don't want security risks in the position of being able to compromise our national security. For the intelligence officer, it is of utmost importance to be an upstanding, honorable person - one who can be trusted to make the right decision under the most dire of circumstances. If a person has nothing on his conscious, he is a better bet for security.

Congressman Anthony Weiner’s virtual debauchery is more consequential than just a marital wrinkle between newlyweds. His private actions have public implications that disgrace government, endanger our nation’s secrets, and waste taxpayer money.

Blackmail is a very real threat for those in power. Recently, several Turkish lawmakers were forced to resign when they were threatened with release of embarrassing sex tapes.  A Czech politician resigned a few years ago when he was caught in a plan to entrap his political rivals with compromising photos of their own. These types of scandals disgrace the government and undermine confidence in our elected officials. In higher stake scenarios, politicians with access to state secrets could be forced into divulging classified information to our enemies.

Frequently, the argument is made that this behavior is private and doesn’t affect the good work being done by the politician. Supposedly, poor judgment demonstrated in private will have no bearing on decisions made for the public. This rationalization is popular with those who want to have an excuse for their own bad behavior, or with the crowd who refuses to be seen as passing judgment on anyone else. But the truth of it is, these indiscretions cannot help but to affect every aspect of a politician’s life. Even if other actions are moral and respectable, the cloud of immorality damages credibility for the political leader on all fronts, harming his constituents in the process.

Loss of individual credibility is the least worrisome of the consequences, whereas more expense for taxpayers is the most frequent. Weiner recently announced his resignation, as have several past politicians caught up in similar scandals, but even this resolution costs taxpayers in the form of special elections. When resignations are not immediately forthcoming, bloated ethics investigations suck time and money away from the work of government.  

Tolerating this kind of behavior also allows depravity to gain the perception of normality. It’s not just kids that need role models anymore. With the widespread coverage of politician peccadilloes, the average Joe starts to feel like he is in the minority if he isn’t doing something perverted online. This behavior is becoming more accepted into the mainstream, as evidenced by some people’s reactions to Weiner’s behavior.  Despite his online advances, Congressman Weiner has been described as edgy and is popular with the younger demographic, even to the point of having his own action doll (to be fair, there is an option for the youngest purchasers to get the doll without the “Tweet This” message on the undershorts).

Ironically, there has been no better foil for this Weiner spectacle than the inquisition unleashed on Sarah Palin. In a week where Weiner probably experienced a rare desire to become invisible, Sarah Palin’s own electronic communications were ripped wide open, ripe for the inevitable scandals that would surely be brought to light. There were no surprises or confirmation of bad acts in Sarah’s emails, but why was the media so sure that there would be? Because they think everyone is a Weiner, if you go deep enough. 

Weiner’s judgment and behavior illustrates beautifully how real the threat of blackmail truly is. Any of the recipients of Weiner’s Blackberry snaps could have threatened the Congressman with release of these photos if he didn’t comply with their demands. In fact, one fellow sexter stated as much when she wrote, “u owe me big time for keeping this all quiet.” It’s not so farfetched to see that a Twitter follower could pose as an infatuated constituent in order to gain more than a late night exchange of dirty IMs.

Once Weiner mistakenly tweeted his infamous grey boxer-briefs to his thousands of unsuspecting followers, he was rightfully ashamed and recognized immediately the humiliation that was about to come crashing down on him. His reaction to this was to launch into supersized cover story mode, or in other words, lie. His bold, brazen, bald faced lies show how vulnerable Weiner could have been to a potential blackmailer.  If the enormity of his deceit is any indication of how far he would go to keep this secret quiet, it’s hard to imagine what line he would not have crossed to keep this information from jeopardizing his career. Making this case especially sensitive is that Weiner has connections to even higher level governmental officials, with his wife being a long time aide and confidant to the Secretary of State. Politicians like Weiner, who exhibit only sporadic morality, are not fit for public office.

Weiner’s predicament highlights the need to examine our elected leaders, beyond the image they wish to project. America needs politicians who live principled lives, even in private. Expect more, and expose every Weiner, for the good of America

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