The Inquisition

June 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

I hope our Attorney General can forestall the current hyperventilating call for a major inquisition to catch the Phantom Leaker.  I know that leaking information about intelligence and counter-intelligence matters is serious.  And yes, I can believe that it can put brave people at risk of death or worse. 

What I also know is that the recent history of these investigations is a sorry one.  They invariably require a large number of innocent people to spend thousands of dollars for lawyers and they never result in punishment of anyone for leaking classified information or misusing restricted information.

There is a very broad and dangerous federal criminal law that makes it a crime to make any false statement to  any federal official.  So, the only safe thing for anyone to do when asked a question by a federal official is to decline to answer.  It doesn’t matter whether one is guilty of anything.  It is just foolhardy to get into a conversation with a federal official because, regardless of your guilt or innocence with respect to whatever the official is investigating, you can be convicted of a federal crime if you are inaccurate about anything you say. 

The two most famous victims of this law are Scooter Libby and Martha Stewart.  Libby was not convicted of leaking information about Valerie Plame.  He was convicted of perjury and “obstructing an investigation.”  Martha Stewart was not convicted of insider trading.  She was convicted of making false statements to investigators.

Now, in addition to calls for an investigation, they also want to strap lie detectors on everyone who had access to the classified information.

This is dangerous nonsense.  Turning these bloodhounds loose is more dangerous than the problems they are claiming to solve.

Being a spy or a counter-spy is a dangerous profession.  Being exposed and perhaps killed or harmed because some jackass in Washington recklessly or deliberately spilled the beans to some reporter is an outrage.  But I don’t think it justifies authorizing federal authorities to threaten a large number of people with financial ruin, damaging publicity and risk of criminal prosecution merely because they had access to classified information.

If this happens, I think the first ones to be strapped to a lie detector should be the President, the Vice President and every Congressman and Senator who calls for the investigation, followed by the senior staff of each of them.  If that is the plan, I predict that a lot of the enthusiasm for the inquisition will dissipate.

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