Monday, September 06, 2004


The Gentleman's Game.

I'm sure some of you have read up on the "Israeli spy suspected in the Pentagon" story. If not, see here for a summary of latest events.

Full disclosure: Espionage is a deathly serious business. When inducted into the civil service, I raised my hand before the flag and swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, an oath nearly identical to that voiced by members of our Armed Forces. I never forget that I've been entrusted by the citizens of America with knowledge they themselves cannot know, and I take safeguarding that knowledge as the most solemn of responsibilities.

That all said, I find myself in complete agreement with John Derbyshire's comments in The Corner today (reprinted here in full, 'cause it's all good):

The paleocon websites -- yep, you bet I read them -- have been going nuts over this story of an Israeli spy in the DoD.

This strikes me as disingenuous. I have always assumed that every country -- including friendly ones -- spies on the US govt to whatever degree it can get away with. The value-added of having some advance, unauthorized insight into US govt policy discussions is tremendous. Foreign governments, friendly or otherwise, would be fools not to do all they can to get insights into US policy.

This does not, of course, rule out the possibility -- make that "certainty" -- that some foreign governments *are* fools. Still, if I were elected Prime Minister of (say) Australia tomorrow, and discovered that the country had no espionage network in place in Washington, I should be furious, and would get a program started at once.

For Israel, whose actual existence as a nation might depend on US policy (as in fact it did in 1973), there is no excuse at all not to spy on the US. An Israeli government that did not spy on the US would be in very serious dereliction of its duty towards its citizens.

Of course, if we catch someone spying for a foreign power -- whether friendly or not -- we should throw the book at him. We are entitled to do everything we can to protect our national secrets, and need not apologize to anyone for that. But that is just the other side of the game.

To throw up your hands in horror on learning that some friendly country is spying on the US is preposterous. Unless, of course, you have a heavy emotional investment in the notion that lots of very senior administration officials owe their true primary allegiance to that country...

When we catch spies, I agree, throw the book at them. If their crime is particularly heinous, they deserve death. However, the very act of spying brings no dishonor to the affairs of state. It's as constant as the Northern Star, and no one should react with shock or horror that it happens, even between "friends." In fact, pretending that there exists some "gentleman's agreement" preventing allies from spying on each other only makes you likelier to ignore the signs that such spying *is* going on. Realism goes a long way, folks.

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