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Opinion Privacy sacrificed in the name of ‘transparency’

George HasaraIf the top spy in the world can be snooped on, do the rest of us have any hope of avoiding the watchful eye of Big Brother? The saga of ex-CIA director, General David Petraeus’ downfall has many facets. His marital infidelity may grab the headlines, but the intelligence community turning cannibalistic is particularly interesting.

Back in the day, circa 1950s, the CIA was headed by Allen Dulles who was reported to have had a multitude of liaisons with the ladies. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who used the Bureau as a personal pooper scooper to get dirt on people, never went after Dulles. Dulles enjoyed the company of women but Hoover liked to dress like one, so there was probably a Mexican standoff in place.

Times and fashions have changed. The narrative is that Petraeus’ mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell used a personal Petraeus email account to harass socialite Jill Kelly. Presumably, Broadwell was worried about Kelly doing the same thing she had done to Mrs. Petraeus. Kelly contacted a friend in the FBI - Frederick Humphries and a new cartoon strip of Spy vs. Spy was created.

The premise behind the inquisition investigation was that there may have been a security breach with unauthorized access to the CIA chief's personal online email account. Okay FBI, get on the phone. “Dave, we have information that someone is using your email, are you aware of that?” This would have concluded a two-minute investigation into the matter. If Petraeus' email account had been hacked like many of ours have been with offers of Viagra, etc. sent to contacts, would the FBI have swung into action as well?

I'm not a fan of Petraeus, but I am partial to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution including the part of being secure in our “papers.” Though there wasn't an internet back then, a straight forward approach should apply to the concept of “digital” papers as well. However, lawmakers and the courts have taken a rather circuitous route and the legal status of the issue is always shifting. A “current” legal basis on the matter is the Stored Communication Act. Written in 1986, it represents the stone age era of the internet, not long after Al Gore invented it.

Your own personal (classified) information, can easily become an open book for the prying eyes of the government. However, it doesn't work in the opposite direction. Despite the claims by politicians of “transparency,” what is really meant is keeping its actions invisible. Virtually anything can be classified, especially in the name of national security. It's been nearly a half century since the President Kennedy assassination and there are still reams of documents that haven't been revealed to the public. On the upside, we do know that agent Humphries had sent shirtless photos of himself to Kelly. I could have lived without knowing about that “transparency.”

For some, the moral of the Petraeus story is that no one is above the law. What law? Since when is indiscretion a crime? If the director of the CIA can have his private life rummaged through and sacrificed at the altar of national security, the rest of us don't stand a chance.





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