Sunday, January 19, 2020

Mincing Words Are An Indicator

     Does anyone remember President Ronald Reagan’s televised statement about the Iran-Contra scandal? Reagan admirers emphasize that he said “I take full responsibility” – which he did say, though absent an impeachment and Senate trial that “responsibility” was weightless. But he said something else that made my ears prick up: something that suggested that certain criminals would never be prosecuted for their crimes:

“Mistakes were made.”

     Note the passive voice. Note the aversion to naming the makers of those “mistakes.” And consider that criminal acts share a distinguishing characteristic that separates them from mere “mistakes.”

     And now we have this:

     In December, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Justice released a report showing significant problems with the warrants that the FBI submitted to FISC in order to secretly wiretap Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. While the OIG's report concluded that the agency was justified in investigating whether Page was unduly influenced by his connections with the Russian government, it also determined that the FBI withheld important details from the FISC that might have influenced its decision to grant these warrants. These omissions were not in Page's favor, and ultimately the OIG found 17 different errors or omissions in the warrant requests, some of which were not corrected in subsequent applications.

     The FISC's judges were extremely unhappy to discover information had been withheld from them, and then-presiding Judge Rosemary M. Collyer (who has since retired) ordered FBI Director Christopher Wray to send a plan to the court by January 10 explaining how the FBI would avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

     Wray submitted his plan last week. It's a dense and technical response that is mostly inscrutable to anybody who does not have a history of involvement with the court's surveillance processes. Wray provides a list of 12 actions the FBI has taken or will take to make sure future applications for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants include all the information judges should've had when the FBI sought permission to surveil Page. Wray's plans revolve primarily around adding most steps to verify and re-verify information contained in the warrant requests to make sure that FBI agents and supervisors are not omitting information that might undermine or compromise their case for a surveillance warrant. Wray also says the agency will improve training by creating a case study program to teach FBI agents about historical precedents (I'm guessing the Page warrants will play a starring role).

     Note the first sentence of the second paragraph: The FISC's judges were extremely unhappy to discover information had been withheld from them. Another case of the anonymizing passive voice! The information didn’t withhold itself; it was withheld by some FBI agent. Moreover, inasmuch as the FBI’s illegal surveillance of Trump Campaign personnel and of the campaign itself constitute the largest purely political scandal in American history, to characterize its actions, which the actors must have known were against the law, as “mistakes” is a vile, contemptible act of word-mincing.

     The mincing of words, like “mistakes,” involves a deliberate decision by a conscious actor. It is not something that “just happens,” and the rest of us have to cope with it. The FBI is plainly desperate to retain some of the gloss of “Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity” that has been troweled onto it over the decades since Prohibition. Those who find the FBI useful will naturally be inclined to assist it in that undertaking....unless their consciences should impel them in another direction. But conscience, as I’ve noted at many other times, is a liability to one who seeks to serve the Omnipotent State.

     The Omnipotent State isn’t quite coterminous with the Deep State, but the two have an awful lot in common. The Deep State is well served by anonymizing devices and word-mincing “explanations” for its faceless minions’ “mistakes.” And while it’s still rather early in the morning, I cannot imagine a better rationale for tearing down the whole edifice – every Cabinet department other than State, Defense, and Justice, and all the subdepartments, agencies, and bureaus therein – than the adroit and all too frequent use of passive voice and mincing words to avert cold scrutiny of the “mistakes” those minions commit, for which they strain and squirm to avoid being called to account.


Andy Texan said...

If President Trump does not take a flame thrower (with prejudice) to the administrative state in his 2nd term it will never be done. The original American Republic ended some time ago (1913?/1860?). It's time for a hard reboot.

Brian E. said...

Eliminate every cabinet department excepting only State, Defense, and Justice - now that’s something I could go for reading about in some future history book - not just in alternate future speculative fiction.