Fake News Lingers

Update below

I was at a training session.  The instructor talked about accepting risk in information security.  A smart, knowledgeable, sensible guy.  At least for 99% of the training.

He was talking about how certain government officials are empowered to accept security risks.  And then he says this (paraphrased but close to a quote): Dick Cheney accepted the risk of revealing Valerie Plame’s name for political reasons.  Then he had Scooter Libby take the fall for him.

Sweet Mother of Something or Other!!!  That short statement was wrong in every particular!  He could not have been more wrong in those two sentences, because 100% wrong is all there is. This is the version of events you would believe if you got your news from Washington Post or New York Times editorials.

Facts: Dick Cheney never revealed Plame’s identity as a CIA agent.  He did not order anyone to do so.  Richard Armitage, Colin Powell’s hand-picked #2 guy at State Department did it, not under Cheney’s orders. Plame’s identity was no longer a secret, since she worked openly at CIA headquarters.  Revealing her relationship with the CIA was not a crime.  Scooter Libby did not reveal her identity, nor was he charged with revealing it.  Libby went to prison for “perjury”.

Background (1): President Bush allowed Secretary Powell to bring his own guy in to be Deputy Secretary of State.  Often a president will assign a deputy or various under secretaries, so the White House will have some control over the department.  Bush allowed the very independent Powell to appoint his own people (including Armitage) at the top of State.  Armitage did not in any sense work for Vice President Cheney, and would have been able to ignore requests or even direct orders from Cheney.  A Vice President has hardly any power according to the Constitution.  The idea that a Vice President with no authority could tell Powell’s guy to break a law or even do anything dubious is ridiculous on its face.  President Bush could order Powell to have Armitage do it, because Powell worked for Bush.  Bush did not order anything, and no one has suggested that Bush ever did.

Background (2): The Intelligence Identities Protection Act protects the identities of people who work under cover for the CIA (where association with the CIA would be a secret).  It does not protect the identities of CIA personnel working openly for the CIA.  If you work inside CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia and park your car in the parking lot of CIA headquarters every work day, you are openly associated with the CIA, and your identity as a CIA agent is no longer protected.  At the time Plame’s identity was revealed, she worked at Langley.

Background (3): Libby was convicted of perjury based on FBI testimony backed by hand-written notes taken during the interview and interpreted later by that agent in court.  I assure you that tape recorders were available to the FBI even all the way back in the dark days of 2005.  No tapes exist of the FBI interviews with Libby, because the FBI did not, and does not to this day, record interviews.  Only hand-written notes and the agent’s recollection are used.  If it seems strange to you that an agency interested in finding the truth would not take the simple step of recording interviews, then you are not alone.  The obvious conclusion is that the FBI is not necessarily interested in finding truth.  Sad and scary, but I can’t come to any other conclusion.  It’s easier for an FBI agent to fudge his interpretation of his interview notes than it is to fudge a tape recording.

While President Trump has only been talking about Fake News for a couple of years, the phenomenon of Fake News has been around for decades.  This is a pernicious example of how fake news just lingers in the minds of people who should be smart and involved enough to find out and remember the truth.  If this (otherwise-fine) instructor had just checked the Wikipedia article about the incident before he mouthed off, even that biased account would lead him most of the way to what I have stated here.  He could have passed truth, or found a more appropriate example for the class.

Other examples of historic Fake News: (1) The 1998 impeachment of a president “for sex” when it was actually for perjury, suborning of perjury, and obstruction of justice (which are all crimes), (2) The 1968 Tet Offensive, a massive loss for the Viet Cong but portrayed as a victory for them by US news media, (2) the ‘climate of right-wing hate’ that somehow led a communist to shoot a Democrat president in 1963, (3) Second World War propaganda depicting the USSR as America’s dear friend, not just an ally of convenience.  Fake News goes back a long way.

If you’re going to pull examples out of political events to make a point, at least get the facts right.  Try to read past the media version of events, which is usually both biased and superficial, if not also completely false.  Don’t keep Fake News alive.

UPDATE 2021: Same training, same instructor.  I noted on my course critique last time that he had the facts all wrong on this.  Did the message sink in?  No.  He used the same Cheney story noted above, wrong in every respect.  I noted it again in my course critique this time, for all the good it will do.  Also he added another.  He bashed Cheney for making a legal claim that the Vice President is a legislative official, not an executive branch official, based on him being President of the Senate.  Now if you look at the Constitution, the VP is President of the Senate, with limited powers over that body.  The VP has no assigned authority in the executive branch.  At the time the Constitution was first written, the VP was likely to be a political adversary of the POTUS.  Since then, the presidential election system was modified, giving us the ‘running mate’ VP that we have today.  So, does the VP have any executive powers?  Only those the President gives him.  A VP has no independent executive authority, where some federal agency heads do.  So is the VP a legislative official?  Maybe, maybe not, but the argument is not crazy.  At least, not crazy unless you have a particular, unreasoning hatred of Dick Cheney, so much that you’re not even interested in the truth of your accusations against him.  It’s sad that a guy who is a good instructor in so many ways can go so far off the rails when he hates a guy.

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