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Crimes and Secrets, and Foggo

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At the end of World War I, lawyer-sociologist Max Weber took a close look at the relationship between Germany’s defeat and its leadership’s manic attitudes about state secrecy. Government had used national security concerns to strangle the nation’s nascent democratic institutions, Weber concluded. They had used security classifications to stifle democratic debate and even discussion within the nation’s own bureaucracy. He didn’t question the need for caution about military secrets in wartime. But Weber noted that for every legitimate invocation of secrecy concerns for military purposes, there were a dozen illegitimate claims designed to cover up matters which were politically embarrassing, or actually even corrupt and criminal.

In the age of Bush, America had an opportunity to learn for itself the truth of Weber’s theory. A good example comes in the operations of the intelligence community. Under a pervasive cloak of state secrecy, politically wired senior figures were able to develop a flourishing corrupt relationship with contractors. More details emerged today from sentencing memoranda filed in the case of former CIA No. 3 Dusty Foggo (whose case has been discussed at length by my colleague Ken Silverstein):

The documents provide an unusually detailed account of his misdeeds within the top ranks of the nation’s clandestine service. They recount how Foggo’s colleagues repeatedly accused him of improper liaisons with foreign nationals, how he allegedly assaulted a foreigner who bumped his car, and how — from his perch at CIA headquarters as executive director — he bullied the agency’s office of general counsel into hiring his subperforming longtime mistress and then transferred the woman’s complaining supervisor. For nearly three years, Foggo concealed that his childhood friend Brent Wilkes was the principal figure behind a company for which he had arranged lucrative CIA contracts for supplies and aviation services. The improper deals were exposed in part because Wilkes was separately bribing a congressman. The FBI raided Wilkes’s offices in 2005 in that probe, eventually laying bare his extensive and secret ties to Foggo and the CIA, according to the government’s account.

Foggo’s deceits wasted more than $1 million in public money, according to a long and angry memo filed by three prosecutors with the acting U.S. attorney in San Diego, who oversaw the probe and wants U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris to impose a stiff sentence. But the account also raises new questions about how a field officer who repeatedly set off ethical alarms was able to ascend in 2004 to a position where for nearly two years he oversaw the CIA’s day-to-day worldwide intelligence-gathering operations.

But is the investigation and prosecution of Dusty Foggo evidence that the system can contain the problem, notwithstanding secrecy? Hardly. Among other things, the U.S. Attorney who pressed the matter and brought Foggo to justice, Carol Lam, was dismissed, and the Justice Department’s own internal probe points to substantial evidence that the dismissal was for improper, politically-motivated reasons. Her inquiries were apparently bringing her close to information that powerful figures in the Bush White House wanted to keep secret.

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