Espionage and the rule of law
A group of Russians working for a Russian company were charged recently with corporate espionage after they were found hacking into the databases of American companies in New York and Washington, D.C. A few years back a group of Russians working for an American company committed the same crime against Russian businesses in Moscow and St. Petersburg; they were convicted and sent to jail.
Just as preparations for a trial began, the U.S. and Russian governments arranged a deal whereby the group in American would be sent to Russia, and vice versa, and everyone would live freely, away from jail or further prosecution. Sounds fishy, right?
While this scenario never happened, something very close to it did if we take the “corporate” out of “corporate espionage,” replace “hacking” with “going to parties,” and look at the spy swap that occurred after charges were brought against the group of Russia spies.
What are we to make of the fact that regular, official espionage (as opposed to the corporate kind) exists almost entirely apart from domestic and international law? Why is this the case?
How does cost affect where we should house suspected terrorists?
The Washington Post ran a detailed article today on the $500 million that has been invested in renovations at the Guantanamo Bay base that has housed many of the enemy combatants we’ve captured since the 9/11 attacks.
Among the more amusing expenditures:
The cost of the marquee, along with a smaller sign positioned near the airfield: $188,000. Among other odd legacies from war-on-terror spending since 2001 for the troops at Guantanamo Bay: an abandoned volleyball court for $249,000, an unused go-kart track for $296,000 and $3.5 million for 27 playgrounds that are often vacant.
It’s always easy to cherrypick seemingly useless expenses to show waste, although an abandoned go-kart track really does feel egregious. Also, I’m not sure playgrounds are as fun when you are cuffed and hooded. Or maybe slides and tunnels are a new “enhanced interrogation” technique. Ok, ok, enough bad one-liners.
The real concern is the disparity between Guantanamo’s $150 million annual operating cost and what it would likely cost to house these prisoners on U.S. soil. The Post cites a White House estimate that Guantanamo costs “double the amount for a comparable U.S. prison.”
There have been some interesting arguments about whether it would be appropriate to move suspected terrorists to a U.S.-based maximum-security prisons. The main debate was whether such a move would put American lives in danger.
But the spending issue adds a new and important perspective. There’s little question that safety arguments tend generally to trump waste arguments. If moving these prisoners to the continental U.S. really would significantly risk American lives, the best argument would be to show that keeping the prisoners in Guantanamo actually puts more lives at risk (or increased the risk level for the same number of lives).
If the risk is relatively low, the spending level (the Post estimates about $2 billion total) really does trade-off with other morally good things. Today’s Los Angeles Times reported that political pressures heading into the midterm elections have even many Democratic lawmakers leery about education and unemployment expenditures expected to be taken up by Congress.
If I were a father of four, I wouldn’t want Guantanamo-USA near my hometown. But if I’ve been unemployed for a year, I might need my unemployment check.
How should we choose?
Zalmay Khalilzad, currently United States Ambassador to the United Nations, has come under fire for engaging in extensive and “unauthorized” contact with Asif Ali Zardari, widower to Benazir Bhutto and Pakistani presidential hopeful. Anonymous officials have told the press that Khalilzad has been making several phone calls a week to Zardari and planned an upcoming meeting between the two. Zardari himself apparently informed other State Department officials that he was receiving “advice and help” from Khalilzad.
The rub is that the United States has adopted an official stance of neutrality in the succession scrum that has taken hold in Pakistan in the wake of Pervez Musharraf’s resignation from Pakistan’s executive office last month. In an e-mail message to Khalilzad (and subsequently leaked to the media), an apparently exasperated Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard A. Boucher complained, “We have maintained a public line that we are not involved in the politics or the details. We are merely keeping in touch with the parties. Can I say that honestly if you’re providing ‘advice and help’? Please advise and help me so that I understand what’s going on here.”
Khalilzad entered a plea of friendship to the charges. According to the ambassador’s spokesman, the two “planned to meet socially,” not to guide or prepare Zardari for the impending presidential scrum in Pakistan.
Government officials and citizens who maintain informal relationships with foreigners that threaten to compromise national security or America’s strategic interests tend to run afoul of ethical (and legal) scruples associated with treason. Helping a friend at the cost of one’s nation would seem to violate an ethical commitment stemming from the fundamental obligations we hold as citizens, protected and sheltered by a constitutional order.
Assuming for the moment that Khalilzad’s conduct does not threaten American strategic interests, his friendship with Zardari may still be inappropriate.