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Cherry Picking

Now that the Google interregnum is over:

Adam Pagnucco is responding to an argument I never made. He cherry picks my post completely mischaracterizing what I argued. (I expect a 10% bump in MPW traffic from the link).

I used the AFSC’s shady history as one example as to WHY the MSP initiated the investigation. My exact words were that the AFSC’s past “could well have been a factor in MSP’s decision to initiate an investigation.”

This is, of course, is NOT “justifying” the operation.

I talked about the historical context to all of this here. Intelligence agencies have long memories and stubborn institutional cultures that inform their operational decisions. In that history, here in Maryland, you have the FBI and the Ober Commission’s assault against the CPUSA, which as we now know from Venona and the opening of Soviet archives, was justified. My argument is that the contemporary groups targeted by MSP are the ideological descendants of the CPUSA, so given that institutional culture and memory I can understand why they were targeted.

Pagnucco also elides a huge distinction in my argument. I wrote, “However, it is pretty clear that the groups and individuals under surveillance were not a threat…In the intelligence field, a lot of decisions come down to judgment calls. In retrospect, the MSP should have ended the surveillance much earlier than it did. Quite clearly, continuing the operation was a bad call.”

Furthermore, I also suggested, “a special legislative oversight committee similar to congressional oversight committees would be good start to ensure that the MSP is following both federal and state guidelines.” Quite clearly, I disagree with Governor Ehrlich on this point.

Perhaps having my views accurately reflected is asking too much.

I’m defending Ehrlich on one point—he did not know about the operation. Pagnucco and Paul Gordon at MPW have not only insinuated that Ehrlich ordered the surveillance but outright claimed that he did, when we know he did not. I will grant that Paul Gordon has at least pulled back on his initially false assertion.

There is a double standard going on here. If Ehrlich is culpable for “spygate” then by that logic so are Governor O’Malley and Jim Smith as the intelligence agencies of their police departments knew about the MSP operation, and in the case of Baltimore City’s intelligence unit, actively assisted in the operation. Apparently, Governor O’Malley has not read the documents.

As far as Pagnucco’s charge of abandoning principles goes, it shows he has a shallow grasp of conservatism. Pagnucco’s charge on the count of “personal responsibility” is fairly weak, when you consider the facts. Ehrlich has indeed said he bears a portion of responsibility because this happened during his administration. However, as Pagnucco has trouble comprehending, Ehrlich did not know about it. That is huge honking caveat. Still, the question still remains as to why the assistant attorney general assigned to the state police allowed the operation to continue. Its hard to take this charge seriously coming from the guy who accused Ehrlich of ordering the operation.

On the issues of “government accountability” and “individual freedom from government control,” Pagnucco misses the point that real conservatives believe that when it comes to balancing the tensions between liberty and security there is no perfect solution, there are only tradeoffs.

The so called “slippery slope” rhetorical construct—employed by too many people, both left and right—is really a pendulum. By the logic of the slippery slope, Japanese-Americans would never have been released from the internment camps after World War II.

This pendulum, depending on the context of the time, has swung back and forth between liberty and security throughout our history. Our forebears constantly made tradeoffs between liberty and security, some good and some bad. The point here is that with these tradeoffs you are always going to sacrifice some liberties in favor of more security, and less security in favor for more liberty. You simply cannot escape that.

If Pagnucco wants to have a conversation about where that pendulum should now sit, about policy and procedures for intelligence agencies, and who should have oversight, then I welcome that conversation. However, it appears he is more interested in igniting straw men than making an argument.

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