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In his unceasing quest to keep this country great by returning himself to office in November, Gerald Ford has been making some very troubling noises about national security lately. Initially, many of us were willing to regard speeches of this sort as little more than political necessity; a Republican candidate paying homage to the more rigid, “spare the rod, spoil the Dow Jones” spirits in the conservative camp. After all, in an election year the very nature of politics and popular elections, an amusing term to describe the process by which we choose any one of many psychic twin-brothers for public office, makes it necessary to view a politician’s every act as the quintessence of individual survival. Which is to say, the hustlings of our governmental grandfathers must never be graced with motives any higher than the results of the polling box in the most stagnant, backwater enclave.
Considered in this frame of mind, “national security” becomes as good a vapid generality as any other. When stumping for the votes of the Grand Old Party originality must be more apparent than real if the candidate hopes to hold the attention of the party faithful. Preferably, every issue should imply our imminent destruction at the hands of communists or hordes of welfare cheats to be really effective. Viewed in this light national security becomes a very good issue when one realizes that it is nothing more than a grander version of that ever-popular Republican wheeze, Law an’ Order.
Now for the uninitiated, Law an’ Order is essentially a continuing Republican commitment to the maintenance of the status quo. Championed by the same sorts who brought us Vietnam, wars on crime have always been a pleasant conservative diversion due to the war-maker’s ability to differentiate between criminals and free-enterprisers on the basis of the color of shirt collars. Unfortunately, as with “vietnamization,” wars on crime have produced gratifying body counts (over nine million citizens arrested in 1974 alone), but no light at the end of the tunnel.
In short, crime statistics continue to soar and Gerry is well aware that few of us have forgotten that his political benefactor’s administration directly contributed to that rise. “War on Crime” has become synonymous with the “Four More Years” Richard Nixon was facing before he received his pardon and campaign applause-o-meters have recorded a certain audience reluctance to leave their wallets unprotected long enough to applaud. At the same time, a good issue is hard to find and recognizing how much Americans love to be saved from boogeymen he has decided to manufacture one he can handle. Surely, the reasoning goes, by making the file cabinets in Washington safe, the streets of America will follow.
This would undoubtably make for good theater if not for the fact that President Ford, probably due to his lack of experience in national elections, has started taking himself seriously. Breaking with tradition he has decided to actually keep a campaign promise and, in my mind, when he picked up the banner of the CIA his entertainment value plummeted to zero.
Basically, his announced plans to revamp the intelligence organizations center about a blanket pardon for past crimes and a new charter permitting future ones. Still smarting from the beating his popularity suffered following his pardon of RMN, Gerry knows better than to announce these intentions openly. In an election year it would hardly do for him to destroy his carefully cultivated image of an affable and fairly harmless boob by favoring the same secret police operations that have brought us domestic spying, mail tampering, bribery, wiretaps, tax-return intrusions and the manipulation of the internal affairs of sovereign nations through assassination, revolution, election buying and weapons donations.
Still, in order to exercise what he considers his inherent “constitutional responsibilities to manage . . . foreign policy,” and that one should have our Founding Fathers crying in their beirs, he can hardly punish the individuals responsible. Sending CIA staffers to jail might affect the morale of the whole organization and make the stalwarts left behind less anxious to harass, bribe or murder the next time the Red Menace raises its shaggy head. So, in order to keep these tools of democracy sharply honed AND get himself re-elected, he has come up with a masterful plan that probably had comrade Nixon banging his head against the Great Wall of China when he read of it. Quite simply, he has decided to make it all legal.
He plans to accomplish this Constitutional sleight-of-hand through the expedient of a curious proclamation called an Executive Order. Executive Orders have a number of attractive qualities, not the least of which for an organization with the CIA’s history of felonies is the knowledge that there are no criminal penalties for breaking them. An order may be changed or eliminated at any point, in secret if the president so desires, or amended with a verbal command.
Under the 1947 charter establishing the CIA, domestic police and internal security functions were specifically banned so it is interesting that Mr. Ford, catapulted from regional to national mediocrity because the American people refused to accept executive felonies no matter what title they were given, has announced his intention to allow the CIA to continue spying on citizens who are “reasonably believed to be acting on behalf of a foreign power . . .” Furthermore, and with our federal government no excess is ever quite enough, domestic spying will be permitted on “present and former employees, present and former contractors and their employees and persons in contact with the foregoing . . .” If Vietnam taught us the sagacity of destroying a village in order to save it, the CIA, with Gerald Ford’s approval, may permanently retire that philosophy with its domestic crusade to protect our freedom.
Of course, under the terms of the 1947 charter, all this activity will remain illegal. Under our system of government presidential decree does not supersede written law, despite the imperious attitudes our most recent chief executives have assumed. Cloaking break-ins under the guise of national security does not make them any more legal than using them for the openly crass purpose of re-election. Richard Nixon discovered that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you and his experience has shown that the American people will put up with only a certain amount of outrage before their mood turns ugly. Gerry, of course, knows this, and therefore, just on the chance that his stupid uncle image won’t save him from possible wrath, he has decided to make it impossible for us to find out.
Being a Law an’ Order man at heart he realizes that he has to have a provision that sends someone to jail or risk the alienation of the party faithful. Keeping in mind that the current debate over governmental morality would never have come about had not middle-level government employees exposed them, he has ordered criminal legislation, aptly titled if it is passed, that will send to jail anyone who has the audacity to inform the American people of CIA felonies. Thus, in the future it will not be against the law to commit certain crimes unless you turn yourself in, in which case you will be prosecuted not for the unlawful act, but for admitting it.
The effect of this second portion of the Executive Order is to remove from the system of justice the 15,000 executive employees empowered to classify information as Congress will be breaking the law if any member receives information that has not been formally requested by a sitting committee. The President, of course, retains the power of veto over all such requests. This should cause no alarm as we are continually reminded that we are dealing with reasonable people. Unfortunately, I am unable to forget that these are the same reasonable people who seriously plotted to make Fidel Castro’s beard fall out.
Well, at any rate, national security and the integrity of the nation may sound pretty impressive when mouthed by a right honorable wrapped in the red, white and blue, but where is the self-serving angle that motivates our world leaders? Of course the whole matter centers around Gerald Ford’s desire to be returned to the Oval Office and in his efforts to show conservative powers his ability to function effectively against the liberal democratic majority, the issue of national security, which so miserably failed his predecessor, should be the savior of this frankly common man. Having no discernible sense of shame, he probably does not find it ironic that he has chosen our bicentennial year of independence to fundamentally cripple our system of checks and balances. Yet, once his Executive Order is in effect, it will drop a curtain of absolute silence around even the most monstrous contradictions of a free society and the next time you hear of the CIA it may well be in the form of a knock on your door.