The Bush administration’s hypocritical crackdown on intelligence leaks, if applied in the alternative reality of TV’s thriller show, 24, could prevent courageous Counter-Terrorism Unit agent Jack Bauer from getting the truth out about the president’s central role in a conspiracy. At first we all thought the president was just a bumbler, but it turns out he’s actually a mastermind in an evil plot to drum up the fear of terrorism as a way to promote an overseas invasion aimed at seizing oil fields. Fortunately, that plot-line is so far-fetched it could never, ever happen in the real world, such as in the run-up to the Iraq war.
If Jack Bauer leaked the truth about the conspiracy orchestrated by the President, however, he’d probably be swift-boated by the likes of Anne Coulter and William Bennett.
On the TV show, Bauer obtains through various nerve-wracking feats of derring-do a tape recording of President Charles Logan talking with an aide about how he delivered nerve gas to terrorists and allowed the former president, David Palmer, to be assassinated. During a recent episode, Bauer seeks help from Defense Secretary Heller in making the tape public:
Jack takes [colleague and former girl-friend] Audrey Raines and [Defense Secretary James] Heller inside an empty hangar and plays them the tape recording. Logan gave the terrorists the Sentox gas, but planned to deploy the gas before it reached Moscow. This would provide him with an excuse to exercise the military terms of his arms treaty with [Russian Premier ] Suvarov. Jack thinks it was a play to control the oil supply in central Asia and that [ former president] David Palmer found out about it. Heller is not surprised at Logan’s actions. Jack asks Audrey to accompany her father to present this evidence to the Attorney General.
But in subsequent weeks, Bauer had turn over the tape to one of the bad guys, renegade CTU agent Christopher Henderson, to keep his love interest, Audrey, alive and then commandeer a jet with a Henderson accomplice at the helm to regain the tape. All the good guys are now working to obtain and use the the tape to expose the President’s plot and his treasonous link to terrorists.
In last night’s episode, an evil snitch in CTU, Miles, ingratiates himself himself with the President after Bauer returns to CTU with the tape in hand by seeking to destroy the digital recording with a high-tech device. Tune in next week to find out what happens to the recording. But, through all this maneuvering, why didn’t Jack Bauer just arrange to play or upload the recording to tech wizard Chloe O’Brian so she could copy it – and then leak the recording to Sy Hersh, Lisa Meyers or other investigative reporters? If he could do so, he could expose the plot. We can image the possible conversation:
“Damn it, Chloe, patch me through to Seymour Hersh at the New Yorker!”
“Mr. Hersh, this is CTU agent Jack Bauer and I’ve got taped evidence that President Logan conspired with terrorists to release nerve gas and helped arrange for the murder of former President Palmer. The President has ordered his personal security forces to find me and kill me.”
“I’d love to meet with you as soon as I can, but I have to confirm what you say with my other sources,” Hersh says. “Also, we’ve got a long lead time before we’re in print, but I can put it online as soon as possible. I’ll fly out there right away.”
“I’m running out of time, Mr. Hersh,” Bauer says. Ultimately, the minutes tick away as he asks Chloe to track down Lisa Meyers at NBC. Since it’s sweeps week, the producers at the Nightly News with Brian Williams allow her to rush it on-air without extensive additional reporting, using the copied audio tape and Bauer, with his voice disguised, as her primary source. Logan’s perfidy is exposed and the nation is saved.
Unfortunately, under the policies of the Bush (and Logan, for that matter) administration, no matter how illegal or immoral activity the intelligence services sources want to expose – such as CIA rendition to overseas torture prisons or NSA spying – Bush and his defenders decry it as a threat to national security. With firings and criminal investigations aimed at leakers and reporters, the Bush Administration is sending a clear message that any leaks that expose wrong-doing or challenge administration lies will be punished. But those leaks that promote administration positions will be either be done by — or approved by — Leaker-in_Chief. To line officers such as Jack Bauer (and his real-world counterparts) that sends a strong signal not to blow the whistle or serve the public good when superiors are violating laws, ethical standards and the Constitution.
Now the right-wingers are piling on fired CIA agent Mary McCarthy (while some right-wing bloggers are even claiming the secret overseas prisons are a fabrication designed to entrap her). Similarly, gambling addict/moralizer William Bennett has said the winners of the Pulitzer Prize should be jailed for their reporting, not honored. As he notoriously said last week of the reporters, they “took classified information, secret information, published it in their newspapers, against the wishes of the president, against the request of the president and others, that they not release it – they not only released it, they publicized it — they put it on the front page, and it damaged us, it hurt us.” We can imagine his reaction to an investigative report of President Logan’s plot:
“Against the wishes of the President, reporters ran with an irresponsible story blaming the President for conspiring with terrorists and plotting to kill David Palmer. President Logan took the actions he needed to take to protect us from further terrorist attacks, defend our country and obtain the resources we need to survive as a democracy. Instead, these reporters and their sources are the ones being hailed as heroes, when they should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for betraying classified information. Instead, the president is being smeared.”
He concludes, “I don’t think what they did was worthy of an award – I think what they did was worthy of jail, and I think this investigation needs to go forward. . .” (Actually, that last quote isn’t a made-up one, but what Bennett actually said about the prize-winners at the New York Times and Washington Post who reported administration security abuses.)
Anne Coulter and the right-wing Kool-Aid drinkers in the blogosphere, though, surely would echo support for the Logan Administration and smear its critics. Even his reputation as a tough guy willing to use torture wouldn’t protect him if he crossed the administration and its acolytes. Coulter, recycling her columns on Ambassador Joseph Wilson and the Niger uranium forgery, would no doubt write, “While turncoat Jack Bauer has become the plaything-de-jour of the liberal media elite, what do we really know about this traitor who criticized our President? My sources tell me that Bubblehead Bauer, as I call him, fabricated the taped voice of the president and has a history of lawbreaking, murder and theft while working at CTU. He’s even an ex-heroin addict who also killed a supervisor just to make a deal with terrorists. Jack Bauer has lied and cheated to get his way before, so why should we take his charges against our President any more seriously?
“It’s no surprise that the editorial-writing girlie-men at the New York Times have swooned over Jack Bauer because he serves their anti-American, anti-Logan agenda. But the rest of us shouldn’t be dumb enough to buy his fabrications. He doesn’t just need to be arrested, tried and executed for treason. Someone needs to drive a stake through his heart after he’s been killed — I’ll do it myself if no one else has the nerve – to make sure that Bauer, and the loopy “ideals” he represents, doesn’t rise from the dead.”
Meanwhile, back in the real world of the Bush administration and its allies, the public burning of alleged CIA leaker Mary McCarthy is gathering force, even though she denies that she was the source for the Washington Post’s stories about the overseas rendition of prisoners. Even the canny Jack Bauer couldn’t maneuver his way through the minefield of a right-wing smear campaign.