Playing the “what if” speculation game makes for great sport when applied to the machinations of politics. Unfortunately, when carried too far it can sometimes draw one down the rabbit hole of rambling conspiracy theories where ostensibly innocuous statements become secret magical code words and neighborhood organizations become evil clandestine societies. Before you know it, you are mumbling to yourself and scribbling disjointed notes on dirty scraps of paper about how Freemasons are in league with aliens planting inter-galactic super viruses in puppies in order to infect our children.
It this point, the principle of Occam’s Razor becomes a useful tool. Succinctly stated, this principle (generally attributed to 14th century logician, William of Ockham), states that other things being equal, it is usually best to stick to explanations of phenomena or events that are simple and avoid postulating unnecessary entities or actors. Perhaps it is the late Medieval equivalent of the modern adage, KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid).
One weakness of Occam’s Razor, however, is sometimes it is difficult, especially when dealing with the convoluted twists of political intrigue, to decide exactly what is the simplest explanation?
With this in mind, I returned to a topic I recently discussed in Forgery, Fakery, and Fatigue (Scandal, that is) relating to Ron Suskand’s assertion that top White House officials directed the C.I.A. in December 2003 to concoct a forged letter to create a “link” between Saddam and the September 11th attacks. If Suskind is correct, the White House quite possibly violated a federal statute, 50 U.S.C. § 413b(f) which reads, “No covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media.”
My first thought was, assuming that Ron Suskind’s reporting is accurate, that the White House, with its disdain for pesky little concepts like Separation of Powers and Congressional Oversight, simply ignored the statute entirely and went directly with their hare-brained scam to the C.I.A.
This explanation raises a second issue relating to federal law. Title 50 U.S.C. § 413(b), subsections b and c provide:
(b) Reports to congressional intelligence committees; production of information
To the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters, the Director of National Intelligence and the heads of all departments, agencies, and entities of the United States Government involved in a covert action—
(1) shall keep the congressional intelligence committees fully and currently informed of all covert actions which are the responsibility of, are engaged in by, or are carried out for or on behalf of, any department, agency, or entity of the United States Government, including significant failures; and
(2) shall furnish to the congressional intelligence committees any information or material concerning covert actions which is in the possession, custody, or control of any department, agency, or entity of the United States Government and which is requested by either of the congressional intelligence committees in order to carry out its authorized responsibilities.
(1) The President shall ensure that any finding approved pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall be reported to the congressional intelligence committees as soon as possible after such approval and before the initiation of the covert action authorized by the finding, except as otherwise provided in paragraph (2) and paragraph (3).
(2) If the President determines that it is essential to limit access to the finding to meet extraordinary circumstances affecting vital interests of the United States, the finding may be reported to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the congressional intelligence committees, the Speaker and minority leader of the House of Representatives, the majority and minority leaders of the Senate, and such other member or members of the congressional leadership as may be included by the President.
(3) Whenever a finding is not reported pursuant to paragraph (1) or (2) of this section, the President shall fully inform the congressional intelligence committees in a timely fashion and shall provide a statement of the reasons for not giving prior notice.
(4) In a case under paragraph (1), (2), or (3), a copy of the finding, signed by the President, shall be provided to the chairman of each congressional intelligence committee. When access to a finding is limited to the Members of Congress specified in paragraph (2), a statement of the reasons for limiting such access shall also be provided.
This statute explicitly requires that the President submit information regarding covert intelligence activities to Congress for oversight and review. If the President did an “end run” around Congress, then he violated those provisions of the statute, not only subsection “f” relating to covert actions intended to influence the U.S. media or public opinion.
If the basic story went down as Suskind details, I suspect many people assumed automatically as I did, that the President choose to totally ignore the statute. But what if…what if the President did follow the guidelines of the statute and consulted with Congress as required, and Congress did nothing?
Hence my opening discussion of Occam’s Razor. This, as they say, could explain some things. The standard account is that while Congress was quietly complicit in the Administration’s fabrications and propaganda regarding the invasion and destruction of Iraq, it did not “actively” participate in it (think about the dubious excuses of many congressional leaders, especially Democrats, cycling out the line that they were “deceived” by the White House – while no serious thinking person buys that rubbish, it has been a standard).
But what hypothesis more clearly and simply explains the intractable unwillingness of Congress to pursue the band of criminals currently occupying the White House and take them to task for their multitude of clear and well-documented legal transgressions? Election year political expediency? The excuse, “Investigations and hearings will only distract from what we want to accomplish”?
Or just perhaps, the cleanest, simplest hypothesis is this: pure, straight forward knowledge and complicity. In terms of Occam’s Razor this theory arguably explains more with less. No contorted intellectual gymnastics. Keep it Simple Stupid.
In the meantime, I’m not putting away my tinfoil hat just yet…
David W. Remington, J.D., a former law professor, works as legal counsel in private industry in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. He can be reached at: email@example.com