Former President Bill Clinton’s 11th-hour carnival of pardons is more to be marveled at than imitated.
Indeed, to govern was to Mr. Clinton little more than to conjugate the verb to scandalize in all its moods and tenses. Choosing which abuse of his pardon power was most execrable is a formidable task, but the pardoning of former Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch for his reckless mishandling of classified information seems to deserve that badge of infamy. But a close second belongs to Mr. Clinton’s forgiveness of fugitive tycoon and political benefactor Marc Rich psychologically and emotionally distraught over the legal bar to transporting his Taj Mahal in Switzerland to flaunt in the United States.
Mr. Deutch’s pardon, unlike Portia’s mercy in “The Merchant of Venice,” was twice cursed. It cursed both the giver and the taker. Mr. Deutch was less than 24 hours away from pleading guilty to a national security crime when Mr. Clinton’s meddling shipwrecked law enforcement. Mr. Deutch’s recidivism aggravated his disturbing offense. As a grandee at the Defense Department, he was guilty of the same disdain for protecting classified information from our nation’s enemies. Moreover, Mr. Deutch was no unschooled sleuth. He had undergone repeated catechisms from national security watchdogs stressing the criticality of keeping national security secret secret. Think of the many CIA agents or informants killed by the Soviet Union because of Aldrich Ames’ betrayals.
Further militating against a Deutch pardon was his own administration of discipline as director. In a statement trumpeted on Sept. 29, 1995, he disciplined a corporal’s guard of agents for reporting and management derelictions concerning operations in Guatemala between 1990 and April 1995 involving the killings of U.S. citizen Michael DeVine and guerrilla leader Efrain Bamaca. The director sermonized: “Since my original testimony in my confirmation hearings, I have stressed I will insist that we at the CIA be held accountable for our actions.”
By accepting Mr. Clinton’s pardon, however, Mr. Deutch escaped the accountability that he himself had touted and applied to subordinates. If Mr. Deutch possessed even a crumb of decency, he would have repudiated the president’s unpardonable whitewashing of his national security crime. No man can be forced to accept presidential clemency. Otherwise, a president could stigmatize obviously innocent detractors or adversaries by gratuitous grants of pardons that insinuate criminal wrongdoing.
But Mr. Deutch clung to his pardon and further demoralized an already dispirited agency vital to the nation’s security shield. The CIA is no Consumer Product Safety Commission within our emporium of agency bureaucracies. Its staple is forestalling aggressive wars, use of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism. Its performance in the long run will determine whether the United States maintains its superpower status and glory or writes a sequel to Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Elan and happy warrior daring are to the CIA what ambrosia and nectar are to the gods. They are what fuel success stories that can never be told and long-term service that prevents the agency employment from plummeting to a stepping stone to lucrative foreign government lobbying. And institutional memory is more urgent at the CIA than elsewhere in gathering human intelligence, analyzing open source information and projecting future events, like nuclear testing in South Asia or warfare against Taiwan initiated by Communist China.
In sum, the need for esprit de corps reaches its summit at the CIA. Mr. Deutch’s acceptance of Mr. Clinton’s pardon selfishly sabotaged this imperative by creating a dual standard of justice indulgence for directors and sternness for agency troopers or first-cousin foot soldiers at weapons laboratories, like Wen Ho Lee. The former director should have known from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” that the best way to occasion bitterness and sullenness in subordinates is to wave a cynical accountability banner reading, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” As Dickens recognized in “Great Expectations,” “There is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice.”
The secrecy which should blanket the CIA, furthermore, will endure only with high public congressional trust in its accountability to law. That confidence was shattered by agency abuses (the agency’s so-called Crown Jewels) revealed in the 1970s by the agency itself, the Rockefeller Commission, and congressional committees headed by Democratic Sens. Frank Church of Idaho and Otis Pike of New York, respectively. The Iran-Contra affair further cast suspicion on the agency’s strict obedience to its charter and statutory mandates. The result was the shackling of its generally freestyle operations with legal fetters but a commensurate loss in efficacy.
Director George Tenet’s laudable effort to restore the agency’s reputation was blunted by the Deutch pardon. How can Congress trust unscrupulous adherence to the law by the agency when a director thumbs his nose at a congressional national security directive with impunity?
What Mr. Clinton did and Mr. Deutch accepted inflicted evils on the CIA that will live long after the pair of miscreants and Marc Rich have faded from the scene.