- - Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Murder will out, as the Bard reminded us (and Chaucer before him), and a lot of other uncomfortable truths will out, too. That’s what the NSA revelations are all about, and the IRS abuse, the spying on journalists, and the betrayal and cover-up at Benghazi. The government is populated by human people, and human people can’t keep secrets.

The spying scandal just grows, as people keep talking and secrets keep popping out of the woodwork. Secrets have a particularly difficult time surviving the new technology. Now we learn that federal and state drug agents conspired with AT&T years ago to snoop through the telecommunications giant’s vast trove of private telephone calls dating from 1987. The scale and longevity of the data storage appears to be unmatched by other government programs, The New York Times reports, “including the gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act.” The druggie trove includes phone numbers, time and duration of nearly all calls placed in the United States. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men (and women, too)?

The drug agencies, co-operating in a corporate conspiracy called the Hemisphere Project, got access to the records of every call placed through the vast AT&T switching network, and not just AT&T calls, but calls through other companies using the AT&T switching network, going back 26 years. The New York Times reports that Hemisphere’s training slides bear the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. No deniability there.

Nobody likes drug dealers, not even other drug dealers, any more than they like Islamist beheading squads, but neither do a lot of Americans like the way the government plays games with the secrets it collects, sometimes legally and sometimes not. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the criminals and the patriots.

Sometimes the government keeps secrets long past their sell-by date, long after they’re no longer secret and when everybody knows the secrecy has long since dissolved. For decades everyone in Nevada has known about Area 51, feeding speculation about what the government has been doing there. When a weather balloon — the government’s story — crashed at Roswell, N.M., in 1947, an Air Force officer first said it was a flying saucer and that the saucer debris and the body of an alien was recovered. This was front-page news in several newspapers, including the Roswell Daily Record (“RAAF Captures Flying Saucer/On Ranch in Roswell Region”). Whatever the investigators from Roswell Army Air Force Base picked up at the scene was eventually taken, so the story goes, to a laboratory at Area 51. Since Area 51 didn’t exist, the government figured that it didn’t have to answer further questions.

But the questions about what was actually going on at a place that didn’t exist only multiplied. Murder, if only murder of the facts, was struggling to will out. Some of the tales were fanciful indeed, proving that imagination, like bad girls, had gone wild. There were tales that engineers at Area 51 had used the results of reverse engineering of the crashed spacecraft at Roswell to build aircraft with alien technology, and it was wondrous stuff indeed. There were tales that the government had worked with newly arrived extraterrestrials to develop exotic energy weapons, of travel to a previous time, teleportation, weather control and exotic means of propulsion. There was even the tale that the government had built a coast-to-coast railroad underground. (This would have been bad news for Amtrak, if true.)

Some of the mystery about what was going on in the place that didn’t exist evaporated last month when the CIA released a classified document about the development of the U-2 spy plane, which definitely does exist, and admitted that it was developed at Area 51. Overnight mystery vanished, and suddenly the tourist industry in Rachel, Nev., population 57 or so, 175 miles north of Las Vegas in a wide expanse of Mojave Desert, collapsed. The Rachel tourist industry, truth to tell, was mostly at the Little A’Le’ Inn (say it fast), which is a cool, dark and inviting bar with an adjoining gift shop, where travelers up Nevada Highway 375, locally known as the Extraterrestrial Highway, can buy alien T-shirts, pencils, caps and stuff and inspect life-size aliens cast in plastic that look a lot like ET. Now with the mystery gone, the aliens are, too, and with them the tourist trade. The government continues to blight everything it touches, even its secrets.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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