Around the County

Everyone spies; nothing wrong there

By Pat Stuart
Posted 7/20/21

Everyone does it. Spying, I mean.

We don’t necessarily call it that, but we do “keep an eye” on the things that matter to us. If others complain, we have a ready answer, like, …

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Around the County

Everyone spies; nothing wrong there

Posted

Everyone does it. Spying, I mean.

We don’t necessarily call it that, but we do “keep an eye” on the things that matter to us. If others complain, we have a ready answer, like, “It’s for their own good.”

Expand that reason/response to international spying and you have the classic recruitment pitch. An approach to a senior official of a foreign power might go like this: “The good of your country is tied to Washington understanding what your leader(s) think in order to make the right policies for your country’s best interests. Wouldn’t you like to help?”

In short, we’ve just asked that official to “keep an eye on”/commit espionage “for his/her country’s own good.”

Political parties, too, are notorious for spying. We’ve seen it over and over. History is replete with scandals and cautionary tales. Think Watergate.

Is spying legal? Obviously, yes and no. It can bring down governments — not to mention lead to an early death via espionage laws.

On a personal level we feel we have a right to our privacy. Enforcing such privacy is another matter.

In between is a great amorphous gray area that assumes definition only when specific laws are broken. 

So, there’s no law against running a school for political spies like the one on the Prince family ranch up in our beautiful Wapiti Valley. There’s no law against a billionaire like Erik Prince (brother to a Trump cabinet official and Blackwater magnate) hiring a former MI-6 officer to train staunch conservative politicos to spy on their more liberal competition.

It does, however, make titillating conversation — and it did. When I first read about the story in The New York Times, I checked with acquaintances who circulate in more exalted local social circles than my own and heard, “Oh, of course. Didn’t you know about that? All very hush, hush, except really the way I heard it ...”

Which came as no surprise — the exposure, I mean. I tried putting something similar in a spy novel. But how to keep it secret, especially on a remote Wyoming ranch? How can you keep anything really secret when you plump it down in a small and close community?

The answer? You can’t. 

Nothing illegal about it, though. Nothing particularly wrong, either. 

And that extends to the people who financed the school and its students. To my mind there’s even something of an elan about being a secret donor to an espionage wing of a political organization — to be funding operatives who were targeting and covertly penetrating and reporting on the activities of a rival political group. You get boasting rights, I mean, once they’ve been exposed, and once you’re not giving away secrets. 

Nothing illegal there.

Unless the Prince ranch curriculum included covert action (breaking and entering, audio ops, etc.). There are laws against engaging in or being a party (accessory) to such activities, which is where Nixon and his cohorts “came a cropper.”

But back to Wyoming. Another factor entered the Prince graduates’ equation, not a matter of morality or the law but of common sense. 

In this case, it was the target chosen for two of the graduates. They were tasked with determining, influencing, and subverting the strategies of the Wyoming Democratic Party. 

The two graduates could proceed with impunity, so long as they weren’t breaking locks on desks or planting listening devices or committing other such illegal acts. 

Proceed, they did. Apparently in the process, they bumbled and fumbled and failed to hide their true sponsorship, political identity and goals. That often happens with newly minted (baby) spies. They were exposed, and that was that. It happens all the time. On the international level it normally ends with the baby spy being declared “persona non grata” and sent home. If you read about it in the press, it’s because there’s also a good story involved.

That’s what happened with our Prince spies. Not the “persona non grata” part but just being “outed.” If it hadn’t been for the target, we probably wouldn’t have heard about it at all. As it is, there was a story ... of the comedic variety. 

Spending time and money, using spies against the Wyoming Democratic Party? What party? The very idea boggled minds and tickled funny bones. Gales of laughter erupted from one end of our Wyoming village’s very long streets to the other.

And that, dear readers, in this reddest of red states, might be the cruelest penalty of all.

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