Ignatius’ “Grand Bargain”


David Ignatius was last seen arguing that we can’t hold CIA operatives accountable for breaking the law because if we do that might dissuade future lawbreaking. Yesterday, though, he came up with an innovative new idea for a “grand bargain” one of whose terms is that intelligence operatives will agree to follow the law:

Omand argued that the intelligence community must accept a “paradigm shift.” The old “secret state,” in which intelligence agencies could do pretty much as they liked, is gone. In its place is a “protecting state,” in which the public gives the intelligence agencies certain powers needed to keep the country safe. It’s a “citizen-centric approach,” Omand explained, based on the reality of mutual dependence. The spies need information from the community (especially the large Muslim population in Britain), and the public needs protection.

In this new “grand bargain,” Omand stressed, the public must understand that if it decides — for moral and political reasons — to limit certain activities (as in interrogation or surveillance techniques), it also accepts the risk that there will be “normal accidents.”

On one level, who could disagree with this? On another level, how is it that we’re having this conversation? This isn’t East Germany. Of course intelligence services are supposed to be “citizen-centric” rather than have the ability to “do pretty much as they liked.” But what’s the bargain here? My general understanding of the bargain between the law and citizens is that citizens are supposed to follow the law and in exchange they don’t get subjected to criminal penalties. That’s the bargain I have. And people who work at the CIA are also American citizens, right? Subject to the law, right?