(JTA) — Molly Ball, writing this week in The Atlantic, describes how congressional staffers are increasingly wary of encounters with foreigners because of the scandals that have besieged the new Trump administration.
Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, quit because he failed to tell the whole truth about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has recused himself from any inquiries into Russian influence because he did the same thing. Additionally, an array of advisers to Trump’s campaign may be under federal scrutiny for contacts with Russia.
According to Ball, congressional and White House staffers worry that an “idle chat” with a diplomat will be seen as a suspicion-arousing “contact.” Or worse, that they are being set up by for a fall. As a result, “You start looking over your shoulder in this town, and before long you’ve gone down the path of the black-helicopter crowd. How deep does it go? What do they have on you?”
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, goes the old saying, but it also means you’re, well, paranoid.
As an example, Ball relates this story, quoting an unnamed former congressional staffer who “recalled repeatedly being asked on dates by an attractive woman from the Israeli embassy who had also been out with many of his friends. When they finally did go out, he couldn’t shake the feeling it might be ‘an old-fashioned honeypot scene,’ he said, and declined her offer to come home with him.”
“Was he being paranoid?” Ball asks, to which I answer: yes!
* Diplomats do gather intelligence – through open sources, including reading newspapers, scanning websites, social media and, yes, through gossip, perhaps even pillow talk.
That said, it would seem to be counterproductive for an Israeli seeking classified info to come across as … an Israeli seeking classified info. Wouldn’t a government employee with secrecy clearance be even less inclined to share information if he knew he was speaking with a foreign official? The honeypots this staffer should have been looking out for are the ones that have no apparent connection to a foreign government.
* Speaking of honeypots: From the setup, it would seem as if the staffer and the Israeli diplomat are both single. In what way could dating her be seen as compromising? Why would he be more prone to give her inside information than he would any other romantic interest? I know folks with security clearances who don’t spill secrets to longtime spouses. Why did this guy think he would blab to someone he barely knows?
* Speaking further of honeypots: There’s a hint of misogyny here. It’s 2017. Women ask men out. Sometimes they want to bed them on the first date. If an “attractive” male diplomat asked out a woman and suggested they take it home after the first date, maybe she’d think he was creepy, maybe she’d think it was appropriate, depending on the circumstance. But would we automatically understand him to be a spy?