Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is This a Claude Rains Moment?

Claude Rains as Captain Renault
I love old movies. Perhaps it’s because I grew up watching them. In those pre-Sesame Street days, after school television was largely a choice between soap operas and the Million Dollar Movie. Independent NY channel 9 (WOR-TV) would run the same movie twice a day for five afternoons. So, I grew up watching old movies from the 30’s and 40’s. Perhaps that would explain my poor social skills.

One of my favorites (and, I am not alone on this) was Casablanca. The romantic WW II classic starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman had a great supporting cast including Claude Rains as a corrupt French policeman.

The ordering by the Nazi’s to find a reason to shut down Rick’s CafĂ© (Bogart’s establishment) elicits the following dialog between Rick and Rain’s Captain Renault

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.

I thought of him this week when the news broke of members of the Secret Service and (gasp!) our very own military were discovered to have engaged the services of prostitutes in Colombia. I am shocked, shocked to find that members of our military and Secret Service engaged the services of prostitutes.

But, this is not a joke. There are a couple of issues here:

Prostitution is legal in Colombia. What's the controversy? Are we to hold these public servants to a standard that is above the law? Who sets the standard? How does a member of the Secret Service know what the standard is?

Well, there is a higher standard. It’s called a security clearance. And, though I seriously doubt that everyone who engages the services of a prostitute has had theirs lifted, in this case, that’s exactly what happened.

But, I wonder. Are activities that are legal some places but not others permissible? Drugs are legal in Switzerland and prostitution is legal in the Netherlands. Should members of the Secret Service be precluded from engaging in legal activities in other countries if they are not legal in the US?

The larger issue, of course, is the potential security risk associated with inviting prostitutes into a hotel room that houses the President's itinerary and other details of his trip to South America. What's to stop a potential terrorist or assassin from paying a prostitute to spirit away some of the confidential documents that contain these details in the middle of the night?

Something nearer to me personally is the scandal that just broke about alleged rapes at West Point and Annapolis and the associated cover-up. Two women – one from each of the Academies – have alleged that they were raped as students (cadets, midshipmen) and that senior officers were unresponsive to their complaints. If true, it is unconscionable. Women were first admitted to the Academies in 1976. By now, their participation in our armed forces and their evaluation on the basis of merit should be a matter of routine.

I am reminded of the Tailhook scandal in 1992. Navy Lt. Paula Coughlin was forced to run a gauntlet of drunken pilots who groped her and tore at her clothes. The annual Tailhook convention was attended by some of the same senior officers who should have been preventing this type of behavior.

When the story broke, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney asked for and received the resignation of the Secretary of the Navy (the Navy’s CEO), Lawrence Garrett III. Several senior officers were relieved of their responsibility and punished for the cover-up. The Navy embarked upon an education program to prevent future occurrences of sexual harassment.

It’s time for a refresher course.

There will always be breaches of acceptable conduct and there will always be cover-ups. The larger question is how will the leadership of these important institutions respond?

The Catholic Church covered up sexual abuse of children for decades, a breach that I still find the most egregious of any in my lifetime. Richard Nixon and his close advisors engaged in a cover-up of the Watergate burglary. The cover-up was worse than the crime.

So, it will be interesting to watch the events of the next few weeks. How will the LEADERS of these important institutions respond as the facts unfold? What will the current Secretaries of the Army and Navy do? How about the head of the Secret Service? How will they respond?

Will they act like true LEADERS? Or, will they act like Claude Rains?



  1. Love it!

    I think the rape issue is bigger than just the academies, look at the stats of assaults among the troops. Army Times recently did a write up on the efforts to stem it.

    Simone Velasquez Hoover
    Operation Homefront - Florida

  2. Harold Bernaert • Maybe the US should grow up and except that mature people have sexual desires.
    Why should SEX ever be considered a SCANDAL?

  3. @Harold. Are you saying that there were no security risks associated with this event? Are you saying that the alleged rapes at the service academies are just the result of "mature people" having "sexual desires".

  4. Harold Bernaert • @John

    1. There is nothing wrong with prostitution. (Grow up)

    2. Your alleged security risks is a bit over rated, and has NOTHING to do with the fact that they had SEX. but only to do with inviting people into an area they should not be!
    (Yes it could be a "Honey trap, But it wasn't, was it?)

    3. Alleged rapes at the service academies has NOTHING to do with the Secret Service.
    ( the secret service is not part of the Navy or the armed forces, it falls under the Homeland security but before that under the United States Department of the Treasury. So taking up the TAILHOOK case is just comparing apples with oranges)

    A member of the secret service having sex with a (HOT) Colombian prostitute IS just the result of "mature people" having "sexual desires".
    Why turn everything into something bigger than it REALLY IS.

  5. @Harold. I apologize if I haven't been clear. I don't think there is anything "wrong" with prostitution. Indeed, my opening monologue about Captain Renault is intended to poke fun at members of government and the press who feign shock.

    The post points out examples of events that have been caught up in extensive media attention and simply suggests that the leaders of the institutions involved can act like Captain Renault and feign shock or they can take action consistent with the facts as best they can determine.

    Personally, I think that the risk of a honey trap is a legitimate consideration when evaluating a subject for a security clearance whether it occurred in this case or not.

    The common bond between these stories is the extensive press coverage and the pressure on the leadership of the various institutions to do something. There is always a conflict between the way in which something should or could be handled and the press/public perception of what should be done. The leadership challenge is to walk that line -- calming the public and, at the same time, not over reacting. In other words, I agree that it should not be turned into something bigger than it really is.

  6. Secret Service personnel using prostitutes, Rape at the Academies, Navy QB resigns after allegedly committing multiple honor violations, more Senior CO's relieved of command every year, where will it all end? I do not condone the Secret Service, Military personnel or for that matter anyone using prostitutes, but that is my personal belief. However that being said, I also believe that there is a continuing breakdown of the "Moral" fiber of the "World." Gone are the unwritten rules of personal conduct, it has become a world dominated by "Me, Myself & I" and I don't see that changing anytime soon. There will be several investigations, the usual suspects will be pillared and driven from the various services and then it will be back to business as usual, unfortunately!

  7. Greetings John

    Another thoughtful Blog, you do have a way with words. Thank you for your continuing to write these, we do appreciate your doing so.

    Mikkel Moller '66