Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Cold War is over, thank you very much, now go away.

Court case of the day...
WASHINGTON - In a Cold War-era dispute that is worthy of fiction, two former Soviet Bloc defectors are asking the Supreme Court for the right to sue the American government for reneging on a secret spy deal.

The defectors, known only as Mr. and Mrs. Doe, accuse the agency of reneging on what they say was a promise by the Central Intelligence Agency to take care of them for the rest of their lives, in exchange for espionage services decades ago.

In oral arguments today, the agency's lawyers will ask the justices to dismiss the case on the grounds that any litigation would require the government to acknowledge the existence of a secret agreement. It has long been established that the government may deny any relationship if the arrangement is exposed or suspected, government lawyers argue... [NY Press]
Now that's a great term to put in a contract: if I reneg on my end of the deal and you sue me to hold me to it that's a breach of the contract and I'm released from my end of the deal.

Once. That's a great term to put in a contract and use once, because once you use it and word gets around in the newspapers and on the Internet about how that's the way you operate nobody will ever trust you in a deal again. Which, if you are operating a spy agency, one might suspect would be a bad thing.

And the details alleged do not make the CIA sound good: After it "allegedly used intimidation and coercion to convince the Does to remain at their diplomatic posts for a period of time in order to conduct espionage for the United States", it finally brought them here and paid them $27,000 a year until "John" got a job that paid more. When he later lost the job in a corporate merger he found that his CIA-falsified resume kept him from getting another one. So he went back to the CIA for help. It replied: sorry, "budget constraints", we've concluded we paid you enough before, don't call us we'll call you if the cold war breaks out again. Allegedly. [case details]

Which is all very strange. Businesses eat bad deals all the time to preserve their reputation for trustworthiness in future deal making. One would think this would be rather more important to the CIA. Especially in light of current events.

Can the CIA really not afford to pay the inflation-adjusted equivalent of the original $27,000 a year? Couldn't it just hire the guy itself for some busy work job? Is its reputation for trustworthiness among would-be defectors not worth that much? Even if not, it's got to be spending more than that in legal fees just fighting this case, having lost at two judicial levels already.

Government budget lines sometimes interact in strange ways, but this is strange indeed. It's hard to believe that even if the CIA made a very bad deal here -- maybe promising these folks lifetime pensions three weeks before the Berlin Wall came down -- it wouldn't be better off just eating it.

Unless there is something else unstated involved. But if there is, the courts aren't considering it because the CIA isn't stating it.

This will be an interesting case to watch.