Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Corrupted or Co-opted?

Every now and then an elected body such as a city council will award something of value to a rich, influential constituent. The elected body will appear to have negotiated poorly on behalf of the community at large and received little or nothing of value in return. When that happens, murmurs of “Corruption!” are sometimes heard in the community. In the interest of fairness and accuracy, it might help to differentiate between elected officials who have been corrupted and those who have been co-opted.

When we speak accurately of the corruption of public officials, we are usually referring to specific criminal acts such as bribery or accepting a gratuity. These acts have specific elements which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law if the charge is to be sustained.

Under federal law, elements of bribery are:
· The person accepting or offered the bribe is or has been selected to be a public official
· Corruptly (i.e., knows the act to be corrupt and willfully engages in it)
· Directly or indirectly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept
· Anything of value
· Personally or for any other person or entity
· In return for being influenced in the performance of any official act; or being influenced to commit or aid in committing any fraud on the U.S.; or being induced to do or omit to do any act in violation of his or her official duties.

Under federal law, elements of accepting a gratuity are:
· The person accepting the gratuity is a public official, a former public official, or person selected to be a public official
· Otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty, directly or indirectly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept
· Anything of value
· Personally
· For or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such official or person.

Proving these elements beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury can be difficult. But before We, the People, start accusing our elected officials of corruption, we need to have accurate and verifiable facts and evidence admissible in a criminal court.

Easier to see and demonstrate is that one or more public officials have been co-opted by someone rich or influential. One definition of co-opt means to assimilate or take over as one’s own. Being co-opted is something most of us can understand because we have experienced it. If we were invited to join a group and have adopted some or all of its precepts as our own, we have been co-opted. The word sounds more evil than it is in most of our lives.

However, co-opting someone can be sinister or dangerous. Charles Manson and Jim Jones co-opted followers, victims themselves really, into their respective cults. Agents committing espionage have been co-opted by their case officers or handlers. In these examples, acts of kindness, benevolence, and personal support by a handler were really intended to secure a deep and personal loyalty from those being co-opted.

A counterintelligence (CI) investigation is a better model than a criminal investigation for understanding how an influential individual can co-opt elected officials. A CI investigation looks at the subtleties in a long-term, developmental relationship between the handler and each elected official rather than focusing on one or two acts of apparent bribery or receiving a gratuity. A CI investigator looks at the details of each official’s personal and business relationships with the handler to determine if he had “groomed” the official for public office. This long-term, developmental relationship strives to create ideological loyalty. Ideological loyalty to the handler is far deeper and more accepted by the official. Coercive loyalty may achieve short-term benefits for the handler, but they require more assertive control over the official.

This is exactly how the world’s intelligence services go about spotting, assessing, recruiting, developing, and controlling human intelligence sources and agents of influence. The process is gradual. Often the ideologically motivated agent truly believes his or her actions on his handler’s behalf are for the greater public good. Even if he doesn’t believe it, he can rationalize what he has come to recognize as manipulated behavior. The handler’s ability to have nearly instant and personal access to an agent in an environment controlled by the handler is a revealing demonstration of the control he exerts over the agent.


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