The New England Patriot Act
In 1929, then Secretary of State, Henry Stimson, shut down MI-8, our State Department’s crypto-analytic office, famously decreeing, "Gentlemen dont read each others mail." In 2007, the National Football League (NFL) just enforced a rule that would have pleased Secretary Stimson.
Our love for playing by the rules harks back to our Founding Fathers who felt King George III had one set of rules for his subjects in England and another set of rules for the American colonists. Our Founding Fathers admired the English set of rules so much that they were willing to fight for them, and win.
Some believe, “All’s fair in love and war.” Indeed, football and warfare are often thought of as analogous. Both activities are replete with commonly shared terminology: offence, defense, strategy, tactics, and, to the point of this column, intelligence gathering.
The video taping by the New England Patriots of the New York Jets’ defensive signals was to gather intelligence about the defensive intentions of the Jets. A quarterback who knows, in advance, if he is facing a Blitz or a Prevent or a Nickel or a Dime or a Cover One or a Cover Two or an Eight-in-the Box Defense enjoys an enormous tactical advantage.
Ultimately, that particular “Patriot Act” resulted in a fine of $500,000 levied against Patriot’s Coach Belichick, a fine of $250,000 against the team and the loss of some first-round draft picks. Apparently, while all might be fair in war, such is not the case within the NFL. Yet, within major league baseball, trying to steal signals from catcher to pitcher or signals from managers and base coaches to base runners is a time-honored tradition being practiced to this day.
On the world stage, intelligence gathering is seen as essential to successful warfare and has been conducted from the time of Sun Tzu and Genghis Khan and right on down to modern-day British MI-5 and MI-6, the Soviet KGB (now FSB) and the American CIA.
Even so, the political decision to go to war is supposed to rest on the Doctrine of the Just War, as laid down by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Basically, a “just cause” is required, such as self-defense, defense of others, recovery of something unjustly taken, or redress of serious injury. Moreover, every effort must be made to avoid harm to innocent civilians. Unfortunately, the radical Islamists are not influenced by either Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Saint Augustine even placed some limits on the Just War, “As for acts which are themselves sins, like theft, fornication, and blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives, they would no longer be sins, or what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?”
Darn. Without fornication and theft, who would read Ian Fleming’s novels or watch the James Bond films? In his defense, Commander Bond is not given to blasphemy. But Bond obviously pays more attention to Machiavelli than Saint Augustine. Machiavelli wrote, “No good man will ever reproach another who endeavors to defend his country, whatever be his mode of doing so.”
Many Americans, who grew up during the Cold War, readily accept the need for our intelligence officers to induce the spies they recruit to break the laws of their home countries. We only draw the line at having our intelligence officers break our laws. (For a full treatment of this subject, see: Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying, by former chief of CIA counterintelligence, James M. Olson.)
When it comes to football, which is not related to our national security (although Denver Bronco fan, Wonder Wife, will differ), we expect and demand the strictest adherence to what we think of as fair play. But, when it comes to national security, we are forced by that practical necessity (known as survival) to let our intelligence officers be less than fair as they gather the intelligence we need to make informed decisions about the brutal people who want us dead.
Syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former research fellow at the U.S. Military History Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. Writing as William Penn, he and his wife are the co-authors of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2007. William Hamilton.