The Washington Post recently wrote up a piece on the military’s top brass “behaving badly.” While the story itself is important — if the Pentagon’s leaders can’t maintain their military manner, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how the junior ranks will respond — one case in particular caught my eye. Army Brigadier General Martin P. Schweitzer rightly got himself in quite a bit of trouble for writing lewd emails about North Carolina Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers — but when viewed within the context of the recently NSA spying scandals it becomes much more interesting.
The Washington Posted reported on the emails:
“First — she is smoking hot,” Schweitzer wrote [to Brigadier Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair.] “Second — briefing went well … she was engaging … had done her homework. She wants us to know she stands with us and will work/push to get the Fort Bragg family resourced.”
That, and what came next, led prosecutors to turn over the e-mail chain to the Army inspector general for a full investigation.
“He sucks 🙂 still needs to confirm hotness,” Sinclair teased in a reply.
More than an hour later, Schweitzer responded with an apology for the delay, saying he had masturbated “3 times over the past 2 hours” after the meeting with the congresswoman.
Inappropriate. Out of line. Worth more than the “memoranda of concern,” since they would have done far worse to a junior NCO for a similar offense. Regardless, think of these emails within the context of the millions upon millions of communications that are swept up by the NSA on a daily basis. Think of the politicians, judges, law enforcement personnel and business leaders who have their personal emails and text messages on file within NSA databases. How many embarrassing emails does the federal government have on hand to make sure people within positions of power “play ball” on controversial issues?
During the State of the Union the president wanted to talk about raising minimum wage for new federal contractors to $10.10 instead of the legitimate privacy concerns millions of Americans have in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. During the State of the Union the president wanted to crack jokes about “Mad Men” workplace environments for women instead of the millions of women the NSA spies on every day through the collection of “metadata” (i.e., whatever data the government wants at any given time). It’s a shame, because the nation is due for a serious discussion regarding the 4th Amendment.
While you may not make obscene jokes or engage in career-threatening behavior with your friends and coworkers, the likelihood that a policy maker or business leader who affects your life has done so is rather high. (Paging Anthony Weiner. Paging Anthony Weiner. You have a call at the front desk, Mr. Weiner.) It makes no sense to slough off privacy concerns because you consider yourself a model of decency — or because you’re depraved and don’t care because your ambitions start and end with your Xbox.
It’s fun to laugh at the officer for making masturbation jokes with his buddies. It feels good to get on a moral pedestal and shame him for objectifying a woman, but the truth is that everyone has skeletons in their closet. Nobody is perfect, and a federal government that has unmitigated access to our personal correspondences is bone-chillingly frightening. The fact that the president of the United States chose to ignore the issue in favor of applause lines (e.g., “I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds!”) is, at this point, just sad.