If you’re looking for a post bashing the NSA, sorry to disappoint. We’re going to talk about a truly menacing problem in this fair city: big mouths.
You can learn a lot about a city from coffee shops. Take the local Starbucks near our law firm’s Washington, DC office. It is right on the corner of 16th & K, just two blocks from the White House. It is a very busy and a well-run operation. In fact, according to the employees it is the highest grossing Starbucks in the District. But it is the people traffic that tells the story. Many stories.
This particular store has a good mix of locals including former Congressmen, a lot of lobbyists, former executive branch political appointees, as well as non-profit folks and many others who make a living in the Nation’s capital city. You would think that these people would be a little more careful what they said in public places. Well, you would be wrong.
Earlier this week, for example, while waiting for a double shot, a couple sitting nearby were having a rather loud conversation about a legislative matter. They were dropping names. A lot of them. These were not political neophytes. I’ve seen one of them at many events in town. The other let slip who they worked for, at least twice. A defense contractor. In less than five minutes I knew the issue that they were lobbying on, their client, as well as a few other gems.
Be careful what you say, you never know who is listening. Our two high-power pals then proceed to talk about specific Members of Congress, by name. Each was trying to out talk the other as to who knew what Member best. Then came the criticism and trash talk. The older of the two boasted how he had to “lie” to this Member because he/she was an “idiot”. If he/she did not come their way on this legislative matter, they’d start to plant stories in the Congressional district to make things hard for them. Classy.
Did I want to jump in and say something to these political rubes? Sure did. But why spoil it for them, they were having such a good time. I’m not planning to reach out to any of the Members of Congress or staff that they were talking about. I could, but I will not. By the way, neither are lawyers. Had they been, the attorney-client privilege would have likely been destroyed long before I was in earshot.
When the Guardian published the Edward Snowden story, I was not surprised. Most people in this area are good people. Solid. Patriotic even. However, there are a large number of rotten apples who can’t seem to keep their mouth shut about certain things such as who they know or what they do.
For example, I was at a birthday party for a good friend a few years ago in Arlington and one of the guests, a young government worker, walks in wearing her CIA name badge strapped to her neck. She was running late because Metro was delayed. I told her she could remove her badge now. She was not amused and left it dangling around her neck the entire evening. By the way, she also talked about her many security clearances.
What ever happened to discretion and common sense?
The Obama team thinks turning our federal government workforce into an army of snoops is the best way to deal with this. Wrong. Expanding a program of dubious success, “See Something, Say Something” to federal workers fuels paranoia, not security. Not much of a morale booster either.
Congress needs to prod a little deeper into this issue of security leaks and contractors. Just go hang out at your local Starbucks. You’ll be surprised what you hear.