Commentary Magazine


Passive Opaqueness

The president went to Langely for some damage repair today, telling the CIA employees he knows “the last few days have been difficult.” Here is a tip: when a speaker uses the passive voice he is hiding something.

If the president had been more candid, he would have said “I made your jobs more difficult in the last few days.” After all, it is not the discontinuation of the enhanced interrogation techniques that provoked the visit; that was done weeks ago. It was the president’s decision to disclose the particulars of those techniques and the threat of future litigation now hanging over Langely that required the visit. It is the disclosure to our enemies of the precise contours of our interrogation techniques that sent the president scurrying to Langely.

And most of all, what those who work in Langely are now coming to terms with is the realization that this administration has reneged on the heretofore unbroken promise kept by every administration since CIA’s inception — that one administration would not, for political expediency, reveal the national security secrets of its predecessor or reveal operational details of our agents’ work. For every employee in that building and everyone who will work there in the future this is the new reality. Their government’s ironclad promises of secrecy and support are not so ironclad.

The president chose the passive voice for a reason. Someone may want to know what he thought he was accomplishing by this.

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