The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 17, 2012

'Finders keepers, losers weepers' true of secrets, too

By Nerissa Young
Columnist

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A secret is fun if you’re in on it and not so much when you’re not, as one federal lawmaker learned earlier this week.

It’s ironic and amusing that a woman who perpetrated one of the great secrets on American society feels violated that she wasn’t read in earlier to the Beltway’s latest sex scandal du jour.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has her bustle in a bunch that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, of which she is chairwoman, didn’t get first dibs on the lowdown about lowlife CIA Director David Petraeus’ “All In” effort with biographer Paula Broadwell.

Feinstein laments Petraeus’ pecadillos could have compromised national security and that her committee is in line to be briefed when such potential exists.

Well, ain’t that interesting. Feinstein doesn’t have confidence in the FBI to determine whether a national security risk exists without her say-so, yet she thinks it’s fine and dandy to withhold information that presents risks to public safety.

Feinstein was one of the chief architects of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994, which restricted the public’s access to information about people’s driving records.

It meant journalists no longer had access to information to investigate and report on the records of school bus drivers, airline pilots and others who provide commercial transportation. Reporters could no longer inform the public that a veteran city bus driver had multiple convictions for reckless or substance-impaired driving.

In that carefully worded law, only government agencies could have unfettered access to such records. And private citizens working on behalf of a government agency. Oh yeah, and business people who needed access, which includes insurance companies. And court personnel. In other words, just about anybody other than journalists could troll through such records for their own purposes.

Feinstein got on the bandwagon for the law after an actor was killed when a stalking fan found out her home address through driver’s records, met her in her driveway and killed her.

Feinstein trusted the government to use its discretion in obtaining such personal information. She trusted the law could stop stalking even though it didn’t stop a public utility worker from stalking a friend of mine.

In her world, the government — not the public’s watchdog — better knew how to protect people.

But when the first big old secret comes along that she wants to know first, suddenly the government — nee the FBI — can’t be trusted to use its discretion.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday in a news conference that the FBI’s investigation never suggested national security was at risk. “Had we made the determination that a threat to national security existed, we would of course have made that known to the president and also to the appropriate members on the Hill,” he said as reported in The Washington Post.

There’s a word for Feinstein’s attitude. It’s the stuff people clean out of barn stalls.

But there’s another word, too. It’s hypocrisy.

If you’re going to encourage people to keep secrets from others, get prepared to have a few kept from you.

Just wait for the book, Dianne. No doubt it will be out soon. How else is Broadwell going to feed her children?

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail: ynerissa@frontier.com

© 2012 by Nerissa Young