Friday, May 19, 2023
It's Friday, May 19th 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
So They Knew He Was Abusing National Secrets? Revelations About the Airman Who Posted Top Secret Documents Online
Sometimes they're just massive news stories that demand our attention, but as we come to the end of the week, I want us to think about some worldview dimensions of stories that maybe in some cases have been headline news, but aspects deserve a much closer look. And sometimes the major media report this massive headline news story and they then move away, their attention is directed to something else. Meanwhile, new revelations, new developments really do justify, if not demand, a return to the earlier story.
Now, for example, just a few weeks ago, all the media were absolutely ablaze about Airman Jack Teixeira, the 21-year-old, arrested on this massive set of charges related to espionage. The now very well documented charges indicate that this young man, who was a part of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, had taken a vast trove of national security information and just dumped it on the internet. And furthermore, in a way that is simply almost incomprehensible, it is explained that he did this simply because it made him look cool in the eyes of his online buddies. Increasingly, the world is shifting to an online world and evidently online buddies played a big role in this.
This looks at first like an adolescent prank somehow gone badly, horribly wrong, and yet of course we know there are deeper issues at stake. This is not just posting some embarrassing information, this put lives at stake, many lives at stake. It put national security at stake. And furthermore, it was espionage. This was someone using security clearance, given for a limited military purpose, taking vast amounts of highly sensitive national security data and thus putting it on the internet, compromising the national security, not only of the United States, but of Ukraine, European allies and other nations around the world.
This is no small matter and as a matter of fact, it's very hard to exaggerate just how big a matter this is, but that raises some very interesting questions; how could something like this have happened? The major media have largely moved on, but to the credit of the New York Times, it went back to the story yesterday to indicate, as did several others in the media, that there is more to the story, as you might expect, and at least part of the more to the story is the fact that there were officials, supervisory officials, who had bona fide evidence of the fact that this young man was already accessing national security data that was off his limits and furthermore was misusing this data, in some cases, writing down notes and stuffing it in his pockets. And the bottom line issue is that he was already known to be doing this and was already reprimanded, so why wasn't he stopped?
Now, how big a national security gap do we have in this country if the people charged with supervising those who have top secret clearance and yes, this 21-year-old reservist had top secret clearance. What kind of world do we have in which you have 21-year olds with top secret clearance, who are found to be repeatedly abusing that clearance, and yet are allowed to continue? What kind of government is this? Glenn Thrush and Robin Stein reporting for the Times tell us, "On two occasions in September and October 2022."
Hear that again, not 2023, 2022. "Airman Teixeira's superiors in the Massachusetts Air National Guard admonished him after reports that he had taken concerning actions while handling classified information. Those included stuffing a note into his pocket after receiving secret information inside his unit, according to a court filing ahead of a hearing before a federal magistrate judge in Worcester, Massachusetts to determine whether he should be released on bail."
I think it's unlikely he's going to be released on bail, but the bigger issue here has to do with the fact that here is someone, 21-years old, given access rather inexplicably to very sensitive national security data and was caught last year in concerning actions, put that in quotation marks, including stuffing a note into his pocket after receiving secret information. What could go wrong here? You look at this and you imagine if there is the kind of theft on the scale we're looking at here, it would be carried out by someone with like James Bond powers. At least we would like to think this would be some major foreign intelligence operation that somehow put a mole inside the operation in a vast information penetration program that somehow would explain how all this material got on the internet.
But no, the story, even as told by federal prosecutors right now, apparently comes down to a 21-year old who was given top secret clearance, who had already been caught accessing information he shouldn't have been accessing, and let's just state this again, having top secret information, copying it down and stuffing the note in his pocket. And all of that was noted at the time and he was reprimanded for it, and evidently he was then sat right back down in front of the terminal with access to the top secret information.
Now when you ask the question, how could this have happened? Fascinating answers come in response. Number one, some people close to the national security apparatus of the United States say, "Hey, there are simply untold thousands of people who have top secret clearance." Okay, now again, that means that someone gave them that clearance. They didn't go down and buy it at the neighborhood convenience store, at least I think not. The other answer that is quickly given is that top secret is nowhere near top secret. There are other levels of national security access and top secret turns out to be called top secret, but it's actually bottom shelf in terms of the intelligence operation.
Now again, oddly enough, we're used to the government calling things that are rather the opposite of what they are, but you are dealing here with the fact that international governments have cried out this is top secret information and the release of this information is compromised our national security and theirs. In one of the oddest twists in all of this, and this is ironic and worth noting as well, it turns out that the posting of this information on the internet, which was detected by the Russians, actually gave the Russians top secret information about the Russians, information the Russians evidently did not have about themselves, but now have thanks to this leak of U.S. military information. My favorite line, by the way, in the New York Times report is this, "The signs that something was amiss seem unmistakable in retrospect."
Now the big worldview dimension here is simply this; everything looks pretty clear in retrospect. The problem is understanding what you're looking at while you're looking at it, in real time, as events are unfolding. In retrospect, all this looks like a massive exercise in government failure. The government's failure to police its own information, not to mention its own classified information, but the important thing for us to recognize is that, from the vantage point looking back, it becomes apparent that the government should have known what was going on and understood at least enough to put a stop to it, back when these issues were noted the first time.
But there's another dimension to this, it's just very sad. Here you're looking at a young man, 21 when he was arrested, 20 evidently when some of these events were unfolding, he was put in this position by superiors even as he had enlisted in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, and he evidently was desperate for some form of affirmation. He was desperate to look like a big man. He was desperate to look like he had something that others would want, and as he said himself in some of the court documents that were released just this week, he knew that there would be friends on the internet, insofar as there are friends on the internet, who would respond to this kind of release of information by believing that he is cool. This is a story that looks sad everywhere you look. It looks stupid in some directions as well. Just a reminder that in a fallen world when things go badly, they often go badly in a very clumsy way.
Big Questions About the Big Heist: German Court Convicts $100 Million Jewel Thieves, But Leaves Questions Unanswered
Meanwhile, another major story having to do with crime, broke in the last several days, in which we are told that a German court has convicted five men. They've been convicted of a massive criminal conspiracy that eventuated in a jewel robbery and we're talking about a lot of money, $100 million in stolen jewels, most of which by the way has been recovered. But the big worldview dimension in this is not just say crime and punishment, you're talking here about a family crime syndicate there in Germany. You're talking about a very highly planned, sophisticated operation, and yet at times it looks more like it was written as comedy rather than as some kind of serious account. You're also looking at the fact that many in the media have noted that the way this case came to an end was not only an indictment of the criminals, it was also, by the time all the evidence was in, rather embarrassing to German law enforcement.
By the time this trial ended, and it ended quite awkwardly, it was unclear if the awkwardness of the ending had something to do with the defendant's side of the equation or whether it was ended in order to prevent the government further embarrassment. Christopher Schuetze, reporting the story, tells us, "During the trial, which lasted 15 months, the six defendants sometimes seemed like the crew of Oceans 11 and at other times like Mr. Bean, but it was not just the accused who at times appeared inept. The trial shed a light on a German justice system that failed, to an almost comical degree, when it came to stopping determined criminals."
Later in the story, we read this, "Despite a colorful history of crimes, the men", that is the now convicted robbers, "were free to plan and execute their biggest heist. Most jarring, two of the men on trial were previously found guilty for the theft of a giant golden coin worth $4 million from a Berlin Museum. They were in court for that crime, but not in custody, when the crew carried out the Green Vault heist." Again, $100 million in jewels.
Now if you're listening carefully, you caught what went on there. These were men who were already found guilty of a $4 million heist, and even as they were convicted for that, they were not put in jail, they were awaiting formal sentencing. What kind of justice system finds two individuals guilty of a $4 million heist and says; why don't you guys go home 'til we figure out how long we're going to put you in jail, if we can find you and we want to put you in jail. And then to find out by the way, that at that very same time, they were joining with other members of their criminal syndicate in order to carry out an even bigger heist. Who needs $4 million when you can steal a $100 million.
Now they stole this $100 million worth of jewelry, royal jewels, there in Germany, by the way, the city was Dresden. They stole it from what was known as the Green Vault, identified as, "A set of basement suites in a castle that is now part of a museum." Okay, makes sense so far, sort of. But they also put together a very sophisticated, well, at least a very complex plan. For one thing they got a cooking pot, they filled it with explosives, such as diesel, gasoline, they set it on fire away from the Green Vault in order to turn out the lights and also to attract law enforcement, who would go to the explosion of the pot, missing the people going down into the vault.
You wonder how they gained access to the vault. They used equipment known as the jaws of life. It's an amazing pneumatic tool that has allowed rescuers to free people from collapsed buildings, from crashed automobiles. It isn't sold on Amazon, it's not available on the general market, but this crime syndicate just stole one, because after all, that was the easiest way to get one. Nobody in this entire enterprise comes out looking particularly smart. The jewel thieves, having stolen the jaws of life in order to break into the vault after they exploded their cooking pot, they were nearly undone by nylon string, that in the museum in the vault, tied down the jewels.
They almost went away empty-handed simply because of string, but they didn't go away empty-handed, instead, as the report says, "They made off with 21 lavish pieces from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, that once belonged to local rulers Augustus the Strong and his son, Augustus III. The pieces they took included a ceremonial sword, pendants, headwear, necklaces, buttons and two diamond-encrusted epaulets. In total, the jewelry held 4,300 diamonds and other valuable stones." They got into a getaway car and then they put that in a garage, they abandoned it, set it on fire and got into another car. That fire set other cars on fire, and at the end, there were about 60 vehicles that exploded in one way or another. Where's the video?
Police seeking to find those who had carried out the heist eventually got ahold of some DNA found at the crime scene, which leads inquiring minds to want to know just what kind of DNA they left at the crime scene. Maybe one of the thieves cut himself on the nylon string that had been holding the jewels down in the case, in the vault. It turns out that once the thieves were apprehended and they were arrested, they eventually agreed to a very unusual plea of guilty that enabled them to have a deal in which they didn't have to rat on any accomplices, not yet named, but it also allowed them to blame all of the planning and conspiracy on the accomplices not yet named. Local media in Germany said that that probably had something to do with sparing all parties involved a bit of embarrassment.
To cap this all off, at one point, investigators assumed that the guards in the vault, the guards of the jewels, must have been a part of the conspiracy. They were later to have been exonerated, but it was also explained that they were unarmed and being unarmed, it was against policy for them to confront anyone who came in to steal the jewels. You just have to ask the question again; what kind of world is this when you hire guards who are not allowed to guard?
Well, it turns out it's the same kind of world in which people are given top secret clearance in order to share with the whole world, what supposedly was top secret. It's also a reminder of the limitations of human imagination when it comes to wrongdoing, and that's another basic issue here we'll have to track in future editions of the briefing. How many supervisory people had some knowledge of the misdeeds of this young airman and yet they didn't connect the dots in order to understand they had a far bigger problem on their hands than they understood? Yes, it looks extremely foolish in retrospect.
The jewel heist and the subsequent prosecution plea agreement and all the rest points to another dimension of the same story, human society is marred by sin and it is often difficult, even when the evidence is right there before us, for people to put their minds in the position of understanding what criminal conspirators already have in play. But of course, the saddest issue from the Christian perspective is not just that we can't understand other minds, it is that if we are honest, we are not able, completely and honestly, sometimes even to know our own.
How Should Christians Think About Being a Spy? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
But now we turn to questions and related to all this, what a relevant question.
A 26-year-old Navy veteran wrote in to ask about how he should consider the service of a Christian in the Central Intelligence Agency. That's the most famous of the U.S. agencies related to the gathering of intelligence or what is otherwise defined as spycraft. Such a great question and so relevant even to what we've been talking about today. And by the way, the first thing I want to recommend is listening to my thinking and public conversation with James Olson, who is the former Chief of Counterintelligence for the CIA and writes with great moral honesty and insight about the entire enterprise of spycraft. I think you'll find that conversation helpful. I think it will point you to some other issues related to this.
Now, there are a lot of complexities to this question, even seen through the lens of a Christian worldview, maybe especially seen through the lens of a Christian worldview, because the entire issue of spycraft, well by its very nature, it is on the margins of our moral consideration.
Winston Churchill was known to remark that the truth is so important that it must be guarded by a bodyguard of lies. He said that in the context of World War II, when espionage, counter espionage, when you had false data that was presented, remember that one of the contributors toward the success of the very costly allied invasion of Europe and what was known as D-Day was a maneuver to mislead the Germans about where the Allied troop concentrations had been gathered. In one of the most famous intelligence operations of World War II, British intelligence took a dead body, planted false war plans on it, and then dressed it in appropriate attire and dropped it offshore in order that the Germans would find the body and believed that they had found the military intelligence about war plans. Actually, it was an extremely well executed plan by British intelligence.
I think the most important thing we can say, once again, is that the entire enterprise of espionage and spycraft is out there on the moral boundary. But here's where we need to be grownups in a sense and take responsibility and say that as a nation, we need people who are not only given to this enterprise, but are actually quite good at it as well. We live in a fallen world and in a fallen world there are often national security issues. There are often military issues, foreign policy issues. There are often criminal investigation issues that put even the investigators out on the boundary, when it comes to moral questions.
Now, to what extent can a Christian be involved in these things? Well, here's something very, very interesting. The detective story and the espionage story, especially as they began in the 20th century, basically emerged rather explicitly out of Christian writers or a circle of Christian literary influence. The reason for that was clear, Christians had a very biblical understanding of sin and thus could deal with sin in all of its cycles and complexity and manifestations, in ways that people writing from many other worldviews simply could not. The detective story and the spy thriller really came out of that context.
But by the time you get to the middle of the 20th century, and especially at the end of the 20th century, both of those genres of literature had turned dark, because I think there was a realization of just how complicated and morally troubling so many of the questions actually turned out to be.
Here's where I go back to that conversation I had with James Olson, former Chief of Counterintelligence for the CIA. He makes very clear in that conversation that there are moral boundaries, and as I was in that conversation with him, it seemed to me as a Christian that one of the most important things that a Christian involved in this enterprise could do is at least have other Christians with whom he or she can think about these issues from inside the intelligence system. We simply have to hope that somehow there is such a group of Christians thinking these issues through, from inside these very important intelligence agencies.
A lot to unpack there, more than we can just in terms of taking on this one question, but what a good question, and I think especially in the context and the flow of our considerations today, one we can recognize certainly deserves Christian thought and Christian attention, and if anything demands even more.
Is Stoicism Compatible with Christianity? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
I want to shift to another question. A man writes saying, "I find Stoicism intriguing and was wondering if you thought Stoicism is compatible with Christianity." Well, the answer to that is as an -ism, stoicism is profoundly not compatible with Christianity, and the singular way of pointing to that incompatibility is Jesus Christ.
Now sometimes, however, what people mean by stoicism is not the comprehensive worldview, but rather what they mean are the ethics often associated with stoicism, in terms of stability of character and emotional equilibrium and an ability to forego certain pleasures in the present, in order for a greater good to be accomplished.
Now, those are ethical goods and they're not unique to stoicism, but if that's what someone means by stoicism, certainly there are virtues. And by the way, the Christian understands there are moral virtues that are affirmed by virtually every single world belief system. We would affirm that by pointing to the fact that every single human being is made in God's image and thus there is a certain knowledge that will show itself this way.
More Ethical Complexities About Birth Control: Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Now next, there's so many questions, urgent questions, related to birth control, especially given some of the issues in headlines these days. The case against Mifepristone, for example, that is now being heard by a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
We're talking about something that's live right now, but one listener to the briefing writes in with a question. Her question is, "Well, you talk about the ethical complexities related to the over-the-counter pill, but what about other forms of birth control, including condoms for males?" She says that she would categorize them together. "Both promote promiscuity, cheating, et cetera." Well, they do. The big moral difference between the pill and any barrier form of birth control is that one prevents fertilization, the other one tries to figure out even if there is a fertilized embryo, or what they would arrogantly call a pre-embryo, how to terminate it before it is successfully implanted in the mother's womb.
Now, morally, those are two very different technologies and thus there is a proper moral distinction between the two. You wouldn't talk about a barrier form of birth control as an abort of fashion, something that brings about an abortion. You might very well and accurately speak that way of other forms of what are categorized as birth control. But this writer has a very legitimate point; there's the larger issue of artificial birth control period, and you put barrier forms right in with pharmacological forms. And when it comes to the distinction between men and women, yes, both are equally morally responsible when it comes to this equation, and yes, all forms of artificial birth control have indeed contributed to the revolution in sexuality that is produced today's promiscuous culture. No doubt about that.
So on those last issues, the biggest frame, yes, we should speak about them altogether. Speaking of the danger of an abortive fashioned effect, well, that's where the pill is very different than a barrier method. Interesting things to talk about on a Friday.
Why Not Address the Role Men Often Play When a Woman Has an Abortion? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Next, another question from a listener. This listener says, "I fully share your view on abortion. However, I've often wondered why I never hear you comment on the role of men in the abortion issue."
And well, that's quite an indictment. Actually, I don't think it's true, but you know what? It's worth mentioning, because one of the points I have sought to make is that oftentimes women are placed in a position of pressure from men to get an abortion, to turn to abortion. Furthermore, there are all too many men who simply forfeit all responsibility and leave the entire burden of the pregnancy and the actual task of raising a child with a woman. They can simply disappear and, tragically and sinfully, sometimes that's exactly what they do.
But there's a reason why there's so much attention directed, in the abortion question, to the woman who in so many ways is seeking the abortion and remember the entire moral logic of abortion, particularly in the Roe v. Wade decision, it left men out. It basically said that women are the only important moral agents and legally, and I would say often wrongly, that's where the matter is left in legal terms.
How Can Homeschool Families Prepare Their Children’s Transcripts to Apply to College? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Finally, for today, a question coming from a homeschooling mom, and I appreciate that and she's asking a very practical question. She's asking of me, as president of a college in a seminary, "Do you have any advice for homeschooling parents in regards to preparing transcripts for our children in preparation for applying to post-secondary institutions?"
Well, to this sweet and rather strategic mom, I simply want to say, "Yes, I do have some advice." Document as much as you can, and document not only what work was done, what was read, what lessons were covered, and not only how well you evaluate it, how well the child is doing, but also do what most schools will not do and most teachers wouldn't think about, and that is document growing interest and just put in the information that will help to fill out some evaluators understanding of the nature of the education this young person has received.
In our student body at Boyce College, we have an extraordinary number of students who were homeschooled, and I'll simply tell you, they generally excel. Now, I also want to tell you what you may suspect and that the creation of this kind of transcript might reveal more about the parent or for that matter, the educator than the student. But that's not unimportant as well. It tells us something about the seriousness with which a Christian family took on this responsibility and how the progress of the student, of the child, was traced and encouraged throughout the years of school age education, and that would include high school.
I also want to say to this homeschooling Mom, take your task as a homeschooling mom with great seriousness. I already know you do. This communication makes that abundantly clear, but find joy in it as well and understand that at the end of the day, the transcript is, it's only a transcript. The child or children you are educating to the glory of God are themselves their best transcript, and I'll just give you a word of encouragement to tell you that all of this is not in vain. That transcript is likely to read very well.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.