GIVEN THE public disgrace that the Iran-Contra fiasco has become, you'd think the Administration and Republicans on Capitol Hill would be taking an uncharitable view of cover-ups, lies and obfuscations. That's evidently not the case.
Senator Dave Durenberger, the Minnesota Republican, has distinguished himself of late by his willingness to speak the truth--and to do so loudly and often--about the Jonathon Jay Pollard spy case and what he believes to be America's provocation of the affair. Now he faces an inquiry by the Senate Ethics Committee and the wrath of Republican leaders.
Durenberger, who recently finished up a two-year term as chariman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, drew the attention of the Ethics Committee for disclosing that the United States spied on Israel. The covert operation against Israel's intelligence service violated an agreement prohibiting certain types of espionage by both sides. While Durenberger does not argue that America's violation justified Israel's decision to run Pollard undercover in Washington, the senator does say that it should dampen this nation's outrage at its ally's offense.
In an atmosphere of urgency to patch-up frazzled relations, Israel and America have been anxious to deny the former Intelligence Committee head's statement. This is all too understandable.
DURENBERGER SAYS that in 1982 he found out about America's spying against Israel and asked William Casey, then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to put an end to it, Casey, Durenberger says, refused to do anything.
Durenberger decided to go public with what he knew after the Pollard affair began exacting a heavy price on Israel in the American press. Durenburger said he felt it was unfair for Israel to get all the blame for spying on an ally, while the CIA got off the hook. The senator made his public move after again approaching Casey with what he knew, and again being rebuffed.
The people of this country have been confronted with impropriety committed in their name quite often lately. But they are becoming accustomed to it slowly. So officials in Washington have not had much trouble casting Durenberger's allegations into question.
But why would Durenburger invent tales of US spying in Israel? Durenberger has gained nothing by his public disclosures, and must have realized how much they would cost him. On Capitol Hill, his fellow Republicans are outraged that Durenburger's remarks will make it appear that they sought to cover up illegal intelligence operations. The people who like to argue--and there are a lot of them--that spying should be left to the professionals and that the public's elected representatives should leave well enough alone don't like the Minesota Republican very much, either.
And Durenburger's candor isn't likely to win him many points at home, where he faces a tough challenge in 1988 from State Attorney General Hubert H. Humphrey III, the legend's son. Courting the Jewish vote could not have been a strong motivation for a senator, whose constituency of 4.1 million counts only 35,000 Jews.
THOSE WHO fear the public's response to Durenburger's statements have tried to turn what should remain a discussion of American spying into a discussion of Durenburger himself. Accounts abound that Durenburger is an emotionally unstable man, wrecked by a faltering marriage and a son's drug addiction.
Perhaps what is most remarkable about Durenburger's personal life is his willingness to talk about it. The senator's separation from his wife was a lot less surprising in 1985 than his openness in discussing the matter. It of course should--but doesn't--go without saying that Durenburger's personal life is not relevant to the Pollard spy case.
Lawmakers, shouldn't be allowed to hide behind a set of irrelevent accusations while avoiding their duty to meet a colleague's allegations squarely and in the public's view.
Durenburger, and everyone else who cares about the accountability of their government, can take some comfort in the knowledge that the leak already has had a positive impact on the American intelligence operations. According to Durenburger, since the accusations the CIA has scrambled to end spying prohibited by the agreement with Israel.
The government evidently has learned something about the value of honesty in responding to Durenburger's disclosure. It remains for the government to use that knowledge in its handling of Durenburger himself.