False identity

Talk about the ideal public servant, just glance at Richard Windsor's résumé at the Environmental Protection Agency. For three consecutive years, the EPA named him "scholar of ethical behavior," and he's got a diploma as scholasticus decentia to prove it.

That's scarcely Mr. Windsor's only achievement. In the war against terrorism, he was certified in cyber-security awareness and recognized for launching an initiative that encourages federal employees to report any suspicious activity to the proper authorities. Not to mention his being certified in email-records management, too.

Who says bureaucrats are just there to twiddle their thumbs while waiting to collect their pensions? This accomplished guardian of the public interest with all these awards under his belt breaks that unfair stereotype.

If he sounds too good to be true, maybe that's because he is. Richard Windsor has only one failing: He doesn't exist.

It was revealed not long ago that he's just an email alias for Lisa Jackson, who resigned abruptly as head of the EPA to accept a nice job with Apple (vice president for environmental initiatives) back in May. Which was just before her false identity as Richard Windsor became public knowledge.

Till then, Mr. Windsor served as a useful way for Lisa Jackson to communicate with leaders of environmental pressure groups and her fellow movers-and-shakers in the Obama administration without the inconvenience of having her emails subjected to freedom-of-information requests.

What a neat arrangement. No wonder Mr. Windsor, among his other distinctions, is certified in email-records management.

The EPA says not to worry. Adopting such aliases for emails is "standard practice" among government agencies. It didn't specify just which other agencies have adopted the practice. Pity. Because they, too, deserve to have some congressional committee looking into their deceptions.

But it may take a while before Congress gets around to examining the curious case of Lisa Jackson/Richard Windsor. That little scam may have to wait its turn in a long line, there are so many major scandals in this administration waiting to be investigated.

What prompts someone to adopt a phony name? A desire to cloak less than respectable behavior? Just the human desire to see how much we can get away with? Or loyalty to a higher cause than the public interest, like The Environment, which has become our current Deity?

There are probably as many reasons for adopting a false identity as there are false identities. The psychological reasons for such tricks can be complicated. But all such ruses are surely rooted in the same desire: an attempt to escape responsibility for one's words or actions. But this one has an exceptional twist: Not many phonies have the brass to claim their deception is just "standard practice" when they're exposed. Lisa Jackson/Richard Windsor probably deserves an award, all right, but not one for good conduct.

The assumption of a false identity is a standard ploy not just in spy stories, but in the lives of spies. Double agents have a long history in espionage work, and triple agents are not unknown. In czarist times, it was not always easy to tell whether an agent provocateur was a dangerous radical, a government spy, or just which side he was on. Sometimes he himself might not know. His false identity might be so convincing he no longer had a real one, his loyalty so divided he might have none at all.

Do you think Edward Snowden, a man without a country for the moment after he betrayed state secrets, is a patriot for rising above the oath he took to keep classified information classified? Or is he guilty of espionage, as his government charges? And will he prove just as loyal to whatever regime finally takes him in? It's a question that will surely occur to those offering him asylum if and when he accepts it. Can a man who betrayed one state ever be trusted by another?

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Think of the highly placed British spies who defected to the Soviet Union during the Cold War when they realized they were about to be exposed -- Philby, Maclean and Burgess. All three must have spent the rest of their lives being carefully monitored by the KGB. Did they regret the choices they made? If so, it would have been imprudent to say so once in Soviet hands. Were they loyal Communists or just disloyal British subjects? Did they themselves know after a time?

A similar fate surely awaits Edward Snowden if he takes up Vladimir Putin's offer of asylum on his way to warmer climes -- Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, now all in the grip of junior Fidel Castros. Mr. Snowden, who's only 30, has the rest of his life to ponder where his loyalty lies, if anywhere. And which of his identities is the true one -- dedicated public servant or betrayer of secrets, both or neither?

The word "traitor" has been tossed around entirely too casually in Edward Snowden's case. The definition of treason in the Constitution is an exacting one, and those eager to convict him of it might at least wait till the formality of a trial.

Consider the well-known case of Benedict Arnold, a hero of the American Revolution turned traitor. Was he disloyal to the American cause or a loyal subject of the Crown who had seen the error of his ways and was returning to the path of honor? Or just a disgruntled officer who felt he hasn't getting the promotions he deserved?

In any case, Major General Arnold's punishment was more condign than any court could have devised -- to watch the cause he had abandoned go on to triumph, and have his name become a synonym for traitor. In the end, he is a figure not only to be despised but pitied.

Does the same fate await Edward Snowden? At the moment he seems to have not only multiple loyalties but multiple personalities. Does he already regret the decisions he made even as he glories in them? Or will that come only later? For it is a terrible thing to be a man without a country; just ask anyone who's ever been stateless, and desperate for refuge anywhere.

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We all have multiple loyalties -- whether to God and country, friends and family, our own ethical code and society's, means and ends. ... How we reconcile them all is a continuous marvel, never so impressive as when the result is simple integrity. An integrated personality is no simple achievement.

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How did Alger Hiss really think of himself -- as a loyal Communist spy, or a devoted public servant framed by an old friend named Whittaker Chambers and the government he had served so faithfully? Mr. Hiss could not have risen so high in official circles if he had fooled only others. To act the innocent so convincingly for such a long time must have required some degree of sincerity.

Maybe he thought of himself as just being true to a higher loyalty. And that may be the key to the invention of Richard Windsor. He served a higher purpose than his own, namely Lisa Jackson's.

(Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His e-mail address is pgreenberg@arkansasonline.com.)

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