Long before Europeans landed on the North American continent, America’s indigenous people often used smoke signals to send up messages understood by those who knew the signals.
Much later other signals came to America. Baseball signals – “signs” – from a third base coach sent to the batter: bunt, take for a strike, hit away, etc. Only members of that team knew what the signs – a right hand twice touches the left ear; the left hand scratches the right shoulder; the head nods in a certain way – mean.
Watching today’s U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence my eye was drawn to a man sitting behind the two witnesses, FBI Director James Comey, and NSA Director Mike Rogers. Like a good baseball coach or intelligence officer, the man in the dark yellow tie and the French cuffs was stone-faced. But it appeared he was giving smoke signals or baseball signs to someone on the Congressional panel asking the questions.
There were times when his head nodded slightly in agreement with a witness’s testimony. There were times when his hand went to his nose, his mouth, an ear, or his eyes moved right or left. As the hearing wore on, I became more curious. Who is he? Why is he in the center of the C-SPAN camera? Why did his eyes just blink twice? Did he just all for a hit-and-run or a stolen base? Why is he pulling on his cuff? Why are his cuffs French? Is he French foreign Intelligence?
Is he there to alert a team – the Republicans or the Democrats – that the witness had just blown smoke, signaling someone on the panel to follow up with another question? Or was he there as the watchdog if the professional U.S. intelligence community, or the President himself, to remind Comey and Rogers who was over their shoulder them?
Today in America there’s a lot of smoke but the meanings of the signals are known only by a few. And those of us who watch a televised hearing as citizens of a democratic republic are left to watch, listen, and smell our way to what’s real and what’s not.
We do so in the hope that U.S. intelligence agencies, the President of the United States, and the U.S House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence use smoke signals we can all understand to inform us whether a witness or a Congressional Representative is sending a secret message or just blowing smoke. Who knows? Maybe the Poker-faced man with the nice yellow-black tie was just one of us. Maybe a member of the press who arrived early enough to get a great seat! Hope springs eternal.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 20, 2017.