“Yes, Prime Minister” on NSA Wiretapping
(I posted this earlier in the week, but then realized that it would get in the way of the Symposium and took it down. Now it’s back up.)
THE PRIME MINISTER: I mean, why should we bug Hugh Halifax’s telephone? I mean, one of my own administration. Don’t know where they got such a daft idea. Sheer paranoia.
SIR HUMPHREY APPLEBY: Yes, the only thing is…
THE PM: I mean, why should we listen in to MPs? Boring, stupid ignorant windbags, I do my best not to listen to them. He’s only a PPS. I have enough trouble finding out what’s going on at the Ministry of Defence, what could he know?
SIR HUMPHREY: So I gather you denied that Mr Halifax’s phone had been bugged.
THE PM: Well, obviously. It was the one question today to which I could give a clear, simple, straightforward, honest answer.
SIR HUMPHREY: Yes. Unfortunately, although the answer was indeed clear, simple and straightforward, there is some difficulty in justifiably assigning to it the fourth of the epithets you applied to the statement inasmuch as the precise correlation between the information you communicated and the facts insofar as they can be determined and demonstrated is such as to cause epistemological problems of sufficient magnitude as to lay upon the logical and semantic resources of the English language a heavier burden than they can reasonably be expected to bear.
THE PM: Epistemological? What are you talking about?
SIR HUMPHREY: You told a lie.
PM: But it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know he was being bugged.
BERNARD WOOLEY: Prime Minister, you are deemed to have known. You are ultimately responsible.
PM: Why wasn’t I told?
SIR HUMPHREY: The Home Secretary might not have felt the need to inform you.
THE PM: Why?
SIR HUMPHREY: Perhaps he didn’t know either. Or perhaps he’d been advised that you did not need to know.
PM: Well I did need to know.
BERNARD: Apparently the fact that you needed to know was not known at the time that the now known need to know was known, and therefore those that needed to advise and inform the Home Secretary perhaps felt that the information that he needed as to whether to inform the highest authority of the known information was not yet known and therefore there was no authority for the authority to be informed because the need to know was not at this time known or needed.
THE PM: What?
SIR HUMPHREY: We could not know that you would deny it in the House.
THE PM: Well, obviously I would if I didn’t know and I were asked.
SIR HUMPHREY: We did not know that you would be asked when you didn’t know.
THE PM: But I was bound to be asked when I didn’t know if I didn’t know.
SIR HUMPHREY: What?