MIT’s assistant dean for research has found that a Lincoln Labs test was rigged to make missile defense look more feasible than it was. The Pentagon says, roughly, “Well, we aren’t using those components anymore.” Analysis of why that comment is completely irrelevant to the real problem here is left as an exercise for the reader.

And if you believe that Lincoln Labs was committing fraud on the Pentagon rather than committing fraud for the Pentagon, could I interest you in some stock in an innovative energy-trading company?

Note to the Boston U.S. Attorney’s office: 18 U.S.C. 1001 makes it a felony to “knowingly and willfully falsify, conceal, or cover by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, make any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or make or use any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry” in “any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States.” The penalty is up to five years in prison.

To put that in English: lie to the government, go to jail. [In case you’re worrying, dishonest legal briefs and motions are explicitly excluded.] As has been noted in this space before, there’s no parallel provision forbidding officials to lie to the public. But a careful reading of the statute finds no exemption for officials lying to one another. [Congressional b.s. is of course exempt under the “speech and debate” clause.] So whoever at the Pentagon procured this false report and, knowing it to be false, sent it on to the White House, is also vulnerable.

It’s not as if 18 USC 1001 were some sort of dead letter. Its most prominent recent use was against Henry Cisneros, for shading some facts in his FBI background check. It’s simply never used for intragovernmental false statements. That only bothers me a little bit. The fact that the government would grind to a screeching halt if it were so used bothers me more.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: