None dare call it spying

| February 28, 2020 2:58 PM

At our last work session, I was taken to the woodshed by my colleagues on the Montana Public Service Commission. Yup, a good, old-fashioned tongue lashing, led by that paragon of professionalism, Randy Pinocci.

I obviously had it coming. From Pinocci’s perspective, the extensive hacking of my PSC email account, which led to 39 of my messages being dumped onto the Internet, was entirely my fault. I had committed the ultimate sin. I was speaking and writing openly about the work of the Public Service Commission, hoping the sunlight of public awareness might have an antiseptic effect on a diseased and dysfunctional organization.

By the way, Pinocci, with the help of commission Chair Brad Johnson, was one of the hackers, having twice requested and received all of my emails through the state Department of Administration. These commissioners had a specific goal of keeping this secret from me.

Had they followed required protocol and requested the emails through the commission itself, I would have been appropriately notified. But that would have involve more of that sunlight thing that they don’t like.

No, this little caper needed to be hidden from view. Commission view. Staff view. My view. And none dare call it spying.

What never occurred to these amateur Dick Tracys is that they could have spared themselves all the trouble and intrigue by just asking me for them. It may have shocked them to know that I have nothing to hide, and I would have cheerfully passed them all along. But secrecy and intrigue are much more fun.

As if the commissioner-on-commissioner spying wasn’t enough, an investigation has revealed that at least one commission staff person also gained full access to my e-mail account and, for the past nine months, has been secretly viewing all of my correspondence. This came to light shortly after the 39 emails were handed over to an alternative news service, resulting in a data security breach that has the Department of Administration and commission legal division deeply concerned.

Considering the amount of sensitive and confidential information that travels through the commission email system, a breakdown in security undermines agency trust and greatly compromises our ability to do our job.

The most malicious aspect of the PSC Spygate was the disseminating of three very personal, family-oriented emails that had nothing to do with my job. Personal communications are permitted on state accounts, albeit not encouraged. If Pinocci, Johnson or the guilty staffer had gone through the accepted procedure of a records request, the privacy and legal review aspects of that process would have redacted or removed these extremely personal messages. But that process was circumvented and my privacy was intentionally violated. Which of these three were responsible? When asked, there were denials all around.

Concerning the spying itself, the two guilty commissioners are unrepentant. They believe they have done nothing wrong. Really? Then please explain to us, gentlemen, for what purpose this spying was done? What kind of dirt were you trying to dig up on me, and how much harm did you wish to inflict?

From Pinocci came the disingenuous response so typical of this man: “I was trying to help Roger.”

In fact, Pinocci is being so helpful that he plans to release more of my emails in the near future. He’s being very strategic about this, to gain maximum impact and do (he believes) maximum harm. Such are the thoughts and actions of a politician, not a public servant.

Therein lies the problem with elected commissioners, like Pinocci and Johnson. While running for office, they spout nice-sounding platitudes about protecting the consumer. They get elected by having better name recognition and the most signs on the interstate. Once on the commission, they remain in permanent political campaign mode. They read nothing. They study nothing. They express no original ideas and show no intellectual curiosity for anything the commission does.

Just view any archived commission hearing or meeting and see how little these men actually contribute.

Roger Koopman is serving his second term on the Public Service Commission, representing District 3 in southwest Montana. He previously served two terms in the State House of Representative as a Bozeman Republican.