Vice President Joe Biden the other day opened up to CNN’s Gloria Borger and recounted an anecdote about a severe financial hardship situation in his family. This vignette underscores that even the most important people in this nation can have significant vulnerabilities that intelligence services could and would try to exploit.
Biden’s son, Beau, suffered a stroke a few years ago, and then fell mortally ill with a fast-moving brain cancer. He died in May 2014. Beyond the emotional turmoil the Vice President must have felt, his son’s illness placed part of his family—Biden’s daughter-in-law and grandchildren—in a financially perilous situation. As he noted:
Biden said he told the President he was worried about caring for Beau’s family without his son’s salary.
“I said, ‘But I worked it out.'” Biden recalled telling Obama. “I said, ‘But — Jill and I will sell the house and be in good shape.'” Obama, Biden remembered, pushed back vehemently on the thought of Biden and his wife selling their home in Wilmington, Delaware.
“He got up and he said, ‘Don’t sell that house. Promise me you won’t sell the house,'” Biden continued, speculating Obama would be “mad” he was retelling the story.
“He said, ‘I’ll give you the money. Whatever you need, I’ll give you the money. Don’t, Joe — promise me. Promise me.’ I said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to have to anyway.’ He said, ‘promise me,'” Biden recalled.
That’s right: the 73-year old Biden and his wife Jill seriously contemplated selling their primary residence in Delaware to keep his family financially afloat. It’s shocking the second-in-command in America thought about doing this, and that the President himself was willing to offer his personal financial support, to let him keep his own house.
Remember that Biden has spent most of his adult life in public office. During his time in the Senate, his personal wealth was, according to Open Secrets, consistently rated the 100th out of 100. Sure, he currently makes $230,000 as Vice President, which is no small sum and far more than the average American household, but significantly less than the $800,000 average compensation for a partner at a Washington DC-based law firm.
More broadly, it also indicates that even the mighty in America have significant intelligence vulnerabilities. Imagine if the services of Russia, China, Israel or just about any other country knew that Biden—a close confidante of the President of the United States, with access to the Oval Office and the keys to the national security kingdom—had these financial problems, then mounted an effort to exploit them. If that ever came to light, the foreign policy fallout would make L’Affair Snowden seem like a leisurely stroll in the park.
Conversely, if the U.S. discovered the second most senior policymaker in, well, just about any country (excluding the Five Eyes) out there was in severe financial distress—remember, the VP was willing to sell his own home to pay debts—and was willing to trade secrets for money, there is no doubt that we would take that offer. If you don’t believe the U.S. would have at least considered pitching that person, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I’d like to sell you.
Offering money and exploiting financial vulnerabilities are common ways the U.S. uses to its own intelligence ends. But this line of work is often fair play, and as Biden’s example indicates, it could happen here too. I hope the VP and his family are on the lookout for the subtle ways hostile intelligence agencies might now try to take advantage of his all-too-human situation.
Photo credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.
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