First off, there’s good news to report. The benevolent and selfless PR agency, Cassidy and Associates, has agreed to help the island state of Taiwan safeguard its most sensitive secrets from its archenemy, the People’s Republic of China. According to the Government Information Office in Taiwan, the well-connected Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm was at risk of losing a $1 million contract apparently due to a lack of budget. Understandably, the firm would need to replace lost revenue of this magnitude or face serious damage to its profitability, and thus, it is claimed, was considering an offer to represent the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Certainly, as with any PR agency, it’s reasonable that Cassidy would not want its learning and experience to go to waste.
Now, just so we are clear... this was NOT a case of blackmail. Blackmail is:
"The crime involving a threat for purposes of compelling a person to do an act against his or her will, or for purposes of taking the person's money or property. The word is derived from the word for tribute paid by English and Scottish border dwellers to Border Reivers in return for immunity from raids. In blackmail the threat might consist of physical injury to the threatened person or to someone loved by that person, or injury to a person's reputation. Although blackmail is generally synonymous with extortion, some states distinguish the offenses by requiring that the former be in writing. Blackmail is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both."
Here’s an example: "If you don't fucking pay me $10,000, I’m gonna tell your wife the fact that I saw you coming out of Tricia’s apartment at two in the morning." (SIDEBAR: I’m totally serious Bob! I will!!)
Anyway, this ain’t that. Here, James Boyle, the co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School, helps clarify the distinction: “Where it is easy to explain attempts to extort money by threats that would be illegal to carry out and to explain why a blackmailer cannot ask money as the price of keeping silent, the hard case to explain is the situation in which one person asks another person for money as the price of not revealing legally obtained information about activities perfectly legal in themselves. How is this different from any other situation in which one economic actor makes a bargain with another to forego a legal course of action that the second party wishes to avoid? To put it another way, what is the qualitative difference between a blackmailer's demands for money and a baseball team's demands for tax breaks, rezoning, and direct grants as the price of not moving to another a city?”
Here’s an example that’s stole all the headlines last week: Britney Spears filed for divorce; and Kevin Federline filed for spousal support. Fact is, despite a water-tight prenup that severely limits how much Federline would get in the eventuality of divorce, K-Fed’ll likely get millions. Rumor has it that he possesses a honeymoon sex tape, for which he has already received offers in the tens of millions. In an interview Federline said, “It’s all good, yo.”
See, it’s all about subtlety.
Same with Cassidy. A few years back, the agency purportedly notified Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian of the firm’s intentions to work for China, and presumably thanked the president for permitting the firm access to Taiwan’s state secrets. Of course, like Britney, President Chen Shui-Bian said he was thus prompted to engage in a renewed search for funds with which to compensate Cassidy for its strategic efforts, and was eventually able to renew the contract.
Chen said, "[Cassidy] said if we did not renew the contract, they would pursue business with China, which had invited them to be its public relations company. We felt that this was a matter of national interest. They had done so much for us in the past, and knew so many secrets, which might greatly affect our national interest.”
Here, it gets better! In his statement, the president said he had no choice but to dip into state affairs funds in order to continue relations with "company F," a code name used by prosecutors in the indictment. Chen said the money, a total of US$1.08 million over two years, was used to pay Cassidy for secret diplomatic efforts.
Of, course, Cassidy and Associates denies such discussions ever took place. Company spokesman Tom Alexander said, "Our firm made no threat of any kind."
The transactions are currently under investigation.