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The other FBI question.

April 19, 2018

With former FBI director James Comey sucking up to the media to promote his book, the deeper questions about the agency seem to be in danger of being overlooked.

One panel member on one of the daytime talk shows opined that “…J. Edgar Hoover must be spinning in his grave…” over Comey publishing a book that overlaps a series of ongoing investigations.

If J. Edgar is still paying attention, he is far more likely to be incensed that Comey wasn’t smart enough to conceal his questionable actions and decisions.

The FBI has a long history of being a pawn for special interests.

Let us not forget that after his death, Hoover was exposed to have been using the FBI to collect dirt on a wide variety of politicians primarily for his own use. To call it what it was, he was using the information to extract favors and bend politicians to his will.

The question at hand isn’t whether either man was a first-class louse, but why it is so easy for the agency to be weaponized.

As the de facto equivalent of a national police force,  the FBI has tremendous power.

On the good side, it isn’t hamstrung by jurisdictional barriers when pursuing criminals or criminal groups like organized crime.

On the bad side, there are apparently no effective checks and balances on that power, other than the inspector general for that agency.

Judging by the difficulties encountered by the Congressional oversight committees in prying loose documents related to the 2016 election, the Horowitz investigation isn’t  moving fast enough to either prevent or confirm  further problems.

Although technically the Bureau answers to the Department of Justice and more broadly to the executive branch, in practice that obviously doesn’t effectively compel them to act ethically.

In order to protect us from the likes of groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda or drug cartels it is necessary that the FBI have the power to conduct surveillance on individual people, both citizens and non-citizens. After all, investigation is part of their name for a reason.

How extensively and ethically they utilize that power has been the subject of numerous books, like The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI by Betty Medsger, published  in 2014.or Ronald Kessler’s 2011 tome, Secrets of the FBI.

Both books suggest that Hoover wasn’t above using those files to keep people in government and business under his thumb, sometimes for very personal reasons.

With the advent of the internet, the country has been privy to exactly how that works in real time, as in the cases of Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and now, the President’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

Was the FBI weaponized against one candidate or political ideology for the benefit of the other one, and if so, by whom and to achieve what ends?

Throughout the uproar over the 2016 election, everyone has been careful to try to separate the agents in the field from the agency bureaucracy, but recent instances of what appears to be gross negligence by one or more of those field agencies and offices, as in the Parkland school shooting, calls into question the entire culture of the agency as a whole.

Which leads us back to the central question.  How much can we the people trust the FBI?

One thing seems crystal clear. The myth of the Elliot Ness FBI, is just that…a myth.

From → op-ed

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