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The ghost of J. Edgar Hoover 

It's been around 50 years since FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was finally retired from the FBI. Assuming the directorship in the Bureau's earliest years, he turned a sleepy backwater in the federal bureaucracy into the most powerful agency within the federal government. Yes, even more powerful than the IRS, as the FBI received iconic status in the mind of the public via print media and film, apprehending the most notorious and violent criminals in America. Organized criminal organizations were shattered, the Ku Klux Klan decimated; spies, terrorists, and foreign intelligence services learned to fear the FBI.

Hoover's FBI became the flagship federal organization for internal security and counterespionage. During WWII, Nazi Germany's attempts to land agents on American soil were thwarted by the FBI. But our own intelligence agencies were also sabotaged by Hoover's jealousy and determination to reserve the Western Hemisphere as an FBI preserve, excluding any potential Allied intelligence services from operating without Hoover's blessing.

Hoover was alleged to have kept files on elected officials, blackmailed them on behalf of his agency, and wiretapped civil rights leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, without a warrant or probable cause. Much of Hoover's abuses came out in the 1970s after his departure and death, along with much salacious personal information about Hoover.

The Church Committee—the 1975 U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities—brought out many abuses by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the post-Nixon/Vietnam years, resulting in many new laws restricting domestic intelligence/counterintelligence operations on U.S. territory and especially against U.S. citizens. The new director of the CIA, Adm. Stansfield Turner, radically overhauled that agency, firing more than 800 old-time agents and relying heavily upon technical means for collection operations.

We paid a price for the Church Committee's and Adm. Turner's overreach for the next 25 years, which manifested itself in the "bolt from the blue" 9/11 attacks, a result of the massive growth of bureaucracy and a climate of caution that dominated intelligence operations. After 9/11, much of that changed with loosening of the constraints that kept federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies in check; the "Ghost of Hoover" has returned with FBI abuses in the Trump-Russian-collusion scandal.

One of the firewalls established after Vietnam was an absolute prohibition on U.S. intelligence agencies collecting information on U.S. citizens on U.S. territory. Overseas operations were still constricted and regulated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and establishment of special secret courts (FISA courts) to obtain surveillance warrants against U.S. citizens overseas or engaged in activity suspected of posing a national security risk. Only a select few, very high-ranking officials were authorized to request "unmasking" of a U.S. citizen's identity when electronic communications were intercepted involving U.S. citizens by intelligence agencies surveilling enemy agents.

Since 9/11, this system has broken down. The most egregious abuse is the FBI infiltration of the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. It was illegal use of the FISA courts that led to the entire story of conspiracy and collusion by President Trump and his aides with the Russians, all based upon a manufactured dossier provided by Russian intelligence agents. The Russians are well versed in political disruption operations and the hyper-partisanship of high-ranking federal officers led them right into a Russian trap.

For two years we've been subjected to a daily barrage of lies—fomented first by Russian disinformation agents and endlessly repeated by a hyper-partisan, anti-Trump media—that Trump conspired and colluded with the Russians to steal the 2016 election. All of that exploded on March 24 with the news of Special Counsel Mueller's report that all but exonerates Trump, his campaign, and all Americans caught up in his investigation of conspiring or colluding with Russia. Unfortunately, Mueller failed in his duty as a prosecutor to either exonerate or indict regarding the issue of obstruction of justice.

Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz (a self-identified Democrat, liberal, and Clinton supporter) has steadfastly maintained that the president acted fully within his constitutional authority to fire former FBI Director James Comey (for anything) or to ask if the Justice Department could go easy on former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Dershowitz pointed out that President Trump took no further action regarding Flynn, and unlike Nixon 50 years before, Trump didn't destroy evidence, suborn perjury from subordinates, or lie under oath—all of which were outside of Nixon's constitutional authority.

That isn't good enough for congressional House Democrats who continue to repeat the "collusion" lie, ignore exculpatory evidence in front of them, and continue to foment political discontent within the nation.

Last week, New Times commentator Amy Hewes expressed outrage that "Trump is about to cut food services nationwide." I share her concern about the vulnerable being forgotten, along with many other urgent national issues. However, her outrage is misplaced, as all spending bills originate in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. They will be making budget cuts, not Trump, no matter his proposals. Unfortunately, so deep is their hatred of Trump that House Democrats have decided to continue endless investigations of Trump while legislation to address the business of the nation falls by the wayside. Δ

Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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