"J. Edgar Hoover is Back: FBI Wages Secret War Against U.S. Citizens." So runs the alarmist headline over Monday's column in The Washington Times by civil libertarian Nat Hentoff.
What agitates Hentoff is John Ashcroft's decision to let the FBI "send its disguised agents into religious institutions, libraries and meetings of citizens critical of government policy -- without a previous complaint, or reason to believe that a crime has been committed."
Writes Hentoff: "This is, in dangerous essence, a return to J. Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO counter-intelligence operation from 1956 to 1971," an operation shut down "because of unbridled FBI abuses of the First and Fourth Amendment."
Hentoff quotes the sainted Sen. Frank Church, "The American people need to be reassured that never again will an agency of government be permitted to conduct a secret war against those citizens its considered threats."
Ashcroft's retort: These FBI agents are only being authorized to attend the same public meetings as anyone else, which is hardly cause for ACLU wails that we can all now expect a "knock on the door" at midnight.
Hentoff is a canary in the mine, always necessary to alert us to the poisonous gas of incipient tyranny, but there is another side to this story. First, America faces an internal threat unlike any in its history. Second, though Hentoff demonizes Hoover and canonizes Church, this is historical revisionism.
For it was Church and his radical allies who, to squeals of delight from the media, did more to destroy the morale and gut the effectiveness of the CIA and FBI than anyone else in modern times.
Church was a New Frontier-Great Society Democrat who, along with much of the rest of that ilk, launched America into Vietnam, could not win or end the war, then cut and ran and undermined Richard Nixon every step of the way as he tried to extricate America with honor. When Nixon stumbled and blundered in Watergate, Church and his crew cut off aid to Vietnam, ensuring a communist victory, then set out on a demagogic rampage to gut an FBI and CIA they had come to detest as agencies of a Cold War in which they had lost interest.
The truth: There was a serious internal security threat in the Nixon era. When 500,000 anti-war protesters besieged the White House in 1969, 5,000 tried to break into the Justice Department, and trashed it. In May 1971, 15,000 came to Washington to shut down the city with violence. In the Nixon era, ROTC buildings were burned down, Black Panthers killed cops, Indian radicals shot FBI men, and home-grown terrorists robbed banks, kidnapped judges and built bomb factories in Greenwich Village, while liberals like Church pandered endlessly to "the finest young generation we have ever produced." Nobody believes such bullhockey now, but you would be surprised how many indulged in that kind of tripe then.
Did the FBI make mistakes? Sure, it did. But when Rep. James Sensenbrenner wails, "We don't want to go back to the bad old days when the FBI was spying on people like Martin Luther King," someone should clue him in. The men who ordered the taps and bugs on King were JFK and Robert Kennedy, and LBJ. And the people who dished the FBI's dirt on King's personal life, and the reporters who got all that dirt and didn't tell, were card-carrying liberals.
As for J. Edgar Hoover, he headed an FBI that kept us secure from Nazi sabotage in World War II. He had that wholly owned subsidiary of Stalin Enterprises, the American Communist Party, so penetrated, only the dues of its FBI members kept it alive. He helped ferret out the spies and traitors crawling all over FDR's Justice, State and Treasury departments, and White House. And he had reason to infiltrate the Klan and Panthers and, yes, an anti-war movement, some of whose leaders were making regular runs to Havana and Hanoi to aid the enemy then killing the best and bravest of the '60s generation -- those whose names are on that wall.
When liberal icons Earl Warren and FDR ordered 110,000 Japanese citizens and aliens put into camps, Hoover alone protested the measure as unnecessary and extreme. Whatever his sins, Hoover helped America win the Cold War, but if Frank Church and his ilk had been in power, America might have lost it.
And if today we will not seal our borders, nor rid ourselves of this empire, nor stay out of wars that are not our wars, we are going to face endless terror on U.S. soil -- and we are going to need tough security agencies. That is the price of not putting America first.