Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Resurrect J. Edgar Hoover

He wasn’t a perfect guy. He was gay in a time when gay meant nothing more than high-spirited merriment and he angered his share of presidents. All of them, actually. But he knew how to run the FBI and no one these days seems to have the knack of that.

He wasn’t a perfect guy. He was gay in a time when gay meant nothing more than high-spirited merriment and he angered his share of presidents. All of them, actually.
But he knew how to run the FBI and no one these days seems to have the knack of that.
JedgarhooverHoover took over in 1924 and ran the show until they patted him in the face with a spade, some 48 years later. He came into a scandalized bureau, asked by Calvin Coolidge to clean it up and he did, but he never went away and built an empire. Hoover had a dossier on almost everyone and was unafraid to use them, or at least threaten to do so.
It may well be impossible to operate any sort of clandestine operation without dictators, real or flawed. Hoover was real. All others since him, it seems, have been more institutionally flawed. FBI brass have been accused of virtually allowing 9-11 by not listening to the plaintive cries from their agent in Minnesota who had Zacarias Moussaoui in hand and was convinced Moussaoui had information about an imminent attack.
Which, as we all know, took place. And killed a lot of Americans. And that botched responsibility on the part of the FBI spawned an era of (perhaps) understandable paranoia that let loose the ambitions as well as the pursestrings of government. Largely because of that, our nation has become estranged from its commonality, encouraged into a polarized hunkering-down that I don't remember since the dark and fearful days of McCarthyism.
Bassem Youssef, an FBI agent for 15 years, represents an entirely different, but equally indefensible lapse of judgment, a bureau screw-up that smacks of racism as well as brainlessness. Youssef was the FBI’s legal attaché in Cairo up until the year before 9-11, when he was brought home to the obscurity of a meaningless desk job. The bureau apparently had little regard for foreign-born agents who just spoke Arabic.
A rotten deal perhaps, but understandable in a white-guy organization where all the top brass are white-guys. What is not understandable is what occurred after 9-11. Youssef was still kept in the hinterlands, although he begged to be involved in the investigations. We were desperate for Arab-speakers. We were desperate for systems clarity, such that agents in Minnesota wouldn’t continue to get a busy-signal in Washington.
We were desperate for a lot of things, but the fact was we were getting mostly the run-around.
Turf-wars bound our clandestine information sources as neatly as Gulliver. CIA was afraid to give FBI information because they might take over the case or reveal operations in progress. FBI wasn’t sharing with CIA because they didn’t trust them to keep their mouths shut. Each agency had agents at risk.
In an effort to do their part, Homeland Security is measuring threat-levels in Indiana.
Government tends, when it doesn’t know what else to do, to apply another layer of bureaucracy to the problem, congratulate itself and go on to other things—important things, priority concerns like flag-burning and gay marriage.
To watch this collection of Keystone Kops bump into the furniture and consistently embarrass themselves and their president is funny for a time. It gives Jay Leno and various political cartoonists grist for the mill of their humor. But one of these days something is going to go off somewhere and we’ll have another disaster on our hands. No one will laugh when that happens.
48 years at the helm may have been twenty too many for J. Edgar Hoover. But it is beyond any sane reasoning to have revolving doors through which the likes of John Ashcroft, Roberto Gonzales, Louis Freeh and Robert Mueller turn. That George Tenet, Porter Goss, Michael Hayden, Tom Ridge and the current eight-ball at Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff represent our current state of preparedness is a national disgrace, as well as an enormous risk to the country.
These men are, for the most part, grossly incompetent and, even if competent, are subject to the political vagaries of the president who nominates them. It’s a system devised in hell and perfected within the halls of Congress. One hopes that deep within the bowels of each organization there are career professionals keeping some small degree of professionalism alive.
They are no doubt there. They are no doubt hard-working and capable. They have shown themselves to be exactly that, when allowed the access upon which intelligence-gathering depends.
They deserve career Directors rather than the clowns in the current administration's parade.
More to the point, so do we.

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