J. Edgar’s long reign taught us one fundamental thing. It is a bad idea having one person in charge of an investigating agency for 48 years. Some called him the closest thing to a dictator America has ever seen. We will never know the extent of his evil doings because his secretary. Helen Gandy, who had worked with him for 54 years, and close friend and daily companion of over 40 years, Clyde Tolson, took control of all his files and destroyed them.
Once J. Edgar was no longer in power the FBI had to adjust to his absence. As expected, there were several pretenders to the throne among them Mark Felt, also known as Deep Throat. Seeing the FBI vulnerable some in Congress ginned up enough courage to investigate it. The result was the formation of the Church Committee. The FBI was so revered that the idea Congress was thinking of looking at its actions was called treasonous by some.
The Church Committee’s report told of years of abuses by the FBI. One thing that came from it was a recommendation limiting the term of the FBI director to 8 years. Legislation was enacted limiting it to 10 years. We did not want to see another J. Edgar even though it is uncertain his spirit has ever gone away.
The present FBI Director is Robert S. Mueller III. He was appointed on August 2, 2001. OOPS! Hold on! You just said the term limit was ten years. What’s Mueller still doing there?
It seems we have short memories in the US. Obama asked for him to be reappointed for two more years because of the ongoing threats to our country from terrorism. Since that threat will never go away, will that be the same fate of Mueller?
Some objected to extending Mueller. The ACLU reminded Congress why the limit was put in place in the first place Senator Charles Grassley said: “This is an extraordinary step that the Senate has taken. Thirty-five years ago Congress limited the FBI’s director’s term to one, 10-year appointment as an important safeguard against improper political influence and abuses of the past.” It was so extraordinary he nevertheless voted for the extension as did 99 other Senators. The House passed the bill on a voice vote. The limitation was easily tossed out the window.
Under Mueller the FBI has engaged in a number of abuses as set out in the ACLU’s opposition. So one has to wonder, are we creating another J. Edgar? The reason J. Edgar kept getting reappointed was he had something on every one; no one dared take him on, not even Congress but least of all the president. Is it the same reason for Mueller?
We don’t know whether Mueller walked into Obama’s office and dropped a dossier on his desk and then suggested he’d like to stay in office. Mueller seems cut from a different cloth than J. Edgar. His background is more diverse. He’s in his late 60s so he’d be hard pressed to add another 36 years to his tenure. Mueller’s a Marine officer and a Vietnam a combat veteran with a bronze star. (That gives me some comfort because of my tendency to have a bias for Marines despite Lee Harvey Oswald.)
I have a couple of problems with Mueller’s extension. I don’t believe that he has changed the FBI’s culture. Much of the secrecy and disregard for the laws still seems to continue.
But the main reason is the Mueller precedent may be used for someone more Hoover-like. We will be heading down the same slippery slope again.
I will show later that it appears Congress lives in great fear of the FBI. Hoover lived in the time before internet and before the endless war on terror. The FBI has gathered unto itself vasts amount of more power since that time. For instance, a mere letter (euphemistically entitled National Security Letter) written by any agent without outside oversight allows an agent to view all our financial and personal records held by others without our knowledge.
During Hoover’s era the FBI had mail opening operations which the Church Committee noted violated both our First and Fourth Amendment rights. The committee went on to note that the FBI “acted to protect a country whose laws and traditions gave every indication that it was not to be “protected” in such a fashion.”
Times they are changing. We no longer have the constitutional protection of being secure in our papers. Our courts have acquiesced in the diminishing of our rights. That is why we need our national police, the FBI, to be not only seen to be, but actually to be, pure as Caesar’s wife.