Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Nat Hentoff has a blistering column about Bush’s new attempt to codify his unconstitutional power grab and preserve it for the next president.

In his last months, the president is working to ensure that his successor, whomever that may be, will have the greatly expanded power of the executive branch (unprecedented in American history) that Bush instituted after 9/11. Bush’s current chief enabler in this ever-increasing surveillance of American citizens in our daily lives is Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

Aware of Mukasey’s plan for new FBI guidelines that could begin national security and criminal investigations of racial and ethnic groups without any evidence of wrongdoing, the heads of the Senate Judiciary Committee – Chairman Patrick Leahy and ranking member Arlen Specter – have asked the attorney general to delay the implementation of these echoes of the regime of J. Edgar Hoover until Congress is able to review these changes. Mukasey agreed but wants the expanded surveillance of us to begin Oct. 1.

Here’s what the new guidelines would actually do:

As Lara Jakes Jordan of the Associated Press (Aug. 18) pointed out: “The new policy, law enforcement officials said, would let agents open preliminary terrorism investigations after mining public records and intelligence (including tips from informants) to build a profile of traits that, taken together, were deemed suspicious.” There would be no evidence of criminal activity.

Of course, Congress won’t just do its job and prevent those changes from taking place. They clearly have the constitutional authority to do so but they’re terrified of looking soft on terrorism in an election years. Hentoff makes it personal and shows the kind of abuses that inevitably flow from such policies:

Michael German, a former FBI agent for 16 years and now a policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, warns that if Mukasey is allowed to go ahead, he will be undermining the restrictions placed on the FBI after the omnivorous dragnet approach of Hoover’s COINTELPRO (domestic Counter-Intelligence Program) during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Says German of Mukasey: “He talks about ‘arbitrary or irrelevant differences’ between criminal and national security investigations, but these were corrections originally designed to prevent the type of overreach the FBI engaged in for years.”

Long after those years, I obtained my FBI file through the Freedom of Information Act and found I had been “a person of interest” to the COINTELPRO agents even though I was on record in books and articles as a passionate anti-Communist since reading, when I was 15, Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” about Stalin’s ceaseless harvesting of suspicious traits. And I was just one of millions of innocent Americans looked into by the FBI as Hoover promised “an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”

But Hentoff, you see, had a bad habit of hanging out with civil rights activists and known subversives like Lenny Bruce and Max Roach. As far as J. Edgar Hoover was concerned, that constituted probable cause.