Counterterrorism or COINTELPRO II? HOOVER'S GHOST

THE ARGUMENT

June 25, 1995|By David W. Marston | David W. Marston,Special to The Sun

"We have in our midst hatemongers, bigots, and riotou agitators, many of whom are at opposite poles philosophically but who spew similar doctrines of prejudice and intolerance. They exploit hate and fear, spread rumors, and pit one element of our people against another. Theirs is a dogma of intimidation and terror."

President Clinton attacking the militia movement last week? No, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover blasting radical protesters, early 1960s. Even accepting common wisdom about politics and bedfellows, it is beyond strange when William Jefferson Clinton's speeches on domestic violence sound eerily reminiscent of J. Edgar Hoover. Scarier yet, it has largely escaped public notice that Clinton's prescription for dealing with terrorism borrows heavily from the old Hoover arsenal.

Still, public outrage over the bombing has made anti-terrorism legislation popular, and the main people who seemed to find anything ominous in it were a handful of leftover liberals in the Senate, and Ira Glasser at the American Civil Liberties Union. So far. This band of nay-sayers might be sharply expanded, however, in light of disclosures - particularly some unintentional ones - in a newly published book by Cartha "Deke" DeLoach, "Hoover's FBI: The Inside Story by Hoover's Trusted Lieutenant" (Regnery Publishing. Illustrated. 419 pages. $27.50).

Of course, what you think of the Trusted Lieutenant's story will turn on your view of the man who trusted him. In a recent biography, journalist Anthony Summers portrayed J. Edgar Hoover as a politics-playing closet homosexual transvestite blackmailed by the Mafia. Worse, for the disappearing tribe of Hoover worshipers, Summers backed up his 438-page account with another 68 pages of meticulous source notes, rebutting in advance any suggestion that he made it all up. But the more argent lessons are those for today.

And today it can be argued that COINTELPRO, which is what they called domestic counterintelligence back in the bad old days when Hoover did it, is slipping back into business under an alias, the Comprehensive Terrorism Prevention Act of 1995, which just blew through the Senate, 91-8.

This concern was heightened when, during debate, a Clinton Administration official casually exploded the lodestar of more than 70 years of federal law enforcement, the dictum best stated by Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone in 1924. Stone declared that the Bureau of Investigation (father of the FBI) was concerned only with "conduct and then only with such conduct as is forbidden by the laws of the United States." In recent years, the standard for launching FBI surveillance activities has been evidence of "imminent criminal conduct," or a "criminal predicate."

This seemed unduly limiting to Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick, who breezily suggested that maybe a criminal predicate was not necessary after all, when you're chasing terrorists.

The Senate-passed bill gives the FBI two new tools which Hoover, even at the height of his anti-Communist mania, never dreamed of: "roving" wiretap authority and 1,000 new federal agents. It also provides for military participation in federal law enforcement, a bad idea which Hoover would have nixed for the wrong reason (no soldiers sharing his turf, thank you) and for the creation of a Domestic Counterterrorism Center, headed by the FBI.

Finally, the bill gives the president the power to identify foreign terrorists, and to prevent them from raising money.

The bipartisan urge to do something decisive, fast, after Oklahoma City, has obscured a couple of hard realities about law enforcement. First, roving wiretaps, chemical tracers, even Domestic Counterterrorism Centers, are all great, but tough crimes still get solved the way they did in the Garden of Eden. Someone talks, often for a price (as in the arrest of the Trade Towers bombing masterm ind in Pakistan), or the suspect screws up (Tim McVeigh busting the speed limit while lacking a license plate in his departure from Oklahoma City).

So the question: Would any provision of the Senate's anti-terrorism bill have prevented the Oklahoma City bombing, or flushed out the perpetrators faster? No.

Second, contrary to TV, most federal law enforcement never involves a heinous crime. Rather, it's Social Security fraud, background checks, fugitive warrants - and boredom. The most benign escape is to fill up a government car with gas, drive to your favorite place until it's half-empty, then head home. But that's for time-servers. Ambitious counterintelligence agents will spend their time finding new informants, working wiretaps, penetrating whatever group is the political demon du jour.

Disaster's Cause

You don't have to be a Branch Davidian to be concerned about another 1,000 federal agents doing that.

But again, the question:

Did a shortage of federal agents in any way contribute to the Oklahoma City disaster? No.

So what about DeLoach's book?

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