By: Charles C. W. Cooke – nationalreview.com – September 28, 2022
In the New York Times this week, Bret Stephens complained that, in unholy conjunction with the Department of Justice, the FBI had disgraced itself yet again with its public smear of Representative Matt Gaetz. “I don’t like Gaetz’s politics or persona any more than you do,” Stephens told a characteristically bewildered Gail Collins. “But what we seem to have here is a high-profile politician being convicted in the court of public opinion of some of the most heinous behavior imaginable—trafficking a minor for sex—until the Justice Department realizes two years late that its case has fallen apart.”
Which . . . well, yeah. That’s what the FBI is for. Last week, a whistleblower named Kyle Seraphin told the Washington Times that the FBI had adopted “an entirely ridiculous internal process for determining every single national priority.” One must ask: “ridiculous” from whose perspective? Relative to the FBI’s stated mission, its behavior does indeed look “ridiculous.” Relative to its historical conduct, its behavior seems pretty standard. What the FBI did to Matt Gaetz is precisely what it did to Donald Trump. And what it did to Donald Trump is what it’s been doing since it was founded: namely, spying on, or attempting to discredit, anyone who irritates the powers that be.
This, you may recall, is the same agency that tried to persuade Martin Luther King Jr. to kill himself. It’s the same agency that compiled a list of 12,000 Americans, and, upon the outbreak of the Korean War, urged President Truman to jail them without trial. It’s the same agency whose response to the KKK’s murder of civil-rights worker Viola Liuzzo — a murder that may have been abetted by an undercover FBI agent — was to spread rumors that Liuzzo was a heroin-addicted communist and a deadbeat mom. It’s the same agency that kept a file on John Denver — the author of such subversive works as “Take Me Home, Country Roads” — because he was opposed to the Vietnam War. When, in 1974, Deputy Attorney General Laurence Silberman was tasked with reviewing J. Edgar Hoover’s secret papers, he was horrified by what he found. Hoover, Silberman wrote, had allowed his FBI to “be used by presidents for nakedly political purposes” and engaged in “subtle blackmail to ensure his and the bureau’s power.” Matt Gaetz is merely the latest in a long line of victims.
Many Americans were shocked when they learned the details of last week’s extraordinarily disproportionate raid against a pro-life activist in Pennsylvania. They shouldn’t have been. The FBI thrives on disproportionality — which, when things go wrong, it habitually supplements with innuendo. As Stephens correctly noted, “We tend to err the most when we assume the worst about the people we like the least.” One doesn’t have to admire Randy Weaver to see that the murders at Ruby Ridge could have been avoided if the FBI hadn’t elected to entrap him in the first place. One doesn’t have to admire David Koresh to grasp that the bloodshed at Waco could have been avoided if the FBI had picked him up in town, instead of going in all guns blazing in an attempt to impress Washington, D.C.
Does the FBI care? Has it ever? No. Since 1935 — and, indeed, even before that, back when it was just the Bureau of Investigation — it has been a violent, expansionist, self-aggrandizing, and careless outfit, which sits awkwardly within the American constitutional order and seems almost proud of that regrettable fact. Apologists for the agency like to insist that it has “changed” since its “bad old days.” But change requires contrition, and none of any significance has been forthcoming. It has been decades since the United States learned who J. Edgar Hoover really was, and his name still proudly adorns the FBI’s headquarters. It is what it is.
A while back, I jotted down a list of potential reforms of the FBI on a piece of paper on my writing desk. In no particular order, they were:
- Mandating that if no underlying crime is discovered by the FBI in the course of an investigation, no “process” crimes can result from that investigation, unless those process crimes are a lie to a grand jury or a lie that prevents the exoneration of an innocent person;
- mandating that, because it is expected to investigate crimes rather than people, the FBI explain in detail at the outset of any investigation the specific cause it has to begin its work;
- mandating that the FBI, as an agency of the federal government, explain in detail at the outset of any investigation why it, rather than a state or local police force, is getting involved in the case;
- mandating that the FBI is forbidden from publicly announcing that it is conducting an investigation until charges are brought;
- mandating that if an investigation is announced in error, or leaked, the FBI publicly announce the closure of the case — if and when that closure comes — and that FBI staff refrain from implying in public that the subject of their closed investigation is guilty.
Since then, I’ve changed my mind. I still favor all of these reforms, which, if implemented, would undoubtedly improve upon the status quo. But, having reflected a little more on the broader question, I now think that the FBI ought to be destroyed from the ground up. End it. Disassemble it. Dissolve it. Repeal its charter, evacuate its building, spoliate its budget and supplies.
It is possible, in theory, to construct an earnest brief in favor of an FBI-style police outfit that deals with matters of exclusive federal concern. But, in practice, that case doesn’t amount to a defense of this FBI. Bit by bit, year by year, case by case, the FBI has turned itself into a sort of unmoored Super Police Force, which, despite being nominally accountable to the executive branch, is “independent” from political control. In essence, the FBI’s pernicious tendency toward empire-building is of a piece with that exhibited by the rest of the modern federal government — which, on paper, is tasked with executing a limited and discrete set of national functions, but which has come instead to act as if it represented a better, more moral, more legitimate version of its equivalents in the states. Can that be fixed? Has it ever been before?
The result of this trend has been disastrous. In the heart of its capital city, the United States now has a bureau that intervenes with impunity in our ideological and partisan disputes; that has developed a massive, statutorily unwarranted intelligence-collection wing; and that has never managed to escape the paranoia and corruption of its execrable, tyrannical founder. Americans who are tired of it all ought to insist that it be dismantled wholesale, and that any replacement be approved only after a long, meaningful, sanctimony-free debate about the role of the government — and its enforcers — in our lives.
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