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“The political hacks and blackmailers were to be fired forthwith. No more midnight break-ins at the Capitol. No more cloak-and-dagger work. No more arrests.”

— In the mid-1920’s, Harlan Fiske Stone tried to rid the Bureau of Investigation of partisanship and re-position its function from spying to catching criminals. That endeavor lasted less than a decade, given the turbulent times.

The Book of the Week is “Enemies, A History of the FBI” by Tim Weiner, published in 2012. With regard to catching criminals who cross state lines, spying, and national security, various recurring themes have emerged over the decades. This, as a result of America’s alpha-male-dominated culture and leadership. The major themes include:

  • incompetence, corruption and billions and billions of wasted taxpayer dollars due to inter-agency rivalry and power struggles among the FBI, Army, Navy, State Department, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, large urban police forces, the office of the Attorney General, CIA and other law-enforcement groups;
  • violations of the civil rights of countless ordinary Americans, in the name of “national security”;
  • smear campaigns launched by America’s leaders, against its domestic and foreign enemies (which could change “on a dime” pursuant to the tenor of the times);
  • traitors‘ sale of secrets to the Soviets, undetected for years due to the hatred between the FBI and CIA;
  • an outdated, disorganized filing system that lasted into the 1990’s;
  • lack of Arabic translators (resulting in the severe crippling of the FBI’s ability to spy in the Middle East; it had one translator until the early 1990’s);
  • total absence of communication among the FBI’s fifty-six field offices with the others, and rare conferences between agents and headquarters, analysts or the White House through the 1990’s;
  • a culture of secrecy in which all classified documents won’t be disclosed to the general public for decades and decades; and
  • high turnover of personnel— means no one knows who’s in charge– even years after the 2005 consolidation of America’s national-security services encompassing intelligence, counter-intelligence, and counter-terror operations.

To be fair, the kinds of men who are a good fit for the culture of intelligence organizations tend to be James Bond wannabes, predatory stalkers and bullies.

In July 1908, president Theodore Roosevelt authorized the creation of the Bureau of Investigation (later named the FBI), which started with thirty-four agents. By August 1919, as head of the Bureau’s Radical Division, the twenty-four year old J. Edgar Hoover supervised hundreds of agents.

World War I gave rise to the Espionage Act of 1917, which gave Hoover an excuse to order that foreigners and countless others be spied on and arrested– right up until the day he died in 1972!

The author used the terms “informant” and “informer” in a confusing manner, and didn’t clearly define either one. But “mole” or “infiltrator” are more clear terms: an intelligence agent who joins a political, ideological or labor group targeted for spying, who eventually– of course on flimsy or no evidence, uses smears and lies to arrest and jail the group’s members.

Hoover’s favorite techniques included using infiltrators, mail-theft, sending agents to engage in break-ins, planting of hidden microphones, and warrantless wiretapping of phones (violations of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution) at the homes of people he perceived as enemies of America– named on his list.

Sometimes, law enforcement denied due process to suspects just to quell public fear or outrage, such as in the Sacco and Vanzetti case in the 1920’s. Over decades, there have been many incidents whose perpetrators were never caught. Spring 1919 saw one example of political terror. In acts of protestation against the federal government’s xenophobia and crackdown on innocent people, suspected anarchists sent tens of mail bombs to high-level public officials. The U.S. attorney general blamed Communists.

In November and December 1919, the Bureau of Investigation corralled and deported hundreds of the Union of Russian Workers. A few months later, the Attorney General’s office, run by A. Mitchell Palmer, basked in the glory of catching thousands of suspected Communists across the entire country– by way of spying operations and stomping on due process; he was fortunate to have Hoover’s authorization and talent for plotting the complicated operation. The jails overflowed with foreigners.

The hysteria against foreigners, anarchists, labor unions, Socialists and Communists was such that president Woodrow Wilson’s administration allowed the American Protective League (comprised of vigilantes– ordinary Americans who volunteered to, and were authorized, by wearing badges!) to spy on, burglarize the homes of, and beat up, suspected subversives. The group’s membership at its peak numbered approximately three hundred thousand.

Clearly, after WWI, the world wasn’t ready for president Wilson’s proposed League of Nations– a group of the world’s most industrially and technologically advanced countries that were attempting to cooperate in maintaining world peace. They couldn’t even quell their own citizens’ unrest, and were too busy jockeying for territory and resources of other sovereign states.

WWII saw historical events that forced human beings to evolve sufficiently politically, economically, culturally and socially, so that they did cooperate, more or less. And yet, there’s still so much hatred.

Anyway, FDR allowed Hoover to install listening devices in the German, Italian, French, Russian and Japanese embassies in the United States. However, the U.S. Army, Navy and FBI did not share intelligence among themselves prior to the Pearl Harbor attack. So failure to connect the dots resulted in countless deaths and ruined lives. The FBI crowed every time it caught criminals who could harm America in wartime, but in one of countless instances, in spring 1942 it omitted inconvenient facts from its narrative. Two of eight saboteurs had an attack of conscience and revealed their evil plot to the Bureau before the plot was executed. They would not have been caught otherwise.

In January 1946, president Harry Truman wisely disallowed the growth of a monstrous, oppressive, Stalinist kind of organization run by one individual. He dashed Hoover’s dream of running all worldwide spying operations on behalf of the United States– by ordering the founding of the CIA, which would spy internationally, while the FBI would do so domestically. Nevertheless, unsurprisingly, “The routine destruction of FBI files ensured that no accurate count [of break-ins and buggings] existed.”

Seething, Hoover secretly vetted men who went to work for the CIA, and publicly shamed them if they had Communist affiliations or homosexual tendencies. He contended that they were vulnerable to blackmail if they were employed in the government, colleges, law enforcement or public schools. He rooted them out and got them fired.

In the late 1950’s, Hoover began to target the Civil Rights Movement, saying its members palled around with Communists; in 1963, he deemed MLK “the most dangerous Negro in America.” Hoover’s spies infiltrated King’s cohorts, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and other religious and political groups. Although Hoover wanted to go after Soviet spies, attorney general RFK wanted him to spy on the KKK. But Klan members in Alabama and Georgia were employed in local law enforcement, so it was hard to fight City Hall.

There is nothing new under the sun. The FBI collected information on the sex lives of U.S. Senate and House members, and any deviant behavior could be used for blackmailing. It kept the reports in a safe. “The president wondered allowed whether they should be leaked selectively.”

Beginning in late 1967, LBJ let Hoover sic spies on about a hundred thousand Americans who were protesting the Vietnam War and civil rights violations. Hoover manipulated the FBI (of course), plus the U.S. attorney general’s office, army, NSA, CIA and community leaders. A couple of months later, LBJ’s own administration was under surveillance.

President Nixon kept pressuring the FBI to prove that the Soviets were to blame for the civil-rights and anti-war protests. But they weren’t to blame. Into the 1970’s, the Weather Underground, a subgroup of SDS, destroyed property through tens of terrorist bombings in the United States. The FBI solved none of the cases. Major media outlets such as Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Time magazine reported there was something rotten in Denmark.

Read the book to learn:

  • how Hoover made a “new normal” of ignoring the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to spy on everyone during four presidential administrations (Supreme Court rulings be damned);
  • how this has come full circle now, intruding on the lives of all Americans;
  • what happened under presidents Ford and Carter;
  • of infinite occasions of mis-allocation of the FBI’s resources (such as the time when hundreds of agents investigated president Bill Clinton’s affair with a White House intern instead of chasing after criminals who were stealing from, terrorizing or killing people);
  • and a century’s worth of the FBI’s adventures and (mostly) misadventures in law enforcement.


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The Book of the Week is “Winchell, Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity” by Neal Gabler, published in 1994. Two cliches that apply to the likes of Walter Winchell’s role in the evolution of the American entertainment industry include: THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN, AND DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN.

Born in April 1897 in East Harlem, Winchell got into Vaudeville as an adolescent. In the 1920’s, there were about six major New York City newspapers, and readers had their favorite columnists. In August 1924, Winchell got his own column, specializing in Broadway gossip in the newly launched Evening Graphic.

Winchell’s career took off. By summer 1929, he was writing for the Hearst-owned paper, the Mirror. The following spring, he launched a radio show, and the following summer, he acted in a movie. He associated with Mobsters, advertising their night clubs while he received protection from them.

Winchell vacillated between suffering from imposter syndrome, and behaving like an alpha male with hubris syndrome. He was a dream dispenser for his readers; they aspired to adopt the lifestyle of “Cafe Society.” In the 1930’s, this set consisted of star-struck social climbers, heirs and heiresses who had done nothing to merit their own celebrity.

Winchell acquired significant power to make or break peoples’ fame with his column, by promoting or smearing them. During the Depression, he honed his showmanship and propaganda techniques, becoming a strong political influencer. Beginning in 1933, he flacked for FDR and smeared Hitler. His rhetoric was anti-Communist, anti-Fascist and anti-isolationist.

Lacking significant formal education, Winchell rode a wave of success based on envy, anger and vengeance, into the 1950’s. The author wrote, “The real grievance was the control he exercised over his social and intellectual superiors and what that control portended for the elites.”

Read the book to learn a lot more about Winchell and others that smacks of other public figures whose rises and falls have been largely similar, in the history of this country.

The Preacher and the Presidents

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The Book of the Week is “The Preacher and the Presidents, Billy Graham in the White House” by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, published in 2007.

Billy Graham was one of the most famous Christian preachers in the world from the middle of the twentieth century, into the single-digit 2000’s. He was a religious version of Rush Limbaugh. Although he was raised as a Presbyterian, in 1939 he earned his Baptist-minister certificate from the Florida Bible Institute. By 1949, he had become president of a Bible College, and he had founded a radio station. He spouted propaganda on various political issues through the years, but claimed he was nonpartisan, and claimed he wasn’t aware of the implications of his speechifying.

Graham got friendly with as many powerful, influential people as he possibly could, including American presidents from Truman through Dubya. He rubbed shoulders with publishing magnates Henry Luce and William Randolph Hearst. His philosophy was, believe the Bible or leave the ministry. He was a true, literal believer. Graham told worshipers in Los Angeles that the Soviets were planning to attack the U.S. with nuclear weapons because they were sinners. Yet, he preached love rather than fire and brimstone.

In January 1952, Graham held a religious rally– er, uh, revival in Washington, D.C. He invited president Truman, who didn’t like him because he was a grand-stander. About eleven thousand people attended. “To keep his finances transparent, he [Graham] insisted that crusade accounts be audited and published in the local papers when the crusade was finished.” (Apparently, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker didn’t get that memo with regard to their ministry.)

Graham continued to identify himself as a staunch desegregationist. He delivered sermons to that effect in president Eisenhower’s second term, after racial incidents. A common situation cropped up when Graham courageously took a stand on controversial issues. People on each extreme side of the political spectrum complained he was doing too much for their opponents, or not enough for them.

But Graham was still ever-popular through the 1950’s. In 1957, about two million people attended his 97-day crusade (which was publicized via prayer chains in fifty different countries, leaflets, mailings and bumper stickers) at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He strove for quality over quantity in holding only a few crusades a year, but Martin Luther King, Jr. was constantly on the move for the Civil Rights Movement, spreading himself and his resources too thinly.

Graham prayed at president-elect Nixon’s 1969 inauguration. A few days later, he spoke at the National Prayer breakfast, and presided over a church service at the White House; all these events jammed into a few days to provide efficiency for Secret-Service security. “Whatever else they were, the [religious] services were a great opportunity for arm-twisting, fund-raising, loyalty-testing. [both for Nixon and Graham].”

Also in early 1969, the government was drafting young men working full-time for (college) Campus Crusade for Christ (Graham’s organization) to fight in Vietnam. Graham pulled strings so they would be treated like ordained ministers and evade conscription. However, in late April 1970, Nixon said that it was up to the United States to save the world, be its police officer, lest free nations were threatened with dictatorship and anarchy. Never mind that America had been an aggressor for two decades in so many little global wars, replacing one dictator with another, and had been bombing Cambodia for the year prior(!)

Also in 1970, the president held a July 4th event called Honor America Day in Washington, D.C., to help ordinary Americans calm down. It featured interfaith speakers and celebrity singers, and attendees from all walks of life. Nixon himself, however, didn’t personally attend. He was at his San Clemente property. Later, the media revealed that the event had been a nepotistic donor-fest presented by J.W. Marriott and Nixon’s brother, Donald. Once again, there is nothing new under the sun.

A dress rehearsal for the Patriot Act was proposed in the summer of 1970. It was called the Huston plan. It would have legalized a bonanza of spying in America, like there is currently. Through that plan, Nixon wanted to get rid of influential antiwar troublemakers, but FBI head J. Edgar Hoover opposed it. Even so, as is well known, the Nixon administration committed countless evil acts in order to “… stop leaks, track down traitors, punish enemies, and ensure domestic tranquility.”

In mid-October, 1971, Charlotte, NC enjoyed a holiday named “Billy Graham Day” with a parade and school and government closures. Nixon and Graham rode together in the motorcade. The Secret Service barred anyone who appeared to be a demonstrator, from entering the Coliseum — the venue of a political rally– er, uh, a speaking event. In early 1972, the White House perceived that Jews dominated the American media, so they attacked certain of its members.

As is well known, in the past century, separation of Church and State has waxed and waned in this country. But the main reason for the separation is that civil law must trump religious law, as this nation’s diverse people have diverse religious beliefs. Graham always used the technique of “whataboutism” whenever people pointed out Nixon’s high crimes and misdemeanors, using the cliched excuse: He who is without sin, cast the first stone.

In the mid-1980’s, for the 1988 presidential race for George H.W. Bush, an evangelical political-consultant prepared a 57-page briefing book for wooing devout Christian voters– identifying their demographics, denominations, leadership and beliefs; providing a glossary (with such entries as, “born again”) and recounting how Reagan had wooed them.

Read the book to learn numerous other factoids on Graham’s life, career and political impact.

The Nightingale’s Song

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“Some looked on his cavalier attitude toward the facts as a harmless, at times amusing sidelight to his high-octane personality. Others seemed to view it as a disability for which he bore no responsibility, like a clubfoot.”

–regarding Oliver North’s lies and credit-grabbing but incredible work ethic in doing a job, and lack of accountability in the event of failure or wrongdoing

The Book of the Week is “The Nightingale’s Song” by Robert Timberg, published in 1995. In this large paperback, the author provided biographies of a group of Naval Academy-at-Annapolis graduates of 1958, 1959 and 1968. Their backgrounds provided insights as to their behaviors, and how they fared at the end of the Reagan Era. The group included John McCain, John Poindexter, Bud McFarlane, Oliver North, and Jim Webb, Jr.

During the Cold War, there were countless ways the United States government, through propaganda, incited phobia across-the-board that the Soviet Union might attack with nuclear weapons. In July 1958, the U.S., pursuant to such phobia, loaded nuclear missiles(!) into AD Skyraiders that would presumably counterattack if the Soviets got aggressive in Berlin or North Korea. For, the U.S. was distracted helping the president of Lebanon stay in power, as there had been a coup in Iraq. McFarlane participated in the Skyraiders endeavor, despite his alarm.

In late 1967, McFarlane was sent to Dong Ha, where he saw that the American senior military leadership was conducting the war extremely stupidly. They had pipe dreams of high-tech installations– while the infantry and artillery suffered shortages of basic supplies. A killing-the-enemy quota was imposed on the front-line soldiers, but the enemy was using guerrilla warfare.

Vietnam veterans such as McCain, McFarlane, Webb, North and Poindexter did their patriotic duty, and entered public service. While they were fighting, however, antiwar protesters and draft dodgers entered the professions and the political arena. “The president and many politicians appeared to be cheering them on.”

Further, the younger generation of civilians appointed by Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense in Lyndon Johnson’s administration) behaved haughtily toward the former old-school military leaders (WWII and Korean veterans) who were then serving in the federal government. The former were comprised of a “pampered, unbloodied elite.” Congress scapegoated senior military leaders over Vietnam. The usual egregious hypocrisy abounded over Monday-morning quarterbacking. There was serious brain drain from the Navy, and budget cuts, too.

North, McFarlane and Poindexter had met at Annapolis and were reunited in the National Security Council during Reagan’s first term. In early 1982, critics claimed there was a lack of foreign policy experience. That was disputed at a meeting of Reagan’s top staffers. Meanwhile, McCain was still recovering physically and psychologically from having been a prisoner of war in the “Hanoi Hilton” for five years and change.

In mid-1981, McCain insanely decided to run for Congress from the state of Arizona, even though he was labeled a carpetbagger. Having never lived in Arizona, he joined his wife’s family there. His campaign had a very short year and a half before election day, to get his name and platform known, raise money, etc., etc., etc.

All through the Reagan years, there was a constant tug-of-war between the policy makers in the White House, and the military men in the Pentagon. As a consequence, countless dangerous situations ensued; one occurred in the early 1980’s: each gave contradictory orders to a troopship off the coast of Lebanon. The men appointed to high-level policy positions in the White House (i.e., the major perpetrators of the Iran-Contra scandal) eventually went rogue– ignored the chain of command, and thought nothing of it.

In the mid-1980’s, the men in the Reagan administration argued over what to do about the mentally unstable Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. They decided against killing him altogether. The reasoning went that he’d be viewed as a martyr, prompting Arab terror groups to counterattack with vicious vehemence. Poindexter simply wanted to humiliate Gaddafi, and maybe ordinary Libyans would be grateful, and finish getting rid of him themselves.

Of the Iran-Contra scandal, the author wrote, “If nothing else, the administration acted in a muddleheaded, thoroughly unprofessional manner… Administration spokesmen denied any American involvement [on the the CIA-Contra aspect of it] but evidence that they were lying piled up quickly.” By the mid-1980’s, Americans of “Generation X” and older, could see that the Cold War hysteria about Central America generated by the American government was overblown. The region was like Vietnam all over again, complete with guerrilla warfare.

In July 1987, North became a TV star when he testified at the Iran-Contra hearings. He launched a blistering attack on Congress. He considered himself a man of honor in actually helping the Contras because he kept his promise that he would. His other defenses were: the goal was to free six American hostages in Iran; secure supplies for American troops because their lives were at risk. On the other hand, North engaged in very illegal activities: shredded documents, committed perjury, broke federal law by skirting Congress and the president in funding operations that affected numerous people’s lives– and even put lives at risk.

Curiously, the author failed to provide significant information on a major component of the Iran-Contra story: William Casey and his CIA. Casey was conveniently dying of a brain tumor (a smart career move) when the scandal broke. This book, therefore, is missing a major ingredient. It is like baking a cake, and omitting the sugar!

Anyway, read the book to learn additional numerous factoids about the above and other major Reagan-Era characters whose common military schooling gave them a particular mentality and shaped their generation.

Oh What A Fight – BONUS POST

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Oh What A Fight

sung to the tune of “December, 1963 (Oh What A Night)” with apologies to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

Oh what a fight.
Criminals STILL walk free in ’23.
What a noisy prez-race we’ll see.
Thug po-LI-tics.
What a fight.

Oh what a fight.

All the candidates, we know their names.
‘Stead of brains-and-maturity, we’ll see false claims.
Where’s the fact-checking?
What a fight.

Oh they, inCITE hostile-feelings in male viewers, of the news.
And oh, fren-em-ies’ll call in favors in-secret soo-oon.

Oh what a fight.
Frus-trating AND infuriating me.
Prah-paganda and lack of substance we’ll see.
Sour surrender, what a fight.

Some viewers, WISH they could roll with the elites,
reveling in opponents’ scandals and electoral defeats.
Oh what a fight.

Oh they, inCITE hostile-feelings in male viewers, of the news.
And oh, fren-em-ies’ll call in favors in-secret soo-oon.

Oh what a fight.

The whole campaign IS a scripted charade.
CLAshing egos, now it’s donor-made.
What a fight.

Some viewers, WISH they could roll with the elites,
reveling in opponents’ scandals and electoral defeats.
Oh what a fight.

Dough-dough-dough-dough-dough, dough-dough-dough.
Oh what a fight.
Dough-dough-dough-dough-dough, dough-dough-dough.
Oh what a fight…