The Federal Bureau of Investigation is taking one kick to its shins after another, from the Robert Hanssen spy scandal to its screw-up of evidence in the Oklahoma City bombing to the most recent tale of how piles of its own weapons and equipment have suddenly vanished, and all this on top of the Waco and Ruby Ridge disasters a few years ago. It almost makes you think the time is ripe for reform.
In fact, not a few people are talking about reforming the FBI, and some suggestions seem to make sense. One that doesn’t but which nevertheless tells us quite a bit about the kinds of minds making it is the renewed demand to scrape the name of J. Edgar Hoover off the Bureau’s headquarters.
Washington Post columnist Colbert King brought this up several weeks ago, and last week his colleague Richard Cohen jumped into the anti-Hoover parade as well. [“Makeover for the FBI”, The Washington Post,June 24] What their proposal ought to tell us is that they really have less interest in improving the FBI than in getting even with one of liberalism’s most hated enemies—and one of the greatest Americans of the last century.
The main charge against Hoover, you see, seems to be that he spied on Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mr. Cohen even suggests we rename the FBI building after King himself. There are other charges against Hoover too —that he spied on Communists and the left and he didn’t respect civil liberties— but what Mr. Cohen and Co. really despise about Hoover is simply that he was never of their ideological crowd.
Among the specific charges Mr. Cohen hurls at the late FBI director are that “Hoover is the same guy—is he not? —who authorized the bugging of Martin Luther King’s hotel room (at the Willard) and the tapping of his telephone.” Well, not, as a matter of fact. As historian David Garrow made clear years ago in his book on King and the FBI, it was John and Robert Kennedy who authorized the FBI surveillance of King—because the “civil rights leader” was associating with known communists and because he even went so far as to lie to President Kennedy to his face about having broken his links with one of them.
Mr. Cohen coyly drags in yet another smear of Hoover—”I have said nothing,” he smirks, “about reports that Hoover occasionally wore a dress—a black, fluffy number, according to a biography of the former FBI director.” In the first place, crime historian Peter Maas refuted the smear about the dress years ago in a major article in The New Yorker. In the second place, is the progressive Mr. Cohen really some kind of “homophobe” who thinks men who cross-dress shouldn’t have buildings named after them? Or is “homophobia” OK when the target is a hated enemy of the left?
He also claims Hoover “for a long time … insisted [the Mafia] didn’t exist.” This seems to be yet another lie. I have read two major biographies of Hoover, (by Richard Gid Powers and Curt Gentry) and nowhere can I find a statement that the Mafia didn’t exist. It’s true the FBI didn’t pursue organized crime very much under Hoover—for one thing, most organized crime (gambling, prostitution, extortion) is local and state crime, and the FBI doesn’t have jurisdiction, or else it’s the kind of crime (bootlegging, drugs) for which there are special federal agencies (Treasury, the Narcotics Bureau).
J. Edgar Hoover certainly had his flaws. He was actually less alert to the threat of Soviet espionage than he should have been, and he was perhaps too quick to order the Bureau to hound down opponents of the Kennedy-Johnson “civil rights” agenda in the 1960s. He became too old for the job he created, and he should have retired years before his death in 1972.
But Hoover built the FBI up being from a crooked little broom closet in the 1920s to what became—under him—the best law enforcement and counter-espionage agency in the world, an agency that won the hatred of the criminals and traitors it busted as well as of those who befriended them in the media, and he ran it with an iron discipline that has long since vanished. So has the Bureau’s reputation for the competence and integrity that Hoover’s discipline created.
No doubt in the New America that people like Mr. Cohen want to concoct, Hoover’s name will disappear, along with the Confederate flag and the American flag and the national anthem and every other symbol and icon of the Old America that people like Mr. Cohen want to destroy. But it will be a while before the New America is able to produce another J. Edgar Hoover; Martin Luther King may well be the best it can ever come up with.