The Abuses of the Intelligence Agencies Washington, DC 20002)
This is a dizzying computation of all the snoopings, publicly known so far, performed by our public servants upon their putative masters. With admirable restraint the report attempts to collect and document every instance of illegal activity undertaken by our various intelligence agencies. It gives the defense offered by the agencies, the authority under which each agency operated, and the statutes apparently infringed. It is a very useful and complete handbook on official crime. We can surmise that the tally is not complete, since it arose from spot investigations, odd suits, and accidental confession. But already the count is almost self-defeating. The hundreds under surveillance, the thousands photographed, the hundreds of thousands filed. The “watch lists” in readiness for emergency detention. The blacks. The kids. Hit lists. Enemies. The “enemy within” is us. The deadpan recital of it all tends to dissolve in the mind. Everett Dirksen claimed, “A million here, a million there—in time that adds up to real money.” It doesn’t, of course, That kind of addition turns—magically, at some unthinkable number—into subtraction. We know fairly well what we are getting for $1.98. But not for forty billion. Much the same thing happens by the thousandth wiretapping or break-in recorded here.
We must summon up a gratitude to E. Howard Hunt. One or two of his comic break-ins, complete with celebratory self-photographing sessions—or one intimidating “interview” with red wig and voice-modulator—reminds us what all these figures really mean. The break-in at the Democratic National Committee was small potatoes set beside the hundreds of FBI “black bag” jobs; but its very $1.98 size smuggled it in toward the imagination past TV commercials and situation comedies. Watergate, was the sit-com of scandals, “Haldeman and Son,” your friendly garbage collectors tripping over each other’s feet.
Those who found the Nixon tenure in office peculiarly sinister fail to notice its redeeming feature: Nixon distrusted everyone, even J. Edgar Hoover. Even Richard Helms. Anyone outside his sight. He had to rely on private flunkies for everything—to control demonstrations around the White House (call over John Dean from the Justice Department), to conduct the war on drugs (use the scrubbed ferocity of Egil Krogh), to keep track of Teddy (put Tony Ulasewicz on the trail of boiler-room girls), to draw up a master plan for spying on everyone—including the spies (have young Tom Huston teach J. Edgar his tricks).
Poor Huston, how he wronged the Director: he thought him remiss in the patriotic breaking of laws. He had to admit, before the Church committee, that Hoover had been doing the very things he proposed; but Huston thought Hoover was above all that—and Hoover had to slap down the kid for being such a simpleton.
Nixon had the apparatus of a police state at his disposal, but he was too devious to use it. Right-wingers constantly make the mistake of thinking that liberals live up to their own pretensions. The pretensions give them license to sink down toward their enemies’ level. If you want…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.