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Abuse of Power

Abuse of Power: How Cold War Surveillance and Secrecy Policy Shaped the Response to 9/11

Athan G. Theoharis
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Abuse of Power
    Book Description:

    Athan Theoharis, long a respected authority on surveillance and secrecy, established his reputation for meticulous scholarship with his work on the loyalty security program developed under Truman and McCarthy. InAbuse of Power, Theoharis continues his investigation of U.S. government surveillance and historicizes the 9/11 response.Criticizing the U.S. government's secret activities and policies during periods of "unprecedented crisis," he recounts how presidents and FBI officials exploited concerns about foreign-based internal security threats.Drawing on information sequestered until recently in FBI records, Theoharis shows how these secret activities in the World War II and Cold War eras expanded FBI surveillance powers and, in the process, eroded civil liberties without substantially advancing legitimate security interests.Passionately argued, this timely book speaks to the costs and consequences of still-secret post-9/11 surveillance programs and counterintelligence failures. Ultimately,Abuse of Powermakes the case that the abusive surveillance policies of the Cold War years were repeated in the government's responses to the September 11 attacks.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0666-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    Blind-sided by the devastating terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, George W. Bush administration officials endorsed what they contended were unprecedented changes in federal surveillance policy. Such changes, they claimed, were essential to anticipating and preventing future terrorist attacks. First, administration officials drafted and successfully lobbied the Congress to enact the USA PATRIOT Act, a far-reaching law that legalized Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) interception of the communications and records of suspected terrorists without having to obtain a prior court warrant. Second, seven months later, in May 2002, at a joint press conference with FBI Director Robert Mueller III, Attorney...

  5. 1 A New Intelligence Paradigm: Surveillance and Preventive Detention
    (pp. 1-23)

    The crisis of the Great Depression transformed American politics. Capitalizing on the severe economic downturn and the seeming ineptitude of Herbert Hoover, the incumbent Republican president, Democratic presidential nominee Franklin Roosevelt easily captured the presidency in the 1932 election. Candidate Roosevelt, however, had offered no specific blueprint for the New Deal he pledged to enact if elected beyond promising bold new initiatives and a willingness to experiment. His commitment to change course and commanding personality, nonetheless, captured the public’s mood, enabling the new president to steer through Congress in the ensuing years a far-reaching legislative agenda that radically expanded the...

  6. 2 A History of FBI Wiretapping Authority
    (pp. 24-44)

    President Franklin Roosevelt’s unprecedented authorization of Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) “intelligence” investigations, combined with the similarly secret authorization (whether by presidents, attorneys general, or the FBI director) of other preventive detention and informer programs, had shifted the focus of FBI investigations from law enforcement to monitoring the political and personal activities of suspected “subversives.” And yet, despite commanding this increased authority, appropriations, and their successful recruitment of paid and volunteer informers (as, for example, under the American Legion Contact Program), FBI officials could not achieve their objective of learning in advance about the plans and capabilities of suspect individuals...

  7. 3 The Politics of Wiretapping
    (pp. 45-67)

    The rationale for President Franklin Roosevelt’s secret wiretapping directive was that this technique would enable the FBI to anticipate threats to the “national defense”—that is, planned acts of espionage or sabotage. President Harry Truman’s unknowing broader authorization of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wiretapping of “subversive activities” and Attorney General Herbert Brownell’s authorization of FBI bugging during “internal security” investigations were also intended to anticipate foreign-directed operations that could threaten the nation’s security. Indeed, some FBI wiretapping and bugging operations did address legitimate security threats. Beginning in 1940, for example, the FBI wiretapped the German, Japanese, Italian, and Soviet...

  8. 4 A Commitment to Secrecy
    (pp. 68-89)

    Senior Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials’ authorization of illegal investigative techniques (wiretaps, bugs, break-ins, mail openings), willingness to service the political and policy interests of the White House, and, conversely, willingness to subvert the political interests of liberal presidents by covertly assisting their conservative critics in Congress and the media posed serious political risks. The discovery of their actions could provoke demands for the dismissal of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, a thorough housecleaning of the senior ranks of the FBI, the institution of more-stringent congressional oversight, and the enactment (at a minimum) of an FBI legislative charter to...

  9. 5 The Limits of Counterintelligence
    (pp. 90-106)

    President Franklin Roosevelt’s purpose when authorizing Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) intelligence investigations and wiretapping was to enable FBI agents to anticipate and thus hopefully prevent espionage and sabotage operations that could undermine the nation’s security. Roosevelt’s willingness to bypass the attorney general when authorizing intelligence investigations or drafting the 1940 wiretapping directive (combined with Attorney General Robert Jackson’s purposeful decision not to maintain records of approved FBI wiretaps) emboldened the ambitious, if cautious, FBI director to pursue his own more conservative political agenda and at the same time avoid critical scrutiny of the targets and the results of the...

  10. 6 The Politics of Counterintelligence
    (pp. 107-140)

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) failure to have uncovered soviet espionage activities during World War ii was not due to the lack of authority or legal restrictions precluding the use of intrusive investigative techniques. A key source of these failures stemmed from the political assumptions of senior FBI officials, assumptions that determined whom agents should target and that were based on essentially political conceptions of the nature of the “subversive” threat. thus, FBI investigations not only focused on identifying prominent Communist activists suspecting that they were potential spies or saboteurs and intensively monitored their activities through wiretaps, bugs, mail...

  11. 7 Ignoring the Lessons of the Cold War
    (pp. 141-166)

    Secrecy had enabled Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials (and, as well, those of the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] and the National Security Agency [NSA]) to avoid public scrutiny of their abuses of power throughout the World War II and cold war years. This success in avoiding accountability seemingly ended in the early 1970s. The Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations’ conduct of the Vietnam War had increased public skepticism about the wisdom of deferring to presidential national-security claims and provoked an attendant questioning about the role of the U.S. intelligence agencies. Then, a cascading series of developments in the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 167-200)
  13. Index
    (pp. 201-212)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)