We want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.—President Harry S. Truman
Secret police. Secret courts. Secret government agencies. Surveillance. Intimidation tactics. Harassment. Torture. Brutality. Widespread corruption. Entrapment schemes.
These are the hallmarks of every authoritarian regime from the Roman Empire to modern-day America, yet it’s the secret police—tasked with silencing dissidents, ensuring compliance, and maintaining a climate of fear—who sound the death knell for freedom in every age.
Every regime has its own name for its secret police: Mussolini’s OVRA carried out phone surveillance on government officials. Stalin’s NKVD carried out large-scale purges, terror, and depopulation. Hitler’s Gestapo went door to door ferreting out dissidents and other political “enemies” of the state. And in the U.S., it’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation that does the dirty work of ensuring compliance, keeping tabs on potential dissidents, and punishing those who dare to challenge the status quo.
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Whether the FBI is planting undercover agents in churches, synagogues, and mosques; issuing fake emergency letters to gain access to Americans’ phone records; using intimidation tactics to silence Americans who are critical of the government; or persuading impressionable individuals to plot acts of terror and then entrapping them, the overall impression of the nation’s secret police force is that of a well-dressed thug, flexing its muscles and doing the boss’ dirty work.
Indeed, a far cry from the glamorized G-men depicted in Hollywood film noirs and spy thrillers, the government’s henchmen have become the embodiment of how power, once acquired, can be so easily corrupted and abused.
Case in point: the FBI is being sued after its agents, lacking sufficient evidence to acquire a search warrant, disabled a hotel’s internet and then impersonated Internet repair technicians in order to gain access to a hotel suite and record the activities of the room’s occupants. Justifying the warrantless search as part of a sting on internet gambling, FBI officials insisted that citizens should not expect the same right to privacy in the common room of a hotel suite as they would at home in their bedroom.
Far from being tough on crime, FBI agents are also among the nation’s most notorious lawbreakers. In fact, in addition to creating certain crimes in order to then “solve” them, the FBI also gives certain informants permission to break the law, “including everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies,” in exchange for their cooperation on other fronts. USA Today estimates that agents have authorized criminals to engage in as many as 15 crimes a day. Some of these informants are getting paid astronomical sums: one particularly unsavory fellow, later arrested for attempting to run over a police officer, was actually paid $85,000 for his help laying the trap for an entrapment scheme.
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In a stunning development reported by The Washington Post, a probe into misconduct by an FBI agent has resulted in the release of at least a dozen convicted drug dealers from prison. Several suspects awaiting trial have also been freed, and more could be released as the unnamed agent’s caseload comes under scrutiny. As the Post reports: “The scope and type of alleged misconduct by the agent have not been revealed, but defense lawyers involved in the cases described the mass freeing of felons as virtually unprecedented—and an indication that convictions could be in jeopardy. Prosecutors are periodically faced with having to drop cases over police misconduct, but it is unusual to free those who have been found guilty.”
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