March 12, 2007
Slam Dunks! Book Sales and National Scandals, Two Recent Publications That Will Benefit from the NSL Revelations and Two More That Also Should
As noted in earlier blog posts (here and here), both the Office of the Attorney General (and its office holder) and the performance of the FBI have come under sharp criticism and will be the subjects of Congressional investigations because of the FBI's abuse of national security letters. In this post, I feature two works whose recent publication could not have been more timely, one on each topic, and two earlier titles, one on each topic, that, in my opinion, are also worthy of consideration.
On the FBI:
- Raymond J. Batvinis, The Origins of FBI Counterintelligence (2007)
- Athan Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy: A Brief Critical History (2004)
On the Office of the Attorney General (and its office holders):
- Nancy Baker, General Ashcroft: Attorney at War (2006)
- Nancy Baker, Conflicting Loyalties: Law and Politics in the Attorney General's Office, 1789-1990 (1992)
On the FBI:
The Origins of FBI Counterintelligence
by Raymond J. Batvinis
List Price: $39.95
Hardcover: 332 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas (March 15, 2007)
Book Description: As the world prepared for war in the 1930s, the United States discovered that it faced the real threat of foreign spies stealing military and industrial secrets-and that it had no established means to combat them. Into that breach stepped J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI.
Although the FBI's expanded role in World War II has been well documented, few have examined the crucial period before Pearl Harbor when the Bureau's powers secretly expanded to face the developing international emergency. Former FBI agent Raymond Batvinis now tells how the Bureau grew from a small law enforcement unit into America's first organized counter-espionage and counterintelligence service. Batvinis examines the FBI's emerging new roles during the two decades leading up to America's entry into World War II to show how it cooperated and competed with other federal agencies. He takes readers behind the scenes, as the State Department and Hoover fought fiercely over the control of counterintelligence, and tells how the agency combined its crime-fighting expertise with its new wiretapping authority to spy on foreign agents.
Based on newly declassified documents and interviews with former agents, Batvinis's account reconstructs and greatly expands our understanding of the FBI's achievements and failures during this period. Among these were the Bureau's mishandling of the 1938 Rumrich/Griebl spy case, which Hoover slyly used to broaden his agency's powers; its cracking of the Duquesne Espionage Case in 1941, which enabled Hoover to boost public and congressional support to new heights; and its failure to understand the value of Soviet agent Walter Krivitsky, which slowed Bureau efforts to combat Soviet espionage in America.
In addition, Batvinis offers a new view of the relationship between the FBI and the military, cites the crucial contributions of British intelligence to the FBI's counter-intelligence education, and reveals the agency's ultra-secret role in mining financial records for the Treasury Department. He also reviews the early days of the top-secret Special Intelligence Service, which quietly dispatched FBI agents posing as businessmen to South America to spy on their governments.
With an insider's knowledge and a storyteller's skill, Batvinis provides a page-turning history narrative that greatly revises our views of the FBI-and also resonates powerfully with our own post-9/11 world.
The FBI & American Democracy: A Brief Critical History
by Athan Theoharis
List Price: $24.95
Hardcover: 195 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas (October 2004)
Book Description: For nearly a century, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been famous for tracking and apprehending gangsters, kidnappers, spies, and, much more recently, international terrorists. The agency itself has done much to promote its successes, helping to embellish its legendary aura. Athan Theoharis, however, contends that a closer look at the historical record reveals a much less idealized and much more disturbing vision of the FBI. Created in 1908 with a staff of three dozen, the FBI has grown to more than 27,000 agents and support personnel, while its role has shifted dramatically from law enforcement to intelligence operations. Theoharis, America's leading authority on the FBI, assesses the consequences of this shift for democratic politics, showing how the agency's obsession with absolute secrecy has undermined both civil liberties and agency accountability.
As Theoharis reveals, FBI history has been marked by operational failures, overrated abilities, and the frequent use of highly suspect means-wiretaps, buggings, break-ins-that challenge the Constitution's guarantee against illegal searches. The agency has also gathered and disseminated derogatory (and often untrue) information in an effort to discredit citizens whose views are seen as "dangerous." Most disturbing, it has drifted toward equating political dissent with genuine subversion, an approach with potentially grave consequences for free and open public discourse.
Theoharis also shows that the FBI's vaunted spy-catching prowess has been vastly overrated, from the early days of the "Communist conspiracy" to the more recent Wen Ho Lee and Robert Hanssen fiascos. And he criticizes Hoover's longstanding refusal to admit that organized crime actually existed, perhaps due to his preoccupation with the sex lives of public figures like JFK, Martin Luther King, and Rock Hudson, whose amorous escapades he recorded in his "Do Not File" files. More recently, the notorious incidents at Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Oklahoma City, as well as the 9/11 attacks, have further eroded public confidence in the FBI and tarnished its reputation.
Throughout, Theoharis raises serious questions about the extralegal nature of the FBI's activities and its troubling implications for the rule of law in America.
See also the author's The FBI : A Comprehensive Reference Guide (2000).
On the Office of the Attorney General (and its office holders):
General Ashcroft: Attorney at War
by Nancy V. Baker
List Price: $34.95
Hardcover: 322 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas (April 27, 2006)
Book Description: Reviled as a fascist and zealot by libertarians and liberals but praised as a great patriot and devout man of God by many conservatives, John Ashcroft may have been the most powerful and polarizing attorney general in our nation's history. Looking past such oversimplified stereotypes, Nancy Baker offers the first in-depth study of Ashcroft's controversial tenure as attorney general-and as domestic commander in our campaign against global terrorism.
Addressing new concerns about challenges to civil liberties in the wake of 9/11, Baker provides a critical assessment of Ashcroft's impact on national life within the context of an enormous expansion of presidential power. Baker depicts a man who even before 9/11 was in search of a mission and then found it in the "War on Terror." She explores how Ashcroft's counter-terrorism actions eroded checks on executive power, arguing that the attorney general used both the formal and informal powers of his office to expand executive and law enforcement authority-and did so at the additional expense of criminal procedural rights, privacy rights, and government transparency.
Baker tells how the war against terrorism, the unique legal policy role of the attorney general, and Ashcroft's presence in that office dramatically expanded the power and impact of executive power in domestic affairs. She identifies Ashcroft's rhetorical tactics that set his actions at odds with the public interest-such as browbeating critics and marginalizing dissent-and challenges the success claimed by Ashcroft and his supporters in safeguarding America by documenting the Justice Department's lack of effectiveness in key prosecutions. She also includes an enlightening analysis of the Patriot Act and its implications for both civil liberties and government power.
By documenting the ongoing importance of Ashcroft's legacy-a legacy now continued by Alberto Gonzalez-Baker shows how he dramatically changed the office and disrupted our constitutional system of divided and checked powers. Her close scrutiny of Ashcroft's actions vividly highlights the role that an attorney general can play in shaping presidential power during national crises and provides a cautionary tale for anyone eager to protect our civil liberties.
List Price: $25.00
Hardcover: 252 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas (March 1992)
Book Description: The U.S. Attorney General is forever caught between competing demands: on one side, his political duties as cabinet appointee and adviser to the president; on the other, his quasi-judicial responsibilities as chief law officer of the nation. In theory the two sets of responsibilities coexist peacefully. In reality they often clash.
In Conflicting Loyalties, political scientist Nancy Baker provides the first comprehensive analysis of the history and structure of the office of the U.S. Attorney General, an office that legal scholars have described as "schizophrenic." Her study documents how they have differed in their responses, seeing themselves either as advocates of the president or as neutral expounders of the law. Combining historical analysis with legal and political theory, Baker shows how this implicit conflict has evolved from the earliest days of the Republic, when the attorney general was primarily an adviser, to the present day, when he administers the huge bureaucracy of the Department of Justice.
Using both archival materials and personal interviews, Baker analyzes how the seventy-five men who have held the post of attorney general have managed the conflict of loyalties. In particular, she focuses on Robert Kennedy, Edwin Meese, Elliot Richardson, Griffin Bell, Robert Jackson, Edward Levi, A. Mitchell Palmer, and Roger Taney. She also examines how the office has been affected by scandals in various administrations, including the Red scare of 1919-20, Teapot Dome, Watergate, and Iran-Contra. The book concludes with an exploration of arguments for reforming the office.
Editor's Note: Just by coincidence all of the above titles are published by the University Press of Kansas. [JH]
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