By Chet Yarbrough
By Tim Weiner
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
“Enemies…” begs the question of when freedom is compromised by government intrusion into the lives of the general public. Tim Weiner’s book is a must listen for all who believe in American freedom and rule of law; however, one does not come away from “Enemies…” knowing where the line is drawn between value and scorn for government intrusion in the lives of individuals in a “free” society.
“Enemies…” is about the rise of the FBI and the role of J. Edgar Hoover in the growth of an intelligence organization that rivals the 1950s Russian’ K.G.B. as a government sponsored federal “police” force.
One has mixed feelings about Hoover’s illegal surveillance of private citizens. Hoover believes that most political movements against American government are a part of a communist conspiracy to overthrow the government; i.e. unions, civil rights, women’s rights, et. al. have nothing to do with human rights in Hoover’s narrow vision of American life. Hoover sets the table for violation of human rights with a power that defies the intent of the American Constitution.
Even though overt American legislation denies the right of the government to arbitrarily investigate private citizens, Hoover throws “habeas corpus” into the trash by lying about wire-tapping, and gathering information on private citizens without warrant or judicial review. Hoover creates F.B.I.’ files on the personal sex lives of private citizens, and elected and government appointed bureaucrats; Hoover creates secret profiles of American political organizations and their leaders based on what he believes may compromise American security. Hoover crosses the line between free society and tyranny by gathering information on individual citizens, union movements, civil rights, and domestic terrorism with an unshakable belief in his singular perception of right and wrong; i.e. a perception and belief that communism infiltrates every dissident or opposition American government’ movement.
In fairness to the subject of human rights, the historical facts of Weiner’s presentation gives context to American communist beliefs of the 40s, 50’s, and 60’s which seems to warrant some of Hoover’s actions. Joseph Stalin’s atrocities are evidence of the lengths ideologues are willing to go when “…any means necessary” is a guiding principle for governance. On the other hand, all who have power are subject to the worst parts of human nature; whether American, Chinese, Russian, or any nationality.
One is intellectually and emotionally torn by a history that shows government leaders willing to foment a social revolution by any means necessary.
“Any means necessary” includes Klaus Fuchs giving the Soviet Union secrets of the atomic and hydrogen bombs in the 50s and the British agent, Kim Philby’s betrayal of American and British agents of the F.B.I., C.I.A. and British MI-5. (Agents were murdered because of Philby’s betrayal.) History has proven these communist sympathizers were wrong. It is difficult to deny that Hoover’s tactics exposed some of the worst communist infiltrations of the mid twentieth century.
The unfortunate consequence of Hoover’s domination of the F.B.I. is that it evolves into a vehicle of suppression, subject to the whims of one human being’s prejudices. This is particularly apparent in the rise and fall of McCarthyism. It also becomes apparent in L. Patrick Grey’s brief management of the F.B.I. when Weiner explains that Nixon hires Grey with a description of him as an empty-suit to do what the President tells him to do and lie to Congress about it, if necessary. This seems particularly relevant today with President Trump asking the former FBI Director (James Comey) to drop the investigation of General Flynn.
America is a government of checks and balances and when an agency abandons those criteria of governance, it compromises public freedom. Every human being is flawed; subject to the good and bad qualities of human nature. When the F.B.I. or any government agency is dominated by one person, it fails the test of good government.
“Enemies: A History of the FBI” is a relevant subject for the 21st century because of technology’s burgeoning ability to invade personal privacy. Checks and balances through rule of law are a free society’s only protection against human nature’s fallibility.