By Eric Adams
Federal investigators entered into the suspect’s house and searched through all of his personal belongings to locate evidence that would substantiate their belief that he was a foreign spy. Although they did not locate anything connected to their investigation, they did find items that showed he was involved in a homosexual relationship. This fact was reported to his employer who used it against him when it was time to fill a promotional vacancy in his government job.
The above-mentioned event was not a post- 911 law- enforcement act that was
performed due to the passage of the 2001 Patriot Act. It was an action carried out during the mid- 1960’s with the approval of then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
From the mid- 1920’s to the early 1970’s federal government records have shown the FBI and other government agencies came dangerously close to stretching the boundaries of the constitution. In many cases, they openly violated constitutional laws. The agency used everything from illegal wiretaps to “black bag jobs”, a term used by the federal bureau of Investigation to describe the illegal entry into an individual’s home to gather evidence or plant a bug.
Mr. Hoover used his fifty-five years in the FBI to create a government within the government. Ten presidents and sixteen attorney generals all stood by while the violations of law took place under the guise of fighting Communism. Much of these abuses of power were done with public opinion polls showing that Americans overwhelming approved of the FBI’s illegal actions. It was as though the country was saying, “handle the threat of communism and we don’t care how it is done.”
Director Hoover created his own definition to classify immigrants and citizens as enemies of the government. Some of the criteria that would have a person placed on the enemy list included being gay, attending a Communist party meeting, or speaking out against a government policy that Hoover agreed with.
Hoover wrapped himself in patriotic clothing to justify his encroachment on constitutional rights, all in the interest of national security. It was only years later that a review of FBI files proved how far our federal government had gone in circumventing and violating the constitutional rights of innocent Americans.
The FBI was not alone, for many of the other federal and local law- enforcement agencies during that time followed Hoover’s attack on constitutional safeguards.
It is important to point out the historical role of the FBI and other federal agencies when we talk about the new legislation that is created out of the response of the attack on the World Trade Center. The discussion cannot be carried out in a vacuum. We must take a critical look at the past to get a full understanding of where we are going in the future. America has always had threats to its interests. Whereas yesteryear it was the communist threat, today it is terrorism. The Patriot Act is one of the many pieces of legislation that have been enacted to address these concerns.
Federal legislators passed the Act in just six weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center. Undoubtedly, the justifiable emotionalism during that period of national mourning had impact on the debate, or lack of, regarding the Patriot Act. Although all Americans agree that our law- enforcement agencies should have the necessary power to fight terrorism, how this task is done on American soil should come with much debate and analysis. The desire to have a thorough review of new laws is not to delay the protection effort, but to ensure that we safeguard our constitutional rights.
The FBI is not the only agency that is using the Patriot Act for other
than terrorism investigations. Some financial institutions are currently using the Act to explain why they are requesting sensitive information from their customers. Everyday banking services such as starting up college savings plans have resulted in turning over more personal data. In this age of increasing identity theft, the concern of citizens who provide personal data is understandable.
The communities of color must remain vigilant more than ever to ensure that the proper safeguards are in place to prevent abuses of law enforcement newfound powers. We more than any other group in America have felt the abuses of federal investigations. A cointelpro style government cannot return to our community.