June 16, 2002

I MEANT TO LINK TO this collection of stuff on Hoover-era FBI abuses a while back, but I lost the link and didn’t get to it. I have some personal knowledge of this sort of thing: my father’s antiwar protest career involved some rather dirty governmental tricks, and when I was in law school I did a radio program (with NPR bigshots-to-be Andy Bowers and David Baron) on the New Haven May Day riots, the research for which made it seem pretty likely that FBI-sponsored provocateurs were behind a lot of what went on, including the hockey-rink bombing.

On the other hand, the real question is what lesson this past misconduct teaches us today. One is a theme upon which InstaPundit constantly harps: big, unscrutinized organizations inevitably become corrupt, dishonest, and often dangerous. The other is that much of what Hoover did was illegal then; this suggests that oversight is more important than the precise parameters of the applicable law.

But while I believe in prosecuting the current war against Islamist terrorists to the utmost, I feel absolutely sure that if the U.S. government is given power to act in ways for which it is unaccountable, it will act badly. Our entire Constitution is based on the notion that unaccountable power cannot be trusted. That’s more than a notion, really: it’s a certainty, on a par with the law of gravity.

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