Wednesday, July 18, 2012

10,000 Holes In The Hoover Building

Reviewing Max Holland's Leak, Athan Theoharis shows how Watergate leaker W. Mark Felt helped destroy both the Nixon presidency and the culture of secrecy at the agency he professed to love, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI:

The investigation of Nixon's role in the Watergate cover-up led to the exposure of his more serious abuses of the U.S. intelligence agencies: wiretapping prominent reporters, covert actions by the White House Plumbers, and, under the proposed Huston Plan, authorizing the use of illegal investigative techniques. In response, Congress in 1974—overriding President Gerald Ford's veto—enacted key amendments to the Freedom of Information Act that allowed reporters, activists, and scholars to obtain highly secret and revealing FBI records. That same year it enacted the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, which ensured the preservation of the Nixon Oval Office tapes and transferred control over Nixon's presidential papers to the National Archives, and in 1978 it passed the Presidential Records Act, which defined presidential papers as public property and established the conditions and timing for giving the public access to them. And in 1975 it established special House and Senate committees that investigated and then publicized the abusive practices of the U.S. intelligence agencies from the 1930s through the '70s.

Combined, these actions ended FBI officials' absolute control over their agency's records, a change that eventually benefitted the research of Holland and others. Such research has expanded our awareness of how secrecy emboldened officials to violate privacy rights and the rule of law, and as such it offers a powerful, still relevant lesson in the adverse consequences inherent in blind deference to claims of "national security."

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