The latest scandal of the week is General John Allen, who allegedly exchanged “flirtatious” e-mails with a wealthy socialite who has a sexy twin sister and who got intimidating e-mails from the lady who was diddling, and/or was diddled, by General David Petraeus- or something like that. As would be expected, huge gasps arose from the impeccably moral members of Congress and media pundits who were still recovering from the sterling job they did predicting the election. As one, they clucked their tongues about Generals Allen and Petraeus, but louder about the latter because, in addition to being the former head of American forces in Afghanistan, he was The Director of the CIA!!!!!
Now I'd be shocked if this were the first time the director of an American spy agency had an illicit affair, well-hidden from the press and public, and possibly took classified documents to his paramour's home, but it's old stuff. I recall a director of the FBI who not only did all this, but also secretly and illegally spied on presidents, entertainment figures and civil rights leaders and who allegedly had intimidating information on virtually every public figure in the United States. To top things off, he died with the cheers of America ringing in his ears. Not only did the government not censor him for being a semi-dictator of the FBI, they named the building after him. President Richard Nixon said at his funeral, “His long life brimmed over with magnificent achievement and dedicated service to the country he loved so well.”
J. Edgar Hoover was America's "G-man" for more than a third of the twentieth century. He was the first director of the newly-established Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935 and stayed at the head of the agency until 1972. He ruled the FBI under six presidents and allegedly spied on every one of them. He secretly and illegally taped phone conversations, opened letters and planted hidden microphones on whichever political enemies he determined should be investigated, among whom were such figures as Charlie Chaplin and Martin Luther King, Jr. Despite repeated crusades against “communists and homosexuals,” he himself was widely rumored to be either gay or bi-sexual (On his death, he left his estate to his associate and assistant Clyde Tolson, whom many believed was Hoover's lover). Despite this, Hoover was appointed FBI director for life by Lyndon Johnson. Few objected.
Among Hoover's “magnificent achievements” was the establishment of COINTELPRO, a program of dirty tricks which was designed to trap those whom Hoover considered dangerous. Goals of this program included stirring up riots and possibly poltical assassination. Published FBI papers included this gem: "It should also be a goal of the Counterintelligence Program to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them before they exercise their potential for violence." This was one reason the program was found to be illegal and contrary to the Constitution by a Senate committee headed by Frank Church. Under the guise of hunting subversives, he invaded the privacy of his own enemies list and put the information to whatever use he wanted, since his penchant for secrecy made discovery impossible and the political power he had made investigation unlikely. Countless careers were ruined by information supplied to the late Joseph McCarthy about suspected “subversives” in the entertainment industry. I'm not aware of General Petraeus doing things like that.
There is no argument that Hoover did America some important services. He successfully tracked and killed John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelly and Alvin Karpis as well as many other gangsters who were making life miserable and dangerous for many innocent people in Chicago, New York and elsewhere in the bewildering jungle of Prohibition-inspired lawlessness. Just as David Petraeus is widely acknowledged as a great military leader, so Hoover was hailed as a great figure of American justice. However, Hoover died a hero while Petraeus lives as an adulterer. This is not to say that Petraeus was right. But doesn't anybody detect a whiff of hypocrisy here? In this age of black and white, isn't there room for a few shades of gray?
David Petraeus made a serious mistake and probably should have left the CIA. But while the J. Edgar Hoover building remains a symbol of America's law enforcement, can we at least allow ourselves a giggle?