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Andrew McCabe’s Book Ignores FBI Abuses

In our national effort to hold Trump accountable, it’s dangerous to accept at face value Andrew McCabe’s uncritical praise of the FBI without remaining alert to the bureau’s serious constitutional violations.

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The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump
By Andrew G. McCabe. St. Martin’s Press.

“Between the world of chaos and the world of order stands the rule of law.”

So begins The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, written by Andrew G. McCabe, whose tenure at the FBI as its deputy director culminated in the tumultuous period when he briefly served as acting head, after President Trump fired James B. Comey. In March 2018, McCabe himself was fired as Trump tweeted it was “a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI — A great day for Democracy.”

Andrew McCabe (Photo: FBI)

McCabe traces his 20-year career at the FBI in a breezy and engaging style, starting as a street agent in the New York field office and later investigating Russian organized crime, the Boston Marathon bombing, a plot to bomb New York subways, the Benghazi attack and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Unfortunately, McCabe’s respect for the FBI borders on glorification as he sweepingly characterizes its “rigorous obedience to the Constitution, fairness, respect for those we protect, compassion, uncompromising personal integrity and institutional integrity, exemplary leadership, accountability, and embracing diversity.”

His dedication to the FBI is matched by his devotion to his family, which he warmly describes at key moments throughout his book. He exhibits real anger in describing how Trump falsely attacked his wife, Jill, during her unsuccessful run for a seat in the Virginia State Senate. Later, in the Oval Office, McCabe can barely contain his fury as he is forced to endure Trump calling Jill “a loser.”

The book is riveting as McCabe chillingly describes several firsthand encounters with Trump that led him to conclude that the “president has stepped over bright ethical and moral lines wherever he has encountered them.” Trump’s “unpredictable, often draconian behavior is dangerous — a threat to both the Bureau and the nation.”

McCabe’s book arrives on the heels of Comey’s A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership, and during a moment when the FBI is enjoying the unalloyed respect of most Americans — and high praise from all but Trump’s diehard base and his kitchen cabinet at Fox News. But the FBI has not always displayed the “rigorous obedience to the Constitution” that McCabe touts.

Let’s not forget that under J. Edgar Hoover’s leadership, the FBI engaged in blatant and systematic violations of civil liberties — rounding up and detaining dissidents without charges; infiltrating political organizations with undercover informants; opening 500,000 domestic security investigations; and planting defamatory stories to discredit activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Between 1956 and 1971, the FBI installed 2,305 warrantless phone taps and 697 warrantless bugs, and conducted 23,800 “black bag jobs” — stealing information from offices and homes. All these were directed at civil rights groups, black power militants and political dissenters.

Despite this official wrongdoing, exposed in 1976 by a U.S. Senate Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, the abuses have continued to this day through the War on Terror. In the wake of 9/11 the FBI also detained 1,200 resident aliens of Middle Eastern descent, holding some for up to a year without charges; infiltrated mosques and domestic Muslim organizations; and gathered personal information on Muslim students at 200 colleges and universities. The FBI also expanded the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which used paid informants posing as protesters during Occupy Wall Street and, since 2014, has been monitoring and apprehending Black Lives Matter activists. As recently as August 2017, the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit coined the term “Black Identity Extremists” to resume the monitoring and disruption of civil rights and anti-racism organizations and movements.

Just last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California ruled that three Muslims can proceed with their civil rights lawsuit against the FBI, alleging that for 14 months in 2006 and 2007 the bureau used a paid informant to conduct covert surveillance of mosques and Islamic centers, and planted secret recording devices to gather information on Muslims, solely based on their religious identity. The court warned that threats posed by terrorism cannot be addressed by the FBI “fueling a climate of fear rooted in stereotypes and discrimination.” Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, argued the case, calling it a “shameful chapter of FBI surveillance of Muslims.”

In our headlong national effort to hold Trump accountable, it’s dangerous to accept at face value Andrew McCabe’s uncritical praise of the FBI without remaining alert to the ever-present risks of its serious legal and constitutional abuses, summed up by Senator Frank Church’s prescient warning. “If during a time of crisis,” Church said, “we ignore the wise restraints created by the Constitution and laws to keep us free and keep us safe, we’re going to not only make ourselves less free, we’re going to make ourselves less safe.”

Paraphrasing McCabe, between the world of government abuse and the world of a free society stands the Constitution.


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