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The State of Civil Liberties

I just wondered whether you could cite any specific instances of either judicial intimidation or press intimidation? You alluded to both and I wondered if you could go a bit further with that.

One of the problems I have is that I don’t trust anybody. I mean I don’t trust the press, I don’t trust the politicians, I don’t trust anybody. One of the things that was pointed out is that Bill Meyers seems to be the only one who’s out there and who’s saying some things. Where do I go to get accurate information on anything, other than C-SPAN, which you know, I don’t have time to watch? That’s it.

I think it’s heartening that Dan Rather recently gave an interview with the BBC decrying the self-censorship of journalists in America. I wish he would do it more on US media. My question is do you think that all those decades of the FBI hounding people during McCarthy-ism and going after Vietnam protestors, and nuns and priests protesting our policies in Central America, do you think it ended up making the FBI a weaker, less efficient, less intelligent body that otherwise might have prevented September 11th?

Anthony Romero
Yeah, I only wish. Let’s start with the FBI for a second. I mean it’s really quite a remarkable institution. When I went to visit it, it was my first time there, although I’m sure it’s not the first time documents about me were there, and you go into this great building named after J. Edgar Hoover, with an enormous stature built to tower over what was not a very tall man in any sense of the word, and you go into the bunker mentality of the head of the Bureau where they’ve got an enormous oil painting to Hoover. And yet as clearly as we know, under Hoover’s tenure you had a strong FBI, and it endured to the detriment of the entire country, and that you know of the level of scrutiny and of surveillance, of tactics on politicians, on civil rights leaders, that was quite troubling, and that we only knew that many, many years after Hoover’s departure and death. And so in many respects I think that the FBI is still coming out of that legacy of having been too authoritarian and too strong an agency with too little concern for the protections and the values that we would want it to uphold. The one moment when I was able to get Robert Mueller’s blood pressure up, when I asked all my questions and he would politely stonewall me. And you know, he was playing the old boys’ game with me. He started the same day that I started. I don’t know how he knew that, but I’m sure knows much more. He went the same college I went to, and although we were quite different in terms of the work we’d done, he was trying to chum it up with me. And then at the end I told him, “Mr. Mueller you of course took an oath to be the head of the FBI?” He said, “yes.” “And you took a public oath?” He said, “yes, yes, yes.” I said, “well you need to reassure the public openly that you’re adhering to that oath, that your secrecy doesn’t give anyone much comfort, to know that in fact you’re adhering to the oath you say you took.” And I think that’s an essential part of it. It’s been so accustomed to shielding its actions from the American public when it really should be an institution that has to be much more open and transparent. I’m not that it should reveal all of its security secrets or that it must reveal information that could be detrimental to secure the safety of the nation, but it has to be much more engaging with the American people about what it’s doing, what it’s charge is, and how it’s trying to play this role. And that I think has not been the case.