When News Ain't New
[col. writ. 12/25/07]
(c) '07 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Recently, headlines blared and news anchors put on their serious faces to announce the startling revelation that the late FBI chief, J. Edgar Hoover had plans and lists for the illegal detention of thousands of Americans, because of perceived threats to US national security. They based their reports on newly released government documents.
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I was struck by the reports; not because they were startling, but because I knew that this wasn't news. I knew this because I recalled reading government publications, books and had even written about it, years ago, in both commentaries and in my book, We Want Freedom.
In fact, Frank Donner wrote extensively of this in his 1981 book, The Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of America's Political Intelligence System (New York: Random House, 1981). Indeed, over half a decade before Donner's book appeared, the testimony and exhibits of the congressional Church Committee hearings were published, and the very form that Hoover planned to use for "custodial detentions" is listed as an exhibit and reproduced.
Hoover initiated a program for "custodial detention of individuals" with "strong communist [or Nazi] tendencies, whose presence at liberty in this country in time of war or national emergency, would constitute a menace to the public peace and safety of the United States government." The criteria for listing were broadly interpreted to include distributors of propaganda favorable to foreign interests and hostile to "the American way of life," as well as agitators of "internal strife" and "hatreds." Candidates for listing were selected on the basis of public as well as surveillance-derived information. [p.182]
Do you know when Hoover initiated his program?
In July, 1943, US Attorney General Francis Biddle ordered Hoover to terminate this program, saying the FBI didn't have statutory authority for a program that he described as "impractical" and "dangerous."
Hoover responded to this order from his boss by shifting the files to another program. It was renamed the "Security Index" program.
The same thing - just a different name.
Now, why are events that happened in 1939, 1943, publicized in a congressional hearing of 1975, published in government documents in 1976, and published by Donner in 1981 (and even by myself in 2004, by the way)* -- news now?
That's because generations have passed, left the news business, and so-called journalists announce what's new to them! They didn't learn about this stuff in high school, college, or journalism school. When the government released these documents through routine declassification procedures, they didn't know that it was released to Sen. Frank Church's committee in Congress over 30 years ago, and made public then. Or that it was reported on by the Nation, the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, and a publication of the American Friends Service Committee, called "J. Edgar Hoover's Detention Plan" -- in 1978.
The next time you hear 'breaking news', it's understandable if you might wonder, is it truly news, or is it just broken?
--(c) '07 maj
Donner, F., The Age of Surveillance... New York: Random House, 1981.
Abu-Jamal, M., We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party. Cambridge, MA.: South End Press, 2004, pp. 133-34.
U.S. Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect in Intelligence Activities. Federal Bureau of Investigations, Vol. 6. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976, pp.411-12.