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“X Files” Keep Head of U.S. FBI in Power for 48 Years

Posted August. 08, 2005 03:04,   


Illegal wiretapping became a serious social problem in developed nations in the West as well.

In the U.S. for instance, Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years from 1924 to 1972 wielded invincible power with his “X files” of wiretapped information. Hoover’s wiretapping under the pretext of protecting security mainly targeted human rights activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King and political or business heavyweights. The wiretapped files are said to have helped Hoover maintain his post through eight presidents.

However, after Hoover’s death, the White House strengthened its control over the FBI. Since President Richard Nixon resigned over the shocking Watergate wiretapping scandal, politically motivated wiretapping has become rare.

France erupted in 1993 over the revelation of wiretapping activities conducted by the Elysee Palace under former President François Mitterrand. A secret unit of the Elysee Palace is suspected of wiretapping over 150 people including the chief editor of Le Monde and biography writers for three years since 1982 for the purpose of controlling information over the sinking of the Greenpeace ship and Mitterrand’s out-of-wedlock daughter. A formal trial on the alleged wiretapping started last November, 11 years after the suspicion first came to surface because after the Mitterrand administration, succeeding governments forbade investigations into the alleged wiretapping for national confidentiality reasons.

Then, in 1998, then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin opened the related archives. Related officials including Mitterrand’s cabinet chief Gilles Ménage and special unit chief Christian Prouteau are now in court.

Overseas wiretapping by government agencies has frequently made headlines of late. Last year, Britain’s former Minister for Overseas Development Claire Short revealed that a British intelligence agency had wiretapped United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s telephone calls in the run up to the Iraq War. When overseas wiretapping is revealed, it often ends in diplomatic debate because truth finding is difficult, which is a reason why not much is known about overseas wiretapping conducted by governments.

Developed nations in the West have legislated communications confidentiality related laws, restricting wiretapping. However, since the 9/11 terror attacks, there has been an increasing tolerance for wiretapping as a countermeasure against terrorism, giving rise to controversy over the extent to which taps should be allowed.

The U.S. enacted the Patriot Act after 9/11, adding more crimes on the list of serious crimes upon which wiretapping are allowed. The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill on August 1 that extends the effectiveness of the act by four more years. It has been recently reported that the FBI is unable to decode 8,000 hours of wiretapped recordings due to lack of agents familiar with Arabic. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts is pushing for ways to allow access to terror-related phone records by the authority of the FBI without a warrant from the court, but is facing opposition.

Germany allows limited wiretapping for investigation needs under its federal communications confidentiality restriction law. However, the law bans preventive wiretapping without specific allegations. On July 27, the German federal constitutional court ruled unconstitutional the police law in the state of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) which allows wiretapping of Muslims without concrete evidence.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is pushing for a revision on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill after the terrorist attacks on July 7. The revised law would allow restricting communications confidentiality rights and other basic rights of terrorist activity suspects under ministerial order without a decision by the judicature. The bill faces opposition from within and outside Parliament.