In the aftermath of 9/11, and in response to complaints about the nation’s intelligence gathering (which might have prevented the terrorist attack), the Bush administration granted expanded powers of surveillance to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The aim was to enable these agencies to uncover terrorist plots before they could be executed. In short, the agencies were to become more pro-active in preventing criminal actions, rather than simply investigating them after the fact.
This expanded authority necessarily rekindled a perennial debate in American history: the proper balance between national security and civil liberties, between the government’s need to know and its citizens’ right to basic freedoms of privacy and thought.
In this provocative essay, the foremost historian of the FBI considers the record of the past to assess the results of the broadened powers of the present. Surveying the experience of World War II and the cold war, and comparing them with present-day activities, Athan Theoharis concludes that Americans may feel marginally safer, but at a dangerous cost to their freedoms and to the tenor of our political dialogue.
Athan Theoharis is best known for his studies of the FBI, which include The Boss; From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover; J. Edgar Hoover, Sex, and Crime; and Chasing Spies. He has also written Seeds of Repression and The Quest for Absolute Security. Mr. Theoharis is emeritus professor of history at Marquette University.
Expanded Powers is an original title released by Now and Then Reader, Digital Publishers of Serious Nonfiction. Focusing on writings that are historically based but still have relevance for today, Now and Then publishes original works each week, excerpts from forthcoming books, and reprints of material that otherwise is not readily available for e-readers.