Senator Tells Cautionary Tale of J. Edgar Hoover to Warn about Expanding FBI Powers

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

By Steve Neavling

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., cautioned his colleagues again expanding FBI surveillance powers, sharing a story about his own experience with former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

“I know we’ve had some wonderful people in our government, but I worry anytime you give a lot of extra powers. There’s always potential for abuse,” Leahy said at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, The Intercept reports. 

Leahy said he was a board member of the National District Attorney’s Association when Hoover walked in.

“We were all over six feet tall”— except Hoover, Leahy said. “But we were all looking up at him. The legs of our chairs had been cut off, and his had been built up. He was talking about all these people he had to investigate … [saying] it’s these hippies who are really communists.”

“I’m glad I didn’t have a Volkswagen,” Leahy said, recalling how Hoover identified “hippies” with those particular vehicles.

“I was always having nightmares thinking what would a man like that do with enormous enhanced powers in the digital age. I’m sure you share my concerns, so let’s work together,” he concluded.

Lawmakers are debating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which has gained criticism because of a controversial amendment that would allow the expansion of national security letters.

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