Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When J. Edgar Hoover Tapped My Phone

by SAUL LANDAU

As a kid I listened on the radio to “The FBI in Peace and War.” My parents had listened during the mid 1930s to “G-Men.” FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover helped produce those programs and, in the new biopic film, “J. Edgar”, we also learn that Hoover orchestrated several other radio and TV shows so as to portray the FBI’s arrests of “dangerous criminals” and its “monitoring” of “subversive communists” as the product of team approach, which he personally inculcated.

The grammar of entertainment, however, calls for individual heroes and Hoover didn’t want courageous field agents – like Mel Purvis who killed John Dillinger – to steal glory from him and, as the movie instructs us, he dumped him. Hoover’s ideal FBI consisted of look-alikes, with similar suits and haircuts – dictated by their boss. In the film, the young Hoover (Leonardo di Caprio) fires an agent with a mustache. Hoover didn’t approve of facial hair.

At age 10 I knew Hoover from all the radio talk as the leader of a police force that always got its man. My communist Uncle Max sneered. “Hoover’s a rotten phony. He dances in a tutu in his living room with his wife Clyde Tolson.”

I sputtered with indignation at such slander. I knew better because I listened to Gang Busters, which I even saw at the movies in the weekly serials. By the 1960s, I came to agree with Uncle Max. Under Hoover’s COINTELPRO, FBI informers penetrated civil rights and anti-war groups, agents provocateurs proliferated and the FBI committed criminal acts. Hoover destroyed people’s lives, which he justified with his trite anti-commy rhetoric.

In 1974, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, I received 1,000 plus pages of my file, half of them blacked out. The Bureau had tapped my phone. Page after page recounts conversations I had with my father – nothing even remotely political – and plans I had to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles to visit him. The FBI had planted an informant at the TV station where I worked, so that they had my air travel plans.

In the early 1970s, the Bureau revealed, under court order, that it had planted some 70 informants at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) where I worked. A federal judge made the Bureau pay all legal and court costs and enjoined them from repeating their activities.

In September 1976, the FBI began investigating the Washington DC assassination of Orlando Letelier by car bombing, which also took the life of Ronni Moffitt, an IPS colleague who sat next to him as the explosion ripped through his car. Honest FBI investigators solved the case and named the head of Chilean intelligence and other secret police officials along with five right wing Cuban exiles as the perpetrators.

Hoover’s political police did little to stop the Mafia or corporate crime, but did collect files on millions of Americans. Hoover’s librarian instincts?

I deduce from Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” that my radio show portrait, Uncle Max’s ridicule and my own experiences with the FBI omitted one item: Hoover also had a soul. DiCaprio plays a tortured, closet homosexual with a dominatrix mother (Judi Dench) who didn’t want “to have a daffodil for a son.”

When she dies, Hoover puts on her dress and necklace and weeps. Eastwood and script write Dustin Lance Black (of the “Milk” film) show that the powerful and controlling head of the country’s largest police agency also experienced deep emotional pain.

We see intelligence and ambition in his rise from librarian to keeper of the files. President John F. Kennedy slept with an East German spy, Hoover tells Bobby Kennedy so as to inform him not to even think about firing him.

Di Caprio grasps Hoover’s prurient disorientation, almost drooling, when he listens to a tape from a bug planted by Bureau Agents in Marin Luther King’s hotel room – with a woman. He gloats while reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s mail, “discovering” a supposed lesbian relationship with a woman reporter.

After Hoover died in 1972, we see Nixon immediately dispatch a squad to destroy Hoover’s secret files – some of them on Nixon. Hoover’s secretary-gatekeeper, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), has tried to limit J. Edgar’s overboard actions, and even in death she protects Hoover’s public image, which he equated with that of the Bureau. The film shows her shredding those files before Nixon’s destroy squad reaches Hoover’s office.

Eastwood portrays Hoover’s defenselessness in a lovers’ or married couple’s quarrel when he and his partner Tolson (Armie Hammer) – to whom he left all his possessions – punch, wrestle and then kiss. Hoover loved him, but the film doesn’t show or even suggest sexual consummation. The audience must judge this emotional, distressed, authoritarian control freak, this intelligent but vulnerable man, who gets embarrassed at a congressional hearing because of his self-promoting activities.

In the film old Hoover dictates his story to young Special Agents, but Hoover doesn’t tell the truth; rather he promotes himself by distorting the facts to reflect that he has single-handedly protected the country from ruthless killers, kidnappers (the Lindberg kidnapping occupies much film space) and all things that smack of communism, anarchism or pinko-leftism.

Hoover spews patriotism and hatred of communism, but the film leads us to suspect Hoover hated himself. Unable to control his most loathsome impulse – his mother hated “daffodils” – he tries to achieve power over people and institutions. The film subtly suggests Hoover became his own internal enemy; his mother subverted him by not allowing his sexuality (identity) to emerge. His career stained, not marked, decades of U.S. history and many people paid a heavy price for his psychic dynamics.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP plays December 1 at the Jamaica Plain Forum (Boston) 6 Eliot St, Jamaica Plain MA and on December 3 at the NY New School for Social Research, Kellen Auditorium 66 Fifth Avenue at 5:30 and 7:30 – with Landau present.

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]