Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review May 15, 2003 / 13 Iyar, 5763

Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Patriot Act is needed, but so are revisions | I have some personal reasons to oppose Congress's rushing to extend the Patriot Act. The act, which broadened government powers - to the extent of infringing civil liberties - to fight terrorism, includes a sunset provision. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah has just moved to extend the act with no major revisions to the controversial measures. As I see it, this puts too much trust in the FBI.

And here's why:

In late 1964, I was teaching at Columbia University when someone named Bogdan Walewski called. He explained that he was a Polish citizen working for the UN and he wanted to drop by to discuss trends in American culture. He did, we had a good chat, and he invited me and my wife to dinner at an expensive French restaurant. I accepted the invitation without hesitation - however, I'd been divorced for more than a year, and I brought, instead, the woman who lived with me. We had a lavish dinner and pleasant chitchat.

Not long after that, Mr. Walewksi called, saying he needed to come to my office on very urgent business. When he arrived, his tone was no longer so amiable. He told me that he knew that I was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and that he'd read my recent New York Times magazine article that opposed a US policy proposal that would give West Germany a decisionmaking role in the launch of US nuclear weapons. He said that the Soviet Union was very concerned about this matter, and that I could, singlehandedly, help stop the Germans dead in their tracks if I'd get him a highly secret report that my colleague, the presidential scholar and adviser Richard Neustadt, had prepared on the subject for President Johnson.

It took a long minute to sink in: I was being asked to spy. Not exactly a part of the daily routine of a university professor or, I guess, of anyone. I was stunned - and insulted - and I angrily told the man to leave my office and that I was going to call the FBI.

As he calmly went out the door, he quietly threatened me, saying he'd let it be known that I wasn't married to the woman I lived with. In that era, this was meant to be the social equivalent of a nuclear threat to my reputation. But compared with what he was asking me to do, it didn't slow me one bit - I was dialing the FBI before he even closed the door.

In that cold-war period, hardly removed from the McCarthy witch hunts, I guess I expected agents to ask me to set a trap for the guy or arrest him post haste. Instead, I got switchboard operator uninterested in my story. I decided to put it all in a memo right away, and sent it to the New York City FBI office.

In response, I received a form letter, appreciating my communication. I concluded that if nobody cared about Soviet spies on the UN payroll, operating in the city, I had other fish to fry.

Walewski disappeared from my life - until 1990, when he surprised me again. In a letter with a Manassas, Va., return address, he apologized. He explained that he'd been serving as an American agent and was ordered to check my loyalty. (He later was caught spying for the US in Warsaw, and was released in a 1985 spy exchange.)

The letter was occasion for reflection. It doesn't take a PhD in anything to realize that a free society will not remain free for long if critics of the government are treated like traitors.

I also understand that as of Sept. 11, we do need new measures to ensure our safety. Indeed, I favor many of them. But nothing teaches better than experience. Being treated as a suspect whose loyalty had to be tested because of a few speeches I'd made, articles I'd written, and demonstrations I'd marched in was so infuriating, that it gnawed at me for many years.

So I now hold that Congress should augment the Patriot Act to include closer supervision of the FBI by an outside body. Congress and the courts don't suffice. I suggest a citizen board - a group of deans of law schools and a few citizens respected for their independence and judiciousness: all people who could get a security clearance. This board would regularly review the way the FBI is using its new power, and issue semiannual reviews to inform us all if it is again going overboard.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Amitai Etzioni, of George Washington University, is the author of, most recently, "My Brother's Keeper: A Memoir and a Message", from where this essay was adapted. Comment by clicking here.

05/06/03: Aliens are not part of the club yet
02/13/03: To NASA: Bring in the drones
01/08/03: Values, not pay, provide best incentive to donate organs
12/12/02: Iran may present greater threat than Iraq
11/12/02: Killing Christians: The underreported story of Islamist violence around the world
10/16/02: Seeking middle ground on privacy vs. security
10/08/02: "In and out"
09/24/02: Treat driver's licenses as what they are: Domestic passports
08/27/02: How democracy is preserved
08/21/02: Why Martha 'needs' more
07/12/02: I was once a member of a "terrorist" group, show no mercy on civilian terrorists
03/31/02: Scandals will end when penalties fit crimes
02/03/02: A former White House staffer's plea to Congress: A presidency needs privacy
01/03/02: One nation, after all
12/27/01: Where children must write their PARENTS notes
12/20/01: American extremists
12/13/01: Homeland defense is best option for volunteerism
11/11/01: Can we force democracy on the Afghans?
11/08/01: How not to win the war
10/01/01: Problems with the new antiterrorist agenda is not that it is too grand, but that it is not grand enough
09/21/01: Either U.S. forces should strike back hard or we'll lose our freedoms
09/05/01: Communities, not the president, must enact morality
08/23/01: Economists fail as forecasters
08/09/01: Live from Washington it's . "Everyone's a Criminal"
07/27/01: Condit case illustrates the need to rein in fast-talking lawyers playing verbal acrobatics with the truth
08/01/01: Shouting 'Big Brother' in a crowded society

© 2002, The Weekly Standard, from where this piece was reprinted