A Week of Thursdays

Robert Stove has written a readable and intelligent survey of secret policing, which he defines as “governments’ surveillance of their own subjects, as distinct from espionage.”  Sensibly, he does not try to cover every known instance of this behavior but focuses on some celebrated instances, including the French police state of the 18th and 19th centuries, the secret-police apparatus of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover.  His lament about the lack of research in this area is curious, now that the journal Intelligence and National Security is approaching its third decade of publication.

Still, Stove’s account is pleasingly balanced, a rare enough virtue at a time when so many writers seek only to cast out the motes in the eyes of their ideological opposites.  Often, it is not easy to pin down his particular biases.  He is hard on Hoover, who takes the blame for so much of what was required by his political masters, from FDR onward.  At the same time, he has little sympathy for Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he describes as “the opiate of post-Christian America’s masses” and whose “seemingly incessant Communist associations” would have attracted the hostility of a much less partisan bureaucrat than J. Edgar.  If there is a single political strain running through this book, it is “a healthy aversion to the...

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