All-powerful government agencies

The Internal Revenue Service is being accused of being used for political purposes and has admitted conservative groups applying for tax-exemption status have been inappropriately targeted for special review and scrutiny.

Imagine that … an all-powerful government agency that has the power and authority to creep into anyone and everyone’s personal business, being used as a weapon?

It didn’t surprise me … and I’ll bet I’m not alone.

Back in the early 1970s I was a rookie reporter at a small paper in Central Ohio where a federal dam project was being built. A badly mutilated, burned body of a young boy taken from a Columbus area tennis court was found in a shack by a group of berry hunters.

The county sheriff’s department notified the FBI because of the federal connection, and agents were dispatched.

Those were the days when local reporters had strong connections to sheriff’s departments and, providing they followed logical guidelines so as not to contaminate potential evidence, had pretty much of a free rein at crime scenes.

I heard the FBI special agent in charge and an underling talking about the case with underling saying the FBI should take over the investigation. The boss chided the agent, saying the case would not be solved, and that would be “bad PR” for the FBI.

I identified myself and was rebuffed by the FBI boss who quickly fled the scene after questioning the chief deputy as to why a reporter was present.

I reported the conversation in the local newspaper and subsequently received calls from the FBI … and comments I could only interpret as threats.

A few months later after I had filed by short-form IRS tax return, I was ordered in for an audit.

Having gone to church in my youth with the local IRS director in Columbus, I telephoned him and asked what was happening. He laughed, saying there had to be a mistake; the IRS didn’t waste time on routine, short-form returns. He called me back a few days later and told me we weren’t having the conversation, but the FBI had put a flag on me and the IRS was to audit my taxes, presumably to harass me. My friend said he would have the audit order rescinded and try to get the flag off my Social Security number, which the FBI had obtained.

That was 40 years ago and while I’m sure everyone involved is either dead or retired by now, if it happened then why would I not expect that culture to still exist and it not happen now?

* * *

And if the IRS targeting political groups isn’t enough, how about the Justice Department targeting the Associated Press, presumably to learn the sources of articles the AP has researched and published.

The AP has filed a formal complaint, citing the Justice Department secretly obtaining two months of telephone records of reporters and editors in what AP officials call a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into the organization’s gathering of news.

The phone records were for offices and individual reporters in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., for the telephones of the AP in the House of Respresentatives press gallery and for the home telephones and cellphones of reporters.

Shades of the Nixon-era “plumbers,” who were so intent upon finding the so-called “leaks” in the Nixon White House that laws were broken with Nixon’s apparent knowledge and consent.

Is the same thing happening again? Is the Justice Department targeting the news media? Did President Obama have prior knowledge of the phone records sweep? Did the president authorize the seizure?

Since the government won’t say why the records were seized, other than for the catch-all “investigative purposes,” we can only surmise what really was the target of the records’ seizure and search.

The old phrase “Big Brother is Watching” should also include “Listening” and “Spying!”