Thank goodness the NSA had the sense to put funnyman Art Buchwald on the watch list it compiled for President Johnson
The great Art Buchwald
"During his later life, [Art] Buchwald, an old-school liberal who died in 2007, at the age of eighty-one, spent a lot of time kvetching about the fact that, unlike Mary McGrory and Daniel Schorr, he didn't make it onto Richard Nixon's famous White House enemies list. But his spirit can rest peacefully."
-- John Cassidy, in a newyorker.com blogpost,
"When the N.S.A. Spied on Art Buchwald"
"When the N.S.A. Spied on Art Buchwald"
Yes, it appears that the spirit of Art Buchwald can now rest peacefully. As John Cassidy reports, "The authorities have confirmed that the National Security Agency spied on Art Buchwald."
Yes, that Art Buchwald. The old guy with the glasses who concocted humorous columns for the Washington Post, published more than thirty books, including "I Am Not a Crook" (about you-know-who) and "While Reagan Slept," and spent his summers palling around Martha's Vineyard with William Styron. . . .Cassidy recalls, via Burr and Aid, that "the target list was created in 1967 following a demand from President Lyndon Johnson," who "wanted to know if the domestic antiwar movement was receiving help from abroad," and turned to the CIA to find out. The CIA turned to the Army, which turned to the NSA, which turned to the FBI, and eventually the NSA -- "expanding the watch list to include domestic terrorist and foreign radical suspects" -- compiled a watch list of more than 1600 names. The existence of this enterprise, called Operation Minaret, became known through the committee hearings on the CIA held by Sen. Frank Church, but it's only this year that the National Security Archive shook the list loose.
In a long blog post on Wednesday, the National Security Archive -- that invaluable repository of information on all things spook-related -- revealed that, sometime during the late nineteen-sixties or early seventies, the N.S.A. targeted the humorist and other critics of the Vietnam War, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, and Tom Wicker, the late Times columnist.
Citing recently declassified documents, William Burr and Matthew Aid, two researchers at the Archive, said the N.S.A. even spied on two prominent senators, Frank Church, the Idaho Democrat who headed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Howard Baker, the Tennessee Republican who would go onto serve as Ronald Reagan's chief of staff.
The declassified documents don't say when a person was put on the target list, or why. Operation Minaret ran from 1967 to 1975. Some of the names were there from the beginning. Others, presumably, were added during the Nixon Administration, which began in January, 1969. As Burr and Aid note in their blog post, some of the names are "eye-popping.""It all happened a long time ago," Cassidy notes.
It has been known for years that the intelligence agencies spied on King, who was a vocal critic of the Vietnam War from early on. Presumably, Ali was targeted because of his efforts to avoid the draft and his critical comments about the war. But what about Whitney Young, the president of the Urban League, who was one of President Johnson's friends and advisers? Or Senator Baker, who wasn't even an opponent of the war? (He did criticize Johnson for not bombing the Vietcong heavily enough.) Or Buchwald, who wrote in his farewell column that one of his biggest regrets in life was not eating enough profiteroles and banana splits?
Burr and Aid speculate that Buchwald may have been put on the list because of a 1966 column in which he suggested that rather than killing the Vietcong, which was costing the Pentagon more than three hundred thousand dollars per dead soldier, it would be cheaper to entice them to defect to the United States, offering them a new home, a color television, and a country-club membership. "Perhaps," Burr and Aid write, "some humorless FBI or White House official put Buchwald on the watch list."
But it tells us something that's relevant right now. Once governments start spying on their own citizens, the snooping tends to take on a life of its own. Technological capabilities improve, and targets lists expand, as does the level of intrusiveness. In this case, the authorities ended up intercepting the phone calls of civil-rights leaders, tracking the communications of senators, and listening in on the conversations of boxers and humorists.
Of course, all this domestic spying took place before the establishment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is supposed to keep the intelligence agencies in check. But do you really think we can rely on such a secretive and timid institution, even if the Obama Administration goes ahead with the reforms it has proposed? I'm only guessing, of course, but I doubt that Buchwald, or Wicker, or any decent journalist of their generation would have believed that.
I SUDDENLY FIND MYSELF MISSING
ART BUCHWALD SOMETHING FIERCE
"I don't know how well I've done while I was here, but I'd like to think some of my printed works will persevere -- at least for three years.
"I know it's very egocentric to believe that someone is put on Earth for a reason. In my case, I like to think I was. And after this column appears in the paper following my passing, I would like to think it will either wind up on a cereal box top or be repeated every Thanksgiving Day."
-- the great Art Buchwald, in his farewell column
John Cassidy provides a link to it, so here is Art's farewell column.
Gooobye, My Friends
By Art Buchwald
Friday, January 19, 2007
Editor's Note: Art Buchwald asked that this column be distributed following his death. Buchwald wrote the column on Feb. 8, 2006, after deciding to check into a hospice, suffering from kidney failure. He had discontinued dialysis and also had one of his legs amputated below the knee. He subsequently was released from the hospice, wrote a book about his experience and also resumed writing his syndicated newspaper column. He died Wednesday surrounded by family members.
Several of my friends have persuaded me to write this final column, which is something they claim I shouldn't leave without doing.
There comes a time when you start adding up all the pluses and minuses of your life. In my case I'd like to add up all the great tennis games I played and all of the great players I overcame with my now famous "lob." I will always believe that my tennis game was one of the greatest of all time. Even Kay Graham, who couldn't stand being on the other side of the net from me, in the end forgave me.
I can't cover all the subjects I want to in one final column, but I would just like to say what a great pleasure it has been knowing all of you and being a part of your lives. Each of you has, in your own way, contributed to my life.
Now, to get down to the business at hand, I have had many choices concerning how I wanted to go. Most of them are very civilized, particularly hospice care. A hospice makes it very easy for you when you decide to go.
What's interesting is that everybody has his or her own opinion as to how you should go out. All my loved ones became very upset because they thought I should brave it out -- which meant more dialysis.
But here is the most important thing: This has been my decision. And it's a healthy one.
The person who was the most supportive at the end was my doctor, Mike Newman. Members of my family, while they didn't want me to go, were supportive, too.
But I'm putting it down on paper, so there should be no question the decision was mine.
I chose to spend my final days in a hospice because it sounded like the most painless way to go, and you don't have to take a lot of stuff with you.
For some reason my mind keeps turning to food. I know I have not eaten all the eclairs I always wanted. In recent months, I have found it hard to go past the Cheesecake Factory without at least having one profiterole and a banana split.
I know it's a rather silly thing at this stage of the game to spend so much time on food. But then again, as life went on and there were fewer and fewer things I could eat, I am now punishing myself for having passed up so many good things earlier in the trip.
I think of a song lyric, "What's it all about, Alfie?" I don't know how well I've done while I was here, but I'd like to think some of my printed works will persevere -- at least for three years.
I know it's very egocentric to believe that someone is put on Earth for a reason. In my case, I like to think I was. And after this column appears in the paper following my passing, I would like to think it will either wind up on a cereal box top or be repeated every Thanksgiving Day.
So, "What's it all about, Alfie?" is my way of saying goodbye.