They say history has a way of repeating itself. You really get a sense of that reading the FBI’s dossier on Dan Inouye.
The file — thousands of pages collected over 50 years — was posted on a section of the FBI’s website called The Vault, where many other political and celebrity FBI files are now publicly laid to rest.
A number of reporters requested the Inouye Files soon after he died in December. And last week the dossier was headline news on Civil Beat and elsewhere as the media scrambled to pull stories together on deadline.
But reading it when you have more time to stop and think reminds us that the past can teach us a lot about the present and, hopefully, the future. Dan Inouye, in particular, was deep in the middle of a lot of stuff.
The last section of Inouye’s online file contains dozens of newspaper clippings, copies of speeches and other historical records from the longtime Hawaii senator’s congressional career. The clips go back to 1959 when the new congressman (Inouye started off in the U.S. House) from the new state of Hawaii was advocating for a halt to nuclear bomb testing.
It’s interesting which clips the FBI decided to stick in a file. Local and national coverage of Inouye’s support for the Vietnam war, for instance, or his chairmanship of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at a time when Richard Nixon was the Republican president fighting Senate Democrats.
Inouye’s distaste and later outspoken opposition to revelations of wire tapping and eavesdropping by the FBI and infamous Director J. Edgar Hoover obviously made him someone the FBI wanted to keep an eye on. When he was named chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1976 federal agents even filed away a copy of the speech he gave to the Hawaii State Law Enforcement Officials Association conference in Hilo. Inouye used the talk to point out a lot of good things the FBI was doing at a time news outlets were uncovering case after case of the agency “hampering the rights of Americans” through surreptitious surveillance programs. Sound familiar?
(The speech must have resonated with FBI honchos. Inouye even got then-Director Clarence Kelley to send a letter to Jack Lord and the cast of Hawaii Five-0 congratulating them on the 10-year anniversary of the show in 1977.)
Back then, Inouye noted, the strange “sense of paranoia” apparent on Capitol Hill was the result of the expanding “data banks” being maintained by not only the FBI and the Secret Service but also the IRS, the Social Security Administration and even the Census Bureau. The Hawaii senator publicly supported the publication of the Pentagon Papers that detailed U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
We wonder what he would think about today’s twist on that old story: revelations that the NSA routinely accessed journalists’ phone records and whistleblower Edward Snowden’s continuing leaks about widespread government surveillance of U.S. and foreign citizens.
Inouye, we are reminded in reading an old Honolulu Star-Bulletin story, regularly had his own office swept for electronic bugs. He didn’t trust the government.
But perhaps the most instructive lesson from the Inouye Files comes in the collection of news reports about the 1970 re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Hiram Fong, the Republican who defeated Honolulu media executive Cecil Heftel. Inouye would have been expected to back the Democrat Heftel over a Republican, but Fong cried loudly and for months that Inouye brought a “vulgar racism” into the campaign by, as Fong said, making it a “local boy vs. Mainland haole issue.”
Fong accused Inouye of pressing both Japanese-American and Caucasian voters to go against him in an effort to appease the haole power structure in Washington, D.C.
Just days after he squeaked out a victory, Fong told a roomful of business and civic leaders that Inouye “sent his boys all over the Island to ask his friends of Japanese ancestry to stick with him and vote for Cecil Heftel,” according to a Star-Bulletin story.
There was such bad blood between the two that they had trouble working together. The Star-Bulletin had a D.C. bureau back in those days and reporter Frank Hewlett followed their relationship closely, his articles now part of the official FBI file. Fong barely spoke to Inouye when he first got to Capitol Hill, and refused to let the junior Hawaii senator accompany him to the stage for his swearing-in ceremony.
That prompted the Honolulu Advertiser to throw up its editorial hands and urge the two to play nice for the good of the state.
Hawaii does not expect its two senators to agree on everything. We would hope not. But Hawaii does expect them to cooperate on issues and problems that affect the Islands. For that more aloha is required than we are now seeing.
Those seem like good words in 2013 when Hawaii’s current congressional delegation isn’t as together as it was under Inouye’s tight leadership and two of them are already going head to head in what’s shaping up to be a Fong-Inouye style battle for the U.S. Senate.
Let’s hope history doesn’t exactly repeat itself on that one.
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Patti Epler is the Editor and General Manager of Civil Beat. She's been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Arizona. You can follow her on twitter at @PattiEpler, email her at email@example.com or call her at 808-377-0561.