By Evan Perez
President Barack Obama and new FBI Director James Comey sat on stage Monday in front of a brass frieze of J. Edgar Hoover, the former FBI chief, who kept dossiers on elected leaders, civil rights activists, Hollywood stars and other important figures of his day.
The occasion was Comey’s installation as the seventh director, a ceremony held in the open-air courtyard of the bureau’s brutalist 1970’s-era headquarters.
Hanging in the air were the latest round of revelations from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, whose disclosures of secret government eavesdropping programs have given rise to intense scrutiny of alleged government abuse of power to rival Hoover’s day.
Comey, in his remarks, acknowledged the need for the people in his powerful post to exercise “restraint of power.”
Among those who Hoover spied on was civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who Hoover suspected of having Communist leanings.
“Our first half-century or so was a time of great progress and achievement for this country, and for the bureau. But it also saw abuse and overreach - most famously with respect to Martin Luther King and others, who were viewed as internal security threats,” Comey said.
He noted that former FBI Director Louis Freeh during his tenure ordered that all new agents were required to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, Comey said “so they could see and feel and hear in a palpable way the consequences of abuse of power on a massive almost unimaginable scale.”
Comey’s predecessor Robert Mueller extended the practice, and Comey plans to continue it.
But Comey also plans to add a new destination for future new agents – the FBI’s Quantico training facility is without a new class of agents in part because of budget cuts under sequestration.
He plans to mandate that new agents and analysts also visit the Martin Luther King Memorial, a short distance away from the Holocaust Museum.
“I think it will serve as a different kind of lesson –one more personal to the Bureau, of the dangers in becoming untethered to oversight and accountability,” he said.