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In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on March 28, 2013 at 12:02 am

Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat enraged.

On March 14, John Morton, the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), admitted to Congress that, for three weeks in February, his agency had released 2,228 illegal aliens from immigration jails.

Previously, the Obama administration had claimed that only “a few hundred immigrants” had been released.

The alleged reason: Automatic budget cuts required by the Congressionally-imposed sequestration.

“We were trying to live within the budget that Congress had provided us,” Morton told lawmakers. “This was not a White House call. I take full responsibility.”

Morton and other agency officials spoke during a hearing by the House subcommittee on Homeland Security.

ICE officials had previously claimed that illegal aliens were routinely released.  But Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, the subcommittee’s chairman, didn’t buy this.

Carter pressed Morton about the claim.  And Morton admitted that the release of more than 2,000 illegal aliens was not routine.

Carter was rightly angered–more aliens were released in Texas than in any other state.

But, in hindsight, he shouldn’t be surprised.  This is usually how bureaucracies react when forced to carry out decisions they dislike.

Consider two such incidents during the Presidency of John F. Kennedy.

John F. Kennedy

In April, 1962, U.S. Steel raised its prices by $6 a ton, and other American steel companies quickly followed suit.

Convinced that the price-raise would be inflationary, Kennedy demanded that the steel companies rescind it.  When the companies refused, JFK was furious: “My father always told me all businessmen were sonsofbitches, but I never belileved him till now.”

Then he turned to his brother, Robert, then the Attorney General.  And RFK, in turn, turned to J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI.

RFK had run the Justice Department since January, 1961.  Hoover had run the FBI since 1924.

And by now, he and Hoover detested each other.

J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy

Kennedy had been pressing the FBI to greatly expand its efforts against organized crime and violators of civil rights laws.

Hoover had long maintained there was no nationwide Mafia, only a loose assembly of hoodlums whose crimes did not fall under federal jurisdiction.

And Hoover–a staunch segregationist–wanted nothing to do with enforcing civil rights laws.

There were also differences in style between the two men which highlighted their mutual animosity.  RFK was 36 in 1962; Hoover was 67.  RFK was accustomed to showing up for work in his shirt sleeves; Hoover was always attired in a business suit.

RFK didn’t hesitate to pop into offices–including those of FBI agents–and start asking questions about cases he cared about.  Hoover demanded adherence to a rigid chain-of-command, with himself at its top.

RFK bellieved that the steel companies had illegally colluded to fix prices.  He told Hoover he wanted a full field investigation opened immediately into the steel companies.

As RFK put it: We’re going for broke…their expense accounts, where they’ve been a|nd what they’ve been doing…the FBI is to interview them all …we can’t lose this.”

He ordered the collection of evidence–both personal and professional–from the homes and offices of steel executives.

Hoover saw an opportunity to embarrass RFK while supposedly carrying out orders: He ordered FBI agents to visit the homes of steel executives in the middle of the night.  Even reporters covering the crisis got late-night calls from the Bureau.

On April 13, beginning with Inland Steel, all of the steel companies informed the White House of their decision to refrain from price increases.

But the President’s victory soon turned sour. The press assailed the “Gestapo” tactics he had used against the steel companies.  A cartoon that appeared in the New York Herald Tribune summed it up.

In it, Kennedy’s press secretary, Pierre Salinger, tells the President: “Khrushchev said he liked your style in the steel crisis.”  JFK was so outraged that he canceled the White House subscription to the Tribune.

The FBI scored another victory at the Kennedys’ expense through Robert’s pursuit of organized crime.

RFK wanted the FBI to share its vast treasury of intelligence with other Federal law enforcement agencies charged with pursuing the Mob.  But Hoover refused, claiming the FBI’s files were too sensitive to entrust to other agencies.  And he threatened to resign if pushed too far on this.

This deprived Federal organized crime “strike forces” of essential intelligence.

Hoover, desperate to make up for lost time in pursuing organizeed crime investigations, called on the same tactics he had used against the Communist Party.

He ordered his agents to secretly install wiretaps and electronic bugs in mob hangouts across the country.  This allowed the FBI to quickly learn who was who and doing what in the otherwise impenetrable world of the Mafia.

But in 1965, word leaked out that the FBI had bugged numerous casinos in Las Vegas.  The Bureau faced serious embarrassment.

Hoover, the master bureaucrat, blamed RFK.  He claimed that the Attorney General (who had retired from office in 1964 and become the junior Senator from New York) had authorized him to install bugs and wiretaps.

RFK–who was trying to remake himself as a liberal politician–was hugely embarrassed.

The antagonism between Kennedy and Hoover lasted until the day Kennedy died–on June 6, 1968, after being shot while running for President.

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