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September 20, 2005
FBI Porn Squad: The Gonzales-For-SCOTUS Trojan Horse?

Today's Washington Post reports on a new priority given to the FBI by the Department of Justice and its chief, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Instead of counterterrorism, the FBI will now focus on adult porn as a threat to families, using its resources to pick cases that could meet the community-standards threshold of obscenity for prosecution:

Early last month, the bureau's Washington Field Office began recruiting for a new anti-obscenity squad. Attached to the job posting was a July 29 Electronic Communication from FBI headquarters to all 56 field offices, describing the initiative as "one of the top priorities" of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and, by extension, of "the Director." That would be FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. ...

Federal obscenity prosecutions, which have been out of style since Attorney General Edwin Meese III in the Reagan administration made pornography a signature issue in the 1980s, do "encounter many legal issues, including First Amendment claims," the FBI headquarters memo noted.

Applicants for the porn squad should therefore have a stomach for the kind of material that tends to be most offensive to local juries. Community standards -- along with a prurient purpose and absence of artistic merit -- define criminal obscenity under current Supreme Court doctrine.

It might appear crazy in the middle of a war on terror to suddenly ask for volunteers among a group of already overextended professionals to join what looks to be the Adult Publication Of The Week Club to troll for possible prosecution. Such an effort may seem wasteful when we see resurgent activity among Islamofascist groups in London and Egypt, where bombings have killed dozens. The Porn Squad, even under normal conditions, ordinarily would look silly next to the publicized priorities of the FBI, which are (in order) terrorist attack, foreign espionage, cyber-based attacks, public corruption, civil rights, and organized crime.

Appearances, however, can deceive -- especially when the AG might want to brush up his conservative credentials while the Supreme Court has an opening. Barton Gellman notes that Gonzales needs a bit of kiss-and-make-up with the GOP base:

But Gonzales endorses the rationale of predecessor Meese: that adult pornography is a threat to families and children. Christian conservatives, long skeptical of Gonzales, greeted the pornography initiative with what the Family Research Council called "a growing sense of confidence in our new attorney general."

Perhaps adult porn does do the kind of damage that these groups fear, but if so, it's self-inflicted and doesn't present a national priority. Congress funds a special squad of 10 agents for this task already. That should give sufficient priority to the enforcement of those laws and allow the rest of the FBI to pursue the real, existential dangers that could kill Americans by the thousands, instead of flipping through consensual filth for minimal benefit.

Doing this just to pander to the base is bad enough. I suspect that the pandering has another purpose, however -- to convince social conservatives that Alberto Gonzales will make an acceptable Supreme Court nominee, if not for O'Connor's seat, then for the next opening. Otherwise, reshuffling FBI agents to this purpose in the middle of a war makes no sense at all. Whoever came up with this plan should have his head examined. All this demonstrates is that Gonzales has no sense of priority.

Let's dump the Porn Squad and get back to business at the FBI.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 20, 2005 7:47 AM

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