[we are] going to continue to fight communism. Now I am going to tell you how we are not going to fight communism. We are not going to transform our fine FBI into a Gestapo secret police. That is what some people would like to do. We are not going to try to control what our people read and say and think. We are not going to turn the United States into a right-wing totalitarian country in order to deal with a left-wing totalitarian threat.
~ Harry S. Truman, Address at a Dinner of the Federal Bar Association, April 24, 1950
I suppose it would be impolitic to wonder what ol’ “Give ’em hell” Harry would make of today’s NSA. They’re statutorily forbidden from acquiring human-source intel (CIA, DIA & others take care of that), so NSA are unlikely to become “the Gestapo” in the most commonly-understood way of imagining it.
Read broadly, however, the portions of Truman’s words dealing with “control[ling] what our people read and say and think” and not “turn[ing] the United States into a right-wing totalitarian country in order to deal with a left-wing totalitarian threat” can be read as the very real qualms of a man with an insider’s position few others have known. They are a warning, not just against the cartoonish evil of black-trenchcoated thugs who kick in doors and disappear citizens, but against the mindset and the “mission creep” during peacetime among essentially military agencies which, unchecked and at its worst, produces such thugs.