In the bad-old-days of American intelligence, J. Edgar Hoover maintained a notorious “Sex Deviate” file filled with salacious bits of information on the sexual proclivities of prominent Americans: actors, columnists, activists, members of Congress, and even presidents. Sometimes this information could be immediately useful—as when Hoover’s right hand Cartha DeLoach proudly reported that the Bureau had learned of a truculent senator caught driving drunk with a “good looking broad.” The senator, DeLoach explained, was promptly made “aware that we had the information, and we never had trouble with him on appropriations since.” But Hoover could be patient as well: In the 1940s, the FBI investigated and wiretapped columnist and suspected German spy Inga Arvad, who happened to be conducting an affair with a young naval ensign named John Kennedy. When Kennedy won the Democratic presidential nomination 17 years later, the Arvad dossier was immediately moved to Hoover’s personal office file. Sometimes the information was used to discredit Hoover’s political enemies through targeted leaks; on other occasions, the threat of exposure was enough.
The National Security Agency has clearly learned to apply Hoover’s tactics in the war on terrorism: In a new Huffington Post story based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald reports that the NSA discussed how Islamist “radicalizers” could be discredited by exploiting information—presumably obtained through electronic surveillance—about their online sexual activities.
Critically, the six “radicalizers” mentioned in the NSA document do not appear to have been directly involved in terrorism: They are described only as preachers of extremist ideas. Indeed, the document notes that the three English-speaking “radicalizers,” one of whom is identified as a “U.S. person,” seem to have had minimal contact with members of violent groups, and one is characterized as explicitly condeming violence against civillians. Nevertheless, the Agency urged that such “vulnerabilities” as “online promiscuity” or “viewing sexually explicit material online” could be used to discredit these “radicalizers” by exposing them as hypocrites.