Newly released FBI files on Dan Inouye show that the Hawaii senator was subject to several anonymous death threats during his long service in Washington.
He was also accused of accepting bribes to help Matson Navigation control shipping to Honolulu, and to secure a military research center at the University of Hawaii.
But the dossier, which numbers in the hundreds of pages, also shows Inouye's close relationship with the FBI, including correspondence between the senator and former director J. Edgar Hoover. The bureau once gave Inouye's first wife, Maggie, and his parents a special tour of its facilities.
The files also are a window into history, covering the years from 1959 to 2006. Names listed in the documents include Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, Hiram Fong and Oren Long, and Walter Dods and David Ige.
Civil Beat requested the FBI's records on Inouye after his death on Dec. 17, 2012. The FBI routinely makes such records available after a person's death.
On Monday, the bureau added Inouye's folder to its public records vault, which earlier this year released the files on Spiro Agnew, Ed Koch, Rodney King, Whitney Houston and Neil Armstrong.
The bulk of the heavily redacted material, as the FBI puts it, "concerns investigations of threats made against Senator Inouye and others, but also includes FBI correspondence/contacts with the Senator and several other investigations related to him."
The threats make for gripping, disturbing reading.
"I have bullets with your wife and children's name on them," reads a postcard addressed to Sen. Warren Rudman but focused on Inouye. The postcard, mailed from an anonymous source in January 1988, states:
The scum in the guise of slant-eyed filth like Dan Inouye is the cause of racial discrimination. My people lost loved ones and still suffer because of the japs. Their (the japs) complete extermination would be a small price for the japs to pay. You and your children will suffer if you cause mine to suffer any longer. You will not be insulated any longer. The blood of 600,000 German women and children murdered by american bombers will not go unanswered.
The threat is one of several made against Inouye because of his chairmanship of a special committee investigation the Iran-Contra scandal of the late 1980s. Rudman, a Republican, was the committee's vice chair.
Another anonymous death threat is signed "Oli North Sympathizer," a reference to Oliver "Ollie" North, who was a National Security Council staff member during the affair that tarnished the Reagan administration. An anonymous phone call to Inouye's Hilo office in July 1987 said before hanging up, "If you hurt North, we're going to kill you." An August 1987 threat, signed "True Patriot," stated, "I don't want to see your face on TV. & hear bull shit from your mouth."
Few of the suspects were identified, and it appears that none were prosecuted. In some instances, the FBI dropped the cases for lack of sufficient evidence. But the bureau also took them seriously, submitting letters to laboratory analysis and consulting computer databases for names like True Patriot. At one point the bureau appears to have placed a recording device on Inouye's office phone, with his permission; at another, police in Maryland beefed up security around his Bethesda residence.
Inouye also received death threats during two other high-profile moments in U.S. history, the Watergate hearings and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Inouye rose to national prominence during the Watergate hearings, which led to Nixon's downfall, and he opposed the Iraq war. Some of the threats came from people with opposite views, as was the case with an anonymous caller in the summer of 2003 that said he supported President George W. Bush's plan to topple Saddam Hussein; the caller suggested the U.S. should get rid of Osama bin Laden as well.
Jennifer Sabas, Inouye's long time chief of staff, told Civil Beat Monday the senator "deliberately played down" the threats, declining Capitol security, for example.
Sabas said things were especially tense during the Iran-Contra hearings, a time when Inouye's office was inundated with "trays and trays of mail every day. It was the days before email. We had to hire administrative staff to handle the correspondence."
"He was trying as chairman to keep the hearings to as much an extent as possible a bipartisan conversation," said Sabas, who was a legislative assistant to the senator at the time.
In August 1989, the FBI heard from an anonymous caller saying he had heard for years from Honolulu maritime officials that Matson Navigation had made cash payments to Inouye to prevent competition. The caller is described as a fifth-generation Hawaiian who was related to a former Republican congressman representing Hawaii.
In October of that year, the bureau was advised that Inouye attended a 1987 meeting at the Pacific Club and was overheard stating, "APL (American President Lines) will come in over my dead body."
The FBI office in Honolulu took the allegations seriously enough that it asked the national headquarters for permission to conduct an investigation, including looking at Inouye's bank account records. FBI bosses rejected the idea but did authorize a "discreet" investigation of public source documents to assess the "competitive nature" of the Honolulu maritime industry. Inouye's name was not to be mentioned.
The file on the Matson allegation is one of the longest, numbering 120 pages. It includes financial statements from companies like Alexander & Baldwin, Matson's parent company. It is not clear from the files what the investigation concluded, but at one point a U.S. attorney was said willing to prosecute if the allegations could be substantiated.
In 2005, Inouye was accused by a UH professor of social work of effectively accepting bribes because he had received campaign contributions from school officials who advocated for a University-Affiliated Research Center at UH. The UARC, as it was called, would conduct military-related research.
Inouye promptly reported the letter to the FBI in order to have "my good name cleared." The FBI interviewed the professor — the name is redacted — and found him rambling and his allegations not believable.
It's not all death threats and bribery charges. The FBI dossier on Inouye has its amusing and bizarre moments, and some that give one pause with the benefit of hindsight.
For example, in August of 1975 someone claiming to be Inouye's chauffeur was found standing next to a vehicle outside of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia holding a camera with a long-range lense. The man was not prosecuted.
In early 1963, a prostitute said Inouye invited her and others to a hotel room, where a series of racy events were alleged to have transpired. But the FBI soon dismissed the case when the individual the prostitute believed was Senator Inouye "had no missing limbs." The report observes that the real Inouye was missing his right arm at the shoulder as a result of his service in World War II.
Though the FBI file on Inouye begins in 1959, it includes material on him from earlier in that decade. It notes that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union had regularly endorsed Inouye in his early political career, at a time when some had alleged that the ILWU was controlled by Communists.
The dossier shows that Inouye was long in the FBI's good graces. At one point, in 1960, his first wife, Maggie, took Inouye's parents on a special tour of the bureau's facilities, and they requested to meet Hoover. The director was too busy, but he and Inouye wrote each other gracious notes. In 1965, Hoover recommended one of his own books, including one titled Masters of Deceit, to Inouye so that he could pass it along to a constituent.
There are other embarrassing moments for the senator. The FBI's files include dozens of newspaper clippings on Inouye, including these:
"Inouye defends U.S. policy in Vietnam," from a 1965 article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
"Inouye sees Nixon blunder in China move," from a 1971 article in the Star-Bulletin.
Mostly, however, what the FBI files on Dan Inouye impart is that the senator was a powerful and influential man who the bureau believed was worth watching closely.