The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI, by Ronald Kessler – Book Club for Men
Kessler, known for his works on national security government agencies and the President, doesn’t disappoint with this thorough history of the FBI, from its beginning in 1908 through the start of Robert Mueller’s reign, just a week before the 9/11 attacks in 2001. A large chunk of the book details J. Edgar Hoover’s background and his HUGE influence on the FBI. On one hand Hoover made vast improvements to the law enforcement community with his advancements, but on the other hand used blackmail techniques to make sure he and the FBI stayed funded and in power with his gathering of all sorts of dirt on congressmen, the Presidents and others of national prominence for his secret files. The juiciest information includes audio surveillance from hotel rooms where Martin Luther King stayed, and reveals King’s participation in sex orgies. Kessler also explains the story behind the myth that Hoover was a transvestite, a story that came from a single source, a not very credible woman who served time for perjuring herself in an unrelated 1971 case. Kessler tells us that the Director Louis Freeh (served from 1993 – 2001) was so anti-computers that he never used email, had his computer removed from his office, and never upgraded the FBI’s systems. Agents routinely would have to use their own personal email to send documents and file reports since the FBI’s system was so slow and antiquated. Covered also are the tragedies of Waco and Ruby Ridge, and their behind the scenes decision making processes. He does a nice job of showing another side to these tragedies, which did involve a lot of FBI thought and planning and weighing of possibilities. I did not realize both of these events began with other agencies, the US Marshalls Service and the ATF, and it was through their bungled operations that the FBI inherited these fiascos. At times the book can get a little bogged down with too many names, but is easily remedied with a bit of skimming. It is an important work that sets the stage for many of the challenges we face today regarding terrorism and crime fighting. The Bureau does include an epilogue from 2003, but unfortunately the past 7 years is not covered. We were fortunate enough to have some email correspondence with the author, and the group asked him how he felt overall about the current direction of the FBI. Kessler replied that “The FBI has totally changed direction to become prevention oriented, meaning the first priority is stopping a plot by gathering intelligence. Gathering all the evidence for a prosecution is now secondary. That’s one reason we have not had a successful attack since 9/11.” If you are interested in current events and our country’s security, this is an excellent book to fill you in on our history in this area.