15 July 2010

The Bureau -- The Review

The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (2002), by Ronald Kessler covers the FBI's history, from its foundation to post-9/11. I learned two big things in this book: J. Edgar Hoover made the FBI powerful, but in the wrong way. Instead of focussing on good law enforcement and preventing/solving crimes, he focussed on gathering information and using it to manipulate people -- criminals and innocents alike. The FBI was more like the KGB or Stasi than the Boys in Blue.

The second main point is that institutionalized professionalism -- something that developed after Hoover -- was weakened by a few grandstanding directors who failed to put honesty and rule of law above their personal or political agendas. The results were awful -- spies who betrayed the US for many years, the Waco public relations disaster (the FBI's involvement at Waco was ok, the media spin was a disaster), and the fumbling that happened after 9/11. Like many, I thought that failed US-intelligence "let 9/11 happen," but I am convinced that this was not so. (That doesn't mean I support the War on Terror,* failed invasion of Iraq or incompetent Department of Homeland Security!)

Kessler calls for more FBI agents (up from 12,000 or so; compare this number to 1.4 million military) and national ID cards (as a secure replacement for de-facto ID we have with social security numbers). I support both of these ideas.

I also liked the way that the FBI increased diversity: They allowed women, minorities and people with language skills with lower scores than white males to get INTO the FBI academy, but EVERYONE had to pass the same tests to graduate. The same would work at universities, if they were willing to cut off low-performing students.

Bottom Line: I give this book FIVE STARS, and I hope that the FBI continues to strengthen as an agency of professionals supporting good laws; they should learn from the past, to avoid old mistakes.
* I also read Le Carre's Absolute Friends, a fictional tale of how two friends are manipulated by conservatives in the military industrial complex, to drive ahead the War on Terror. Conservatives needed a war, and innocents died to give them a cover story for abusing others.** I see a lot of fact in this fiction, but I wish that more of the facts we see were fiction, instead of manipulative, abusive power-hungry actions by "leaders" whose megalomaniacal actions weaken countries and their institutions.
** The FBI behaved in much the same way during Hoover's time, attacking communist reading groups while protecting mafia hitmen, pretending that they were above the law and hiding their abuse of Americans.

2 comments:

Jorge Lara said...

I recommend you "Dry Run: Preventing the Next Urban Water Crisis"

TragerWaterReport.wordpress.com said...

The FBI, national ID cards, Social Security cards and numbers, Social Security itself, the DHS -- all are unconstitutional. The real problem is that the federal government -- now, really a *central* government -- has far outrun the 18 modest functions granted it by the states in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. The FBI is like the KGB or the Stasi (your analogy) because the U.S. government has metastasized to the size of the Soviet Government. Stalin and FDR are smiling in the Yalta section of Hell.

-- John Seiler