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54 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fomer ATF & CIA Agent Gives "The Bureau" a Thumbs Up
Ronald Kessler's book, "The Bureau:The Secret History of the FBI" is the most detailed and
well-sourced book about the FBI that I have ever read. As a kid, I wanted to be an FBI agent and
went to law school solely for that purpose. But, an FBI agent in the Minneapolis office dissuaded
me from my goal and suggested that I become a Treasury agent, which I...
Published on June 18, 2002 by Richard C. Rhodes

versus
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars GOOD JOURNALISTIC PULP HISTORY
Kessler is a journalist and his writing reflects this.... "just like one long newspaper article" as someone described it. It is not an official history of the FBI though it is up to you to decide whether Kessler tries to be a historian or not in this book. Kessler had a lot of first hand contact with FBI personalities. Hard to rival his research, and he is most...
Published on August 27, 2003 by Rodney J. Szasz


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54 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fomer ATF & CIA Agent Gives "The Bureau" a Thumbs Up, June 18, 2002
By 
Richard C. Rhodes (Honey Grove, TX United States) - See all my reviews
Ronald Kessler's book, "The Bureau:The Secret History of the FBI" is the most detailed and
well-sourced book about the FBI that I have ever read. As a kid, I wanted to be an FBI agent and
went to law school solely for that purpose. But, an FBI agent in the Minneapolis office dissuaded
me from my goal and suggested that I become a Treasury agent, which I did. I worked some with
- and was around - the FBI for several years, as well as several other Federal law-enforcement
agencies. Then, I joined the CIA and served mostly overseas. In private security practice in
Dallas, I came to know several former FBI agents.
This book is probably a fair assessment of the FBI, an agency of mostly intelligent and dedicated
employees with a history of disastrous management. We all knew how maniacal J. Edgar Hoover
was about the Bureau's image and his own image. Kessler documents this very well with story
after story. And he documents the many violations of the law Hoover committed, from illegal
entries to wiretaps.
If there was any doubt that Hoover had personal files on celebrities and politicians, which he
used to keep everybody "in line," Ron Kessler provides ample proof. From personal contacts in
the FBI, I had heard about the files many years ago. Hoover was untouchable because of those
files. His private files kept him in office for nearly 48 years! Plain and simple.
Kessler brings us through the inept leadership of Director Sessions, to the tenure of Louis Freeh,
whom he describes as having "... left the FBI in a shambles." Before reading this book, I had no
doubt that the policies of Louis Freeh had handcuffed the FBI in the area of intelligence and
analysis. In the book, you can see decision after decision by Freeh which weakened, almost
destroyed the FBI. That the FBI was using 386 and 486 computers is unpardonable. Congress
was willing to appropriate the money, but did not think Louis Freeh had a clue as to what to do
with it. He had the computer taken out of his office and did not use e-mail. How do such
incompetents as Freeh stay on the job for nearly eight years? Ron Kessler explains.
The culture within the FBI was that "none of us would ever betray our country." That kept
polygraph exams from being administered and periodic background investigations from being
done. So, for many years, Robert Hanssen, who had access to our greatest secrets, betrayed his
country. It is improbable that this will happen again, with the new Security Division and the
checks that are in place. Louis Freeh said at a congressional hearing that he had scheduled a
polygraph for himself, but he left the FBI without ever taking one.
The author was granted the first interview with Robert S. Mueller III, the new director. I had
already formed a very positive and hopeful opinion of Mueller, an ex-Marine and prosecutor.
Kessler reinforces that perception. But the book shows you what a horrendous mess Director
Mueller inherited.
I have a couple of quibble points. In his discussion of Ruby Ridge, I thought Ron glossed over
the FBI's role and actions there. When he spoke of the fatal shooting of Vicki Weaver by an FBI
sharpshooter, which was probably an accident, he says "...second shot blasted through the cabin's
wooden door and into the face of Vicki Weaver." Actually, there were glass panes in the door,
which leaves more open to question the judgement of the sharpshooter - who was looking though
a high-powered scope. I have written at length about Ruby Ridge on my Web site. I had been an
ATF agent. I knew exactly what this case was all about. In ways, it was perhaps a greater tragedy
than Waco, because it was built from the start on a bad premise. Randy Weaver was entrapped by
the ATF.
Perhaps the FBI should have let the ATF stew in its own juices and stayed out of Ruby Ridge.
Nobody had to die over this case! But a U.S. Marshal, Weaver's teenage son, and his wife all
died from gunshots. Eventually, the Justice Department paid Randy Weaver $3.1 million dollars
to settle his wrongful death suit.
In several places, the author speaks of the many clandestine entries (black-bag jobs) made into
foreign embassies in Washington, D.C. by the FBI. I don't think so. Not many, anyway. That
was what I did for the CIA overseas. Embassies are sacred ground and are normally guarded
around the clock. Most electronic penetrations are by wiretap or a bugging device carried in by a
recruited person - or bugs planted before the occupants take possession of the building. Sneaking
into an occupied embassy is mostly the stuff of movie fiction. With rare exceptions.
Every American who cares about our national security ought to read this book. Then, you can
understand what all the shouting is about, and what all the posturing is about that you see in
those congressional hearings about the FBI. And how the FBI fits into the Homeland Security
effort. You also can see what a horrendous mess Director Mueller inherited.
As Ron Kessler seems to suggest, I am optimistic that the FBI will get back on track and will
regain the reputation it once had as the premiere law enforcement agency in the world. If I were a
younger man, I would ignore my FBI friend's original advice. I would apply to become a Special
Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is a worthwhile and honorable career. Now
more than ever before.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating revelations!, November 28, 2002
By 
I found this book to be quite interesting. As an investigative reporter, Kessler has dug up facts about the Bureau that most of us never realized.
From the birth of the FBI in 1908, to its current leadership under Mueller, for most of its history the FBI has been plagued with poor leadership (Mueller seeming to be a notable exception). From the illegal and unconstitutional activities of J. Edgar Hoover, to the bungling "leadership" of William Sessions and Louis Freeh, it's a wonder that the FBI accomplishes as much as it does. That is a credit to the hard-working agents who make up the Bureau, I suppose.
In this book Kessler focuses mostly on the directors and their successes and failures, and how they molded the FBI into what it is today. He also gives some details on past FBI operations involving spying and counterintelligence. There is quite a bit of information on recent cases such as that of Robert Hannsen, Wen Ho Lee, and others.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who is interested at all in the FBI, or in federal law enforcement. The book is well written, and did a great job of keeping my attention.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars GOOD JOURNALISTIC PULP HISTORY, August 27, 2003
This review is from: The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (Mass Market Paperback)
Kessler is a journalist and his writing reflects this.... "just like one long newspaper article" as someone described it. It is not an official history of the FBI though it is up to you to decide whether Kessler tries to be a historian or not in this book. Kessler had a lot of first hand contact with FBI personalities. Hard to rival his research, and he is most interesting when he weaves these people into the narrative.
He has his pantheon of heros and ghouls. Freeh and Sessions are subject to quite a thrashing for impugning the integrity of the organisation. Mueller is his man of the hour -- though how long that will last is anyone's guess.
The reading is fast and furious covering the almost 100 yrs of the organisation. There are Nazi spies in the US, the Rosenbergs, Hoover's crossdressing (he dismisses it), Watergate and the Valachi Papers of the Mafia. If you do not know much about these subjects you will be little better informed after reading Kessler -- he blitzes through these subjects with about a page on the Rosenbergs. He is better on later events, but once again, you will find little new on Al-Quaeda here and Sept 11th. His main strength is when he describes the problems of the internal organisation past and present. Hoover for example is assailed for abusing the organisation to perpetuate his rule, but is also praises him for building a strong professional organisation.
The text is badly organised and themes need to be worked more. The book tries to be all things to all people about the FBI. It was obviously hurriedly written --- typos are rife and he repeats himself more than he should.
That said, I still enjoyed it as my light read for the month. It flows well and does not demand too much attention, you can breeze through it easily. Do not expect too much.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very strong presentation of the Bureau, September 14, 2005
By 
Michael Green "mrclay2000" (OKLAHOMA CITY, OK United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (Mass Market Paperback)
Kessler's book is an interesting read. For me it has helped changed perceptions of acts and agencies of our federal government. The books gives a chronological portrayal of the Bureau's early days to the present, and finishes with a few chapters of important cases (espionage, 9/11 and others) that were too significant to put in mere historical context. For the most part Kessler's arguments and research are highly credible. His description of the Bureau over the last 15 years matches my personal recollection of certain events and my own perceptions regarding the Bureau, and how certain attitudes, dogmas or rules "handed down" by the Director were responsible for Bureau mistakes or public perceptions of the agency.

At times one might view Kessler's work as an attack on the Bureau, but the book seems admirably weighed between censure for the Bureau's wrongdoing and praise for the Bureau's successes. This balance makes the book more credible, and the reader's own understanding of human nature make most of the descriptions herein very plausible. In all, a very strong presentation of the Bureau, both good and bad.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Read!, May 20, 2002
By 
Dave (Bristol, Pa.) - See all my reviews
Ron Kessler's timely book about the FBI is fascinating reading. It's interesting that he got access to so much information given the bureau's concern with its' image. Kessler's book illustrates how much this agency has to be concerned about, and it's scary stuff. And really well written scary stuff to boot. Don't miss this one!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Management Study Of The FBI, February 18, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (Mass Market Paperback)
While you would think the FBI has a clear purpose and mandate, this book reveals how various directors subverted that intent and have dangerously steered the institution off course. From the illegal acts of Hoover to the incompetence of William Sessions, this book is a fascinating and frightening examination of what happens when the wrong people are put in charge. It is baffling to realize that Louis Freeh's resistance to improving technology left the FBI with a computer infrastructure completely outdated as we entered the post 9/11 era. For example, the FBI was using personal computers with Intel 386 and 486 processors as any organization that relied upon data had moved onto high powered Intel Pentium processors and more powerful software. The larger concept of mainframes, databases, networks and the ability to effectively disseminate information between offices was woefully inadequate as well. The FBI's lack of adequate computer resources slowed the post 9/11 investigation. Freeh's negligence in this area is inexplicable considering the threats we now face as a nation. Thank god for directors William Webster and current director Robert Mueller who put ego aside and manage(d) the institution as the public would expect. The insight into the various directors and their impact on the bureau is fascinating.
Kessler highlights many of the prominent cases throughout the history of the FBI. This is an even handed look at the FBI, reporting the facts and letting the chips fall as they may. One comes away with admiration and respect for the individual agents who have succeeded in their jobs, despite often having to endure idiotic rules and procedures produced by a dysfunctional culture often imposed by the director.
The only criticism of the book is the limited reporting on the FBI's role in the Kennedy assassination / investigation. However, with the numerous conspiracy theories in debate, it is perhaps best that a more detailed review is left to other authors, as the subject could easily be a book in itself.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, Good Reading, March 11, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (Mass Market Paperback)
This book seems to be divided into two sections: the first half deals with the FBI under the stewardship of J. Edgar Hoover; the second half deals with the FBI under each of the different heads after Hoover died. I enjoyed the part about Hoover better than the second half. It shows the rise of the FBI and talks about the iron-fisted leadership under Hoover (and what a grand schemer and blackmailer he was).
The second half leaves you wondering how the FBI has made it this far today - with its spies, 10 year old computer systems, misguided direction under Freeh and Sessions. These stories in the second half of the book suggests that the FBI has survived despite itself!
The book is worth reading - not the great book that others describe, but not bad either. It's worth a read if you want to know about the FBI history.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars FBI = Federal Bureau of Incompetents?, May 28, 2002
By 
Ross Romeo (Sierra Vista, AZ United States) - See all my reviews
Fascinating - well researched and written with hundreds of citations and footnotes as well as many photos of the main characters. Kessler clearly dispels many of the urban legends related to J. Edgar Hoover while providing new and informative facts of the past and present operations of the FBI.
More importantly, the book explains why Richard Mueller, who took over as FBI chief just one week before the Sept. 11 hijack attacks, has faced growing scrutiny from Congress and his own agents over whether the FBI could have done more to prevent the tragedy that left more than 3,000 dead.
The bureau that Mueller inherited is clearly documented by Kessler as a product of mismanagement going back to 1988. Reading this book will orient the reader regarding the challenges the bureau faces under Mueller in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The danger from an American KGB, August 3, 2010
This review is from: The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (Mass Market Paperback)
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Very Detail Oriented Book By Kessler, April 29, 2009
This review is from: The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (Mass Market Paperback)
Ronald Kessler is a wonderful author for what he does but he has a habit of selecting fairly misleading titles and The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI follows this trend in both body and mind. The title conjures images of newly declassified documents and insightful antidotes from tenured Special Agents and analysts alike; in reality what you are given is quite different. A very detailed and organized history of the FBI from its conception as an off shot of the Justice Department (which it technically still is) to the law enforcement and intelligence agency it is today. Now having read Kessler's other books I was prepared for this however if you haven't it will be what throws you most dramatically and as such is something that any new reader should be aware of. That having been said the book does play a central role for anyone interested in the FBI, providing not only a detailed understanding of its past but also varied insights into the minds and actions of the Directors that have helped to shape the agency over its 101 years in existence. Incidentally the most recent directors comprise the majority of the people interviewed by Kessler for his book and as a result skewer the information slightly, it is only further skewered by the authors own experiences with various Directors (for better or worse) and this shows up in numerous forms throughout the text. Still the book delves into the organization, values, history, and structure of the FBI in a way that few texts have been able to and because of this I would recommend it to anyone interested in studying the FBI.

On a side not if you have already read Kessler's previous book on the FBI entitled The FBI: Inside the World's Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency then you have essentially read this book up until the last one hundred pages or so which cover the time between the two texts and introduce some of the changes which occurred in the Bureau following 9/11. If you fall into this category(as I did) then learn from my mistakes and check the book out from the library skim the first 80% and then read the last bit to see what you missed the first time around. If you're a fan of his you'll recognize this updating and repackaging format from his books on the CIA, it makes me seriously question whether or not his new book is worth reading but it's already on my coffee table so I will post a review and let you know shortly. Anyway enjoy this book for what it is and you are in for a treat.
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The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI
The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI by Ronald Kessler (Mass Market Paperback - July 13, 2003)
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