- Mass Market Paperback: 576 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks; 1 edition (July 13, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312989776
- ISBN-13: 978-0312989774
- Product Dimensions: 4 x 1.3 x 6.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #984,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI 1st Edition
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An assiduous journalist, Kessler has written numerous books about behind-the-scenes stories at the national security agencies. His reportage on the abuse of office perks by ex-FBI director William Sessions, for example, precipitated Sessions' exit in 1993. His latest book is a history of the FBI since its origin in 1908 and is structured around directors' tenures. A majority of this overview is devoted to J. Edgar Hoover's 48 years in the saddle, and Kessler does dig up some new tidbits. Yet much of the Hoover-era material will be old hat to readers of Kessler's The FBI (1993). What's new here? A cascade of criticism of Louis Freeh, the director from 1993 to 2001. Despite Freeh's positive public persona, Kessler says insiders rankled under his leadership. They felt that Freeh neglected management issues such as a systemic computer problem, preferring to unwisely intervene in individual investigations such as the botched Wen Ho Lee case. Kessler's access to reliable sources results in a richly detailed overview. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
“An insightful history of the agency from its inception...reveals unexpected details surrounding a number of well known cases.” ―Providence Journal-Bulletin
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Top Customer Reviews
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
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
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.
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.
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.