The FBI is known for ferreting out the public's criminal secrets whether they involve a kidnapping, a terrorist plot, or a mafia or a white collar crime, but in his latest book Ronald Kessler shows that the FBI has fascinating secrets of its own. This detailed look at the history and the inner workings of the FBI profiles the leaders who've directed it since its inception in 1908, exposing not only their strengths and weaknesses but also their idiosyncrasies.
Sessions, fired for abuse of privileges for personal gain, made a point of returning the paper clips attached to reports and was known to break into the impromptu signing of jingles in the middle of critical briefings. Many of Hoover's quirks and predilections have been public knowledge since his death in 1972, but Kessler gives insightful and often humorous instances of how his perfectionism affected FBI policy. When he penciled "watch the borders" on a memo, intimidated agents, fearing they'd overlooked immigration problems, began frantically contacting customs agents along our northern and southern borders. Finding no irregularities, an agent reread the memo and noted that it had been written with extremely narrow margins.
Kessler acknowledges Hoover's contribution to the FBI, crediting him with building it by using science to solve crimes and by amassing and cataloging huge amounts of data, but The Director's reluctance to pursue Mafia figures allowed organized crime to infiltrate and become firmly entrenched in all areas of America's economy. In a similar manner, Freeh's refusal to embrace emerging technology meant that the FBI at the time of the 9/11 disaster was operating with an antiquated mainframe and outdated computers. When Mueller became director just prior to 9/11 he ordered thousands of modern computers, but they couldn't talk to each other because the FBI was using over 40 different computer systems. Consequently, it was difficult for agents to analyze leads coming in about Osama Bin Laden. Freeh, a former agent, ran the bureau "like a big case agent" instead of an administrator. He vetoed requests to require FBI agents and officials to submit to yearly polygraphs and made it easier for spies like Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames to escape detection for so long.
Kessler's remarkable book uncovers details that give new perspectives on familiar historical events. He tells of Robert Kennedy's use of a private car to visit Marilyn Monroe shortly before her death and Hillary Clinton's humiliating remarks to Vince Foster prior to his suicide. He disputes the Hollywood version of the series of events that transpired in the detection and arrest of Robert Hanssen, the spy whose capture was the subject of the movie, Breach. As interesting as these insights are, though, I found the exploits of the Tactical Operations or TacOps teams to be the most compelling. TacOps is a super-secret unit of break-in artists who use a mind-boggling assortment of props and ploys to carry out court ordered surveillance of homes, offices, embassies, businesses, etc. The extremes to which they go rival scenes from Mission Impossible or Leverage. Fake accidents, temporarily anesthetized dogs, false building fronts are just a few of the common features of a typical TacOps job.
Since 9/11, the FBI's main mission has shifted from prosecution to prevention. Kessler points out that as terrifying as the threat of nuclear attack or the release of biological weapons might be, we face other lesser-known threats. He discusses the possibility that a foreign enemy could release a nuclear bomb high in the atmosphere, triggering an electromagnetic pulse or EMP that would "fry all electronics in North America" destroying the electrical grid and causing all computer operations to fail. He proposes that those of us who didn't die of starvation or disease, would probably freeze to death. Even with this grim conjecture, The Secrets of the FBI, inspires trust in the agency and its current leadership. Kessler obviously respects the work of the FBI, having examined and analyzed thousands of documents and his "warts and all" presentation in this audio book is reassuring news in a fearful time. Highly recommended for information and enjoyment.
The Secrets of the FBI by Ronald Kessler
Read by Michael Bybee
Random House Audio, unabridged: 9 hours on 7 CDs