I borrowed the title for this essay from a very popular weekly radio show (over 400 episodes) of the exact same name, broadcast during some of my growing up years 1945-1953. Before television became the focus of our attention we listened to radio, usually as a family gathered around the one piece of furniture providing our in-home entertainment. The show cited above was a favorite because it was exciting and reinforced our teachings from other sources (parents, schools, churches, the friendly constable on the beat) about distinguishing right from wrong. We came to accept the FBI as the world’s leading crime-fighting organization. We applauded its existence and personnel, were assured it could do no wrong, and even wondered how we could join up. A seemingly impossible dream.
Fast forward. Today’s entertainment offerings include a popular TV show (one of mine anyway) titled “Forensic Files”. While not exclusively about the FBI, every episode features the awesome technology used to solve difficult crime cases. Much of that technology is produced by FBI laboratories and used free of charge by law agencies in every jurisdiction across the country. So far, so good. What’s not to like? (By the way, at one time, and maybe still the case, it was more difficult to become an FBI agent than to be accepted at an Ivy League school. Another impossible dream for most of us.)
But there are other forces at work within the entity. The FBI has always had a lot more going on than just catching bad guys, domestic and foreign. Behind the scenes and out of sight of an often naive and generally admiring public, the FBI engages in many questionable activities. President Harry Truman warned in 1945 the FBI was becoming dangerous. Truman stated: “We want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.”
The FBI has long been highly politicized. Presidents feared founder and director Hoover because he was known to keep copious files on anyone of importance. If you had personal celebrity, no matter in what field of endeavor, the FBI had (and still has?) a file on you, just in case. In case of what? Doesn’t matter. May come in handy some day. Politicians of every stripe wonder what secrets are contained in the FBI file on them. (Think blackmail as a means to influence or control behavior, and votes.)
During the Hoover years, in addition to capturing notorious gangsters like Al Capone, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly, et al (the anti-heroes of our childhood imaginations and fantasies), the FBI focused a lot of its resources on communism and homosexuality. It spent very little money and attention on organized crime. In 1957 the well attended conference of mafia leaders from across the country took place in Apalachin, NY at the same time Hoover was emphatically denying the existence of a nationwide crime syndicate. Included in the 60+ people apprehended at a police roadblock while fleeing the event in black limousines (they were tipped off), the heads of all “families” were detained and identified, embarrassing an unknowing FBI. In 1959 the FBI had four agents working on organized crime in New York and 400 agents investigating communists. And files containing 350,000 pages of investigations into prominent individuals suspected of being gay were destroyed after Hoover’s death. In those times before “coming out” was applauded, being gay was a social and career death sentence. If your intent was to destroy an adversary, an accusation of being gay was an easy method to employ, true or not. Hoover was not shy about such available material. (An aside: Hoover was long suspected of being gay and supposedly used his resources and threats to denounce that notion.)
There has long been a feud between the FBI (founded in 1935) and the CIA, the latter created by Truman in 1947 as a successor to the wartime spy agency named OSS. The animus has existed for decades. In 1970 Hoover dictated that “all direct communication with the CIA was to be terminated.” How many movies, including up to today, have each of us seen that illustrated the ongoing conflict and mistrust between the competing agencies? (A little introspection here: Which do you trust more? Or perhaps better said . . . less?) But as long as the search for and capture of baddies is seen as the FBI’s main raison d’etre it gets a pass from most of the public, deserved or not.
I believe most folks accept what is probably the case that most FBI agents are well intended and properly trained to perform their crime-fighting duties on behalf of the public good. The serious questions arise at the top of the ladder. It is not the case that Directors of the agency have earned their stripes carrying a pistol and displaying a badge as they climbed rung by rung to the apogee of the profession. Directors are politically appointed by POTUS and confirmed by the US Senate. They are usually lawyers. Ironically, after the death of Hoover, the term of employment in that capacity was limited to 10 years specifically to remove the head guy from political pressure. (No women have made it.) The original intent of the term limit was to de-politicize the position. That now seems to be a completely lost attribution, if it ever was the case. As mentioned above, the FBI is highly politicized and has zero chance of pleading otherwise. It would be a futile exercise. (BTW, only current “Special Investigator” Robert Mueller has served a full term in the role of FBI Director when he had the job. He actually served 12 years by special waiver of the rule.)
Recently fired Director James Comey is now the focus of investigations into a variety of his activities, past and present. While feigning a halo, and sporting an imagined arm-long series of merit badges, and coyly uttering “moi?” when confronted with apparent sins, he actually appears to be as bent (newer word for crooked) as any of the old-time gangsters cited above. He only lacks the lethal hardware they used. But hey! Give the man his due! When he was a US Attorney in NY he sent dangerous criminal Martha Stewart up the river! The public was well protected with her safely behind bars.
Not so with respect to a much more dangerous female . . . Hillary Clinton. While much of the country is mentally envisioning her in an orange jumpsuit for committing serious crimes against humanity, Comey has already given her a pass. As FBI Director he had authority to explore her sordid activities when she was a high-level government employee and decided not to. What if she became POTUS? What would be Comey’s fate if he got in the way of that possibility? He’d be fired and out of the limelight, something he obviously enjoys immensely. Better to get a push broom from the janitor’s closet and get to work concealing facts. (Comey will receive an advance of $millions for his upcoming book. I guess he earned his piggish “moi” look.)
Given the preceding comments it is not surprising to informed readers the FBI may not ever have been deserving of its highly promoted favorable publicity. But as kids, stretched out on the living room rug and parents occupying the sofa, it was easy for us to fantasize about defeating gangsters and catching Nazi spies. Now we question the motives behind the activities of all FBI personnel, indelibly and sadly demeaning the entire organization, including innocent badge toters.
FBI Directors have not done the agency well with their erratic, irresponsible behavior. And for me it has taken all the fun out of day dreaming, and then some. If broadcast today on radio, the show might appropriately be titled “How The Mighty Have Fallen”. (see 2 Samuel 1:27)
Laissez les bons temps roulers, mais maintien le droit!
Bob was born in Toronto and began his financial career as a trader on the Toronto Stock Exchange. He relocated to California and became SVP and CFO of a $multi-billion diversified financial entity. He served on the board of many companies in Canada and US. An avid yachtsman, he owns a twin diesel ocean going vessel once featured in Architectural Digest magazine. He maintains a hockey web site. “slapshotreport.com” and currently resides in Sausalito, California.Commenting Policy
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