Archive for December 23rd, 2014

The Secrets of the FBI

Ronald Kessler. The Secrets of the FBI. New York: Crown Forum, 2012. 304 pp.

I started reading this book after I first read the author’s book on the Secret Service which made a passing comment on how the FBI holds itself to a higher standard than the Secret Service in terms of leadership structure and accountability.  The book is written in a journalistic style and filled with interesting information about the FBI and fascinating stories, some of which has been told publicly for the first time in this book.  Prior to the book I have never heard of the FBI’s TacOps, which is the group that does a lot of secretive break-ins and planting of bugs.  I was surprised with how much the book revealed in terms of the methodology of TacOps from staying on elevators for hours, customize sleeping pills for pets and taking photos of everything so that they would be able to put everything back in place.  The book shares stories of close-calls and quicking thinking on the feet by agents.  Beginning with the book’s first chapter on TacOps I was hooked!

The book was more than a collection of stories and gossip of the FBI—I really appreciated the serious discussion about the FBI’s leadership.  The author discusses how different the old FBI was under J. Edgar Hoover and today’s FBI.  The author pulls no punch in describing the bad leadership that the FBI had in their history; in particular, the book zooms in on William Sessions and Louis Freeh.  Sessions was a former judge whom many felt was arrogant and incompetent.  He was the director of the FBI during Ruby Ridge and was strongly disliked by agents below him and the Attorney Generals above him.  He was also accused of abusing his privilege as Director, taking FBI plane rides to visit family and friends, allowing his wife to access floors in FBI headquarters that was suppose to be for agents with clearance, etc.  Sessions never learned his job and was eventually dismissed by Bill Clinton.  The book revealed that Sessions was in denial that he was fired and even delayed leaving his office.  The other incompetent director that the book focuses on was Freeh, whom the author described more as self-serving for his reputation at the risk of the FBI’s own reputation.  Freeh was against modernizing the FBI technologically during his stint which hampered the agency when the FBI’s own computer system was out of date and so slow that agents used their own personal computers and even developed their own system instead.  This was later identified as being a problem that contributed to the inability of the US to process intelligence efficiently prior to 9/11.  The author wasn’t just out to slam bad leadership; he also focused on the good leadership of FBI director Robert Mueller.  Like Sessions, Mueller’s background wasn’t as an agent but in law; however, this is where the similarities end for Mueller was willing to learn about the agency while Sessions wasn’t and simply thought he knew it all.  Mueller was also a no nonsense leader, being a decorated former Marine officer who knows how to lead from the front and set the example.  Mueller helped modernized the FBI technologically and was able to know how to manage people.  Under his leadership the FBI’s morale improved and had a better sense of direction.

The most fascinating part of the book for me was the discussion of how the FBI changed in the Post 9/11 world.  Counter-terrorism has become a big part of the FBI and now there is an exponential growth of joint-counter terrorism centers working in coordination with other Federal and local agencies all across.  In today’s FBI the goalpost have shifted from investigating a terrorist activity to preventing a terrorist activity from happening in the first place.  Prior to 9/11 the FBI would have been happy with the objective of capturing and preventing a terrorist from carrying out his mission but today the goal is not just to go after one terrorist but to know everything else about that terrorist’s network.  This means that the FBI isn’t just only about going after one terrorist and arresting them but to the point that it is safe it means that the FBI will not move right away to arrest a suspect but will continue to monitor him to find others and any other support structures for the terrorist.

I also appreciated the fact that the author was not blind towards the concern for civil liberties and in the discussion of the FBI’s future the author attacked the idea that some push for the FBI to be less about law enforcement and more about intelligence along the lines of the British MI5.  The problem the author pointed out is that the lack of law enforcement capability will hinder counter-terrorism in a day and age that recognize the problem of multi-agencies being unable to coordinate a meaningful response.  The British MI5 is severely hindered because they are now a law enforcement agency who can make arrests, etc.  Furthermore, critics of this model also note that with a law enforcement background those agents involved with counter-terrorism would easily abuse civil liberties, something that is still important for those whose mentality is driven by law enforcement and investigations rather than mere paramilitary or intelligence background.

I think people will enjoy this book.  I do recommend it!


Purchase: Amazon

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