Archive for the ‘Ronald Kessler’ Category

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modernizing the FBI technologically during his stint which hampered the agency when the FBI’s own computer system was out of date and so slow that agents used their own personal computers and even developed their own system instead.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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Note: I’m posting later than usual this Sunday, I had a busy week with ministry.  For the next few weeks on Sunday we will feature a review of books outside of theology, philosophy and apologetics.  Each review of a non-Christian book will also have a section titled, “What’s in it for the Christian?”

In the President's Secret ServicePurchase: Amazon

With all the news about the Secret Service this past year I thought I spend some time to read this book.  What an interesting read!  I thought the book was insightful into the men and women who protect the president of the United States and also insightful in terms of some of the things members of the Secret Service have observed about various US presidents.

Since the book does discusses the account of agents’ observation on the President of the United States, the author makes the point that while the president should have some privacy of their private lives nevertheless there are some conducts and character that the public should know about if it affects their ability and judgment as president.  The author feels that Secret Service agents as are public employees of the people ought to make certain concerns made known for the interest and well being of our nation.

It seems from the book that presidents who were Democrats tend to have a bad rap in their personal life and relations to others more than the presidents who were Republicans—we have stories of Jimmy Carter’s bad attitude towards Secret Service agents and Carter having the Secret Service become his servants to carry things until the Secret Service had to finally tell him that it’s not their job.  The book also record the account of Secret Service members observation of how Jimmy Carter loved carrying his own luggage when the media was around—but had the Secret Service carry it as the soon as they left, and sometimes Carter would even carry an empty big luggage bag just for show!  Secret Service agents were also struck with the hypocrisy of Jimmy Carter who talked much about how the White House was free from alcohol when they were not—and how ironically the Regan first family didn’t ban drinking in the White House actually drank less in the White House than the Carters.  Carter’s behavior is in contrast to Regan, George Bush senior and junior who were typically cozy to security.  The book also described how Hillary Clinton was not very nice to her Secret Service agents and how she’s never even talked at all to some of her personal details for years.  I thought it was strange to hear about Hillary’s odd habit of not wanting anyone to say hi to her when she’s walking and how she even scolded an agent who made the mistake of greeting her.  Then you also had Vice President Al Gore who scolded his son in front of agents that if he does not do well in school he could end up being like these guys (pointing to agents).

The book is more than a look at the idiosyncrasies of the President; the book also talk about the Secret Service as an agency in trouble.  What amazes me is that this book was written in 2009, before the recent media storm against the Secret Service.  I think the author accurately anticipated the problems of the Secret Service and he was right in sounding the alarm concerning the current state of the agency.  The book does not attack the typical agents but faults the problem with the leadership of the Secret Service.  According to the author the agency has taken on more duties after 9-11 but has often failed to ask for more realistic resources and funds from Congress but instead pride itself as an agency who is doing more with less.  However, this has affected the quality of services, training and agent that the Secret Service could provide.  The author talks about how good agents are experience burn outs with the long hours that are demanded of them and how talented agents are leaving for other Federal agencies.  The book also talks about the negligence that fewer agents have produced, such as dropping training standards.  It was sad to read in the book of how some agents are so busy guarding important dignitaries that they have not gone to the gun range in years—and how the leadership have not enforce physical fitness standards and even fail to test agents but instead have agents fill out their own paper work of what they think their run time is.  The low standards of the Secret Service has affected their weapons platform, with the Secret Service still using older MP5s to do things that other agencies are using M4s to fulfill, etc.  The book calls for new management, one that involves new leadership that’s fresh outside of the Secret Service in order to change the agency’s culture.  I think the author here has a case.

Just so I don’t misrepresent the book, the book records many stories of the men who serve nobly in the agency.  The book tells us stories of Secret Service agents who serve sacrificially in protecting our president and their first family.  The author definitely have a high respect for the agents and what they do, even as he faults presidents and the leadership of the agency.  I think this book is worth reading.

What’s in it for the Christian: An unspoken rule is that Secret Service agents are to be ready to give up their life to protect the president.  They are ready to take the bullet for him.  This should remind us of the truth that our Savior is also one willing to lay down His life to save us–and indeed He has done so.  Secret Service agents are great examples of sacrificial service and commitment to one’s duty–virtues that a Christian should emulate in their devotion towards God.

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