Friday, November 25, 2011

The Secrets of the F.B.I. by Ronald Kessler

The FBI, or the Federal Bureau of Investigations is in charge of keeping the Unites States secure from both terrorists at home and abroad. With a wide array of powers granted by the government of the United States, and limited by the power of the judicial system, it often seems monolithic to outsiders, as well as extremely mysterious and often secretive. But where did it come from and how does it work today? And what is the truth about several allegations made in the past, like the truth about J. Edgar Hoover's sexual and cross-dressing proclivities?

The Secrets of the FBI (such as they are) are all exposed in this book, from how the FBI believes information can be obtained from anyone, without torture, to how they work and the stratagems they use to catch crooks, and to why they didn't go after the Mafia in the US for so long. Other chapters talk about Waco, Ruby Ridge and how Robert Hansen, a former FBI Agent whose capture inspired the movie "Breach" was caught. But the movie, based very loosely on the case, is completely fictional when it came to how Hansen was actually caught. and this book tells the true story.

The book also tells the true story of the Break-in at the Watergate hotel, Deep Throat and his activities, and how the FBI began profiling serial killers, and the truth regarding one of the things that ended up bringing down Deputy Director Bill Sessions down- his wife, Alice. There is the truth behind the death of Vince Foster (that he committed suicide, unable to handle the stress of his position- he confessed as much to his sister, who gave him the names of three psychiatrists he could see), and how Louis Freeh, the next director after Bill Sessions, may have been a somewhat better choice, but at the same time, he had his own idiosyncrasies that hurt his own ability to do the job right.

In part, his contempt for technology and preference for doing "brickwork", or getting out and hitting the streets rather than investigation through computers, hamstrung the FBI when it came to things like investigating information on Bin Laden and other technologically savvy terrorists and individuals, leading almost directly to 9/11. It was only after Freeh left that this problem could be addressed.

The book closes out with more cases in which their TacOps team has broken into homes and businesses to plant cameras and microphones, and catching various crimes on tape, including Mafia takeouts and one in which Zein Isa killed his own daughter because she had a job outside the house and was therefore a danger to Isa and his cell. He even called 911 after the crime and claimed that he killed his daughter in self-defense, but the truth was that his wife held her down as he stabbed her in the chest multiple times, telling her to die quickly.

I found this book fascinating, with so much information about the FBI past and present, and the details of the cases were actually fascinating and horrifying at the same time. But still, I know that not everyone who reads this book is going to believe it, especially if they are heavy believers in certain conspiracy theories, like that of the Clintons having Vince Foster murdered, or that the FBI and other Federal agencies were behind a conspiracy to make believe 9/11 was done by bombs to make the US go to war in the Middle East.

People not as wedded to conspiracy theories and who don't necessarily believe that the government was behind 9/11 will find the accounts from the FBI personnel on the ground to be a mixture of competence and incompetence- exactly the way that humans always are, and that makes these accounts believable, especially to me. Most conspiracy theories require that those pulling them off are more perfect than any human could make them- all the time. In fact, most conspiracies fail for exactly that reason- humans aren't perfect. They fail, someone screws up, someone speaks out, and they get caught.

But for most people. this book will be one of the best and most interesting books you will read this year. The information and the stories are excellent and incredibly fascinating, both in the stories of what the FBI has uncovered and how it works. It opens a window on an agency and lets us see it doing its job, and how it does that job, along with past successes and failures. Highly recommended.

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