There’s probably not going to be a lot of new stuff written in the next few days, so I’ll be dipping into the archive of old reviews.
This one is from June 30, 2012 …
Review: Enemies: A History of the FBI, Tim Weiner, 2012.
Weiner’s book has one great strength. It rests entirely on on-the-record statements and recently declassified FBI documents. There is no questionable Bob Woodward secret sourcing going on.
Weiner’s book is also well-written and moves quickly – perhaps too quickly when one comes across an area where more detail is sought. However, that’s where the extensive footnotes come in with a great deal of the declassified documents to be found online. And this is, after all, a one volume history with a great deal of ground to cover: the existence of the FBI as a secret intelligence and security service. This book is not at all interested in the FBI investigating conventional crimes.
The FBI came into existence in July 1908 as the Bureau of Investigation in the Justice Department – after Congress had refused to appropriate money for keeping tabs on anarchists, foreign-born radicals, and politicians and developers looting public lands. In typical fashion, Theodore Roosevelt simply waited until Congress adjourned, dipped into a Justice Department’s expense account, and created the agency anyway. It was never created by a Federal charter and still doesn’t have one to this day. From its beginnings, it was there to gather intelligence on suspected and actual subversives.
J. Edgar Hoover, the man synonymous with the FBI, joined the Justice Department in July 26, 1917 at age 22. At age 23, he was overseeing the thousands of Germans interned in government camps during World War One and surveillance of hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents. On August 1, 1919, the 24 year old Hoover was made head of the Justice Department’s new Radical Division which, under the guise of the 1917 Espionage Act – still on the books but rarely enforced – spied on thousands of Americans thought to be violent anarchists or members of a “Red” communist conspiracy. It was in the time of a massive Wall Street bombing and the attempted assassination of several government officials via mailed bombs. The government responded with the famous Palmer raids, massive arrests followed, in the case of the foreign-born citizens, by occasional deportation. But those raids were actually directed and organized by Hoover. Continue reading