The G-man working at his desk at the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington is a man in his late thirties, tall, lean, clean-cut, well groomed. Since eight thirty this morning he has been poring over the files of an internal security case. Now he glances at his watch and sees that it is shortly after ten thirty. He gets up from his desk and prepares to leave the building.
Before he departs he stops off to fill out his “Number Three” card, the way FBI regulations require. He signed the card when he came to work this morning, and now he signs out. On the card he notes the file number of the case he is working on, his time of departure, his expected time of return, and the name of the contact he is now about to approach.
Gray fedora in hand, the G-man leaves the Justice Department building. He strides purposefully down 10 th Street, crosses Pennsylvania Avenue, and after a casual but professional size-up glance in either direction, enters a small, steamy-windowed coffee shop. He takes a seat in an empty booth in the back of the place, and presently a greasyaproned counterman sidles over. It is obvious by the glance they exchange that they are not strangers to one another.
“ The usual?” the counterman asks. Then he adds: “Or why don’t you try the cheese for a change. The cheese is good today.”
The G-man considers the proposal for a brief moment, but shakes his head. “No, the usual,” he replies.
A minute later the counterman returns, bringing a big, thick mug of black coffee and a prune danish. The agent glances around the coffee shop, then picks up the pastry and bites into it. He had to tell an official lie to come out on this coffee break, and he means to enjoy every crumb of it.
Life with J. Edgar Hoover
This G-man didn’t leave his office on any official business. He didn’t go where he said he was going on the “Number Three” card. Neither does he have any intention of contacting the person whose name he wrote on the card. The fact is, he lied about all that. The fact is, this G-man is doing nothing more than taking a fifteen-minute break for a cup of coffee and a prune danish. He does this all the time, and he knows that if he ever gets caught, he will be punished for it.
A piece of fiction? Yes. An exaggeration? No. The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigates none more thoroughly than it investigates those candidates who wish to join its own ranks. The Bureau goes to understandably extreme limits to make sure that it is getting good men. But then — if the statements of numerous ex-agents are to be believed — the Bureau treats them like children and motivates them chiefly through fear.
The 6200 special agents in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI live and work in a special, unique world. It is a world that was created by Hoover, and its rules and regulations, in their rigidity and complexity, would equal those of the United States Army, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Roman Catholic Church combined. “The thing is, the rules themselves make good sense, most of them. It’s the way they are enforced,” says one former special agent.
“Never embarrass the Bureau”
Inside information about the FBI always has been hard to come by. It is famous as one of the most image-oriented agencies in the federal government, and of all its rules, the number one rule is: “Never embarrass the Bureau.” Thus there presently exist two sharply conflicting versions of the FBI story.
The first is the classic one promulgated over the years by Hoover: the FBI is efficient, dedicated, and utterly free of graft and corruption. It is nonpolitical. Its ethics and its conduct are beyond reproach. It catches crooks, kidnappers, and Communists in great numbers; the FBI always gets its man. Under the inspiring leadership of the greatest policeman in the world, an elite corps of special agents, making use of the most effective anti-crime apparatus ever created, stands as the faithful, trustworthy guardian of the republic. And the American people owe it a lasting debt of gratitude, by God.
The dissent has come only in recent years. In fact, it is possible to pinpoint the exact date when the FBI first started having serious image problems. It was in January, 1961, when Robert F. Kennedy became Attorney General of the United States and Hoover’s new boss. Kennedy and the man who worked for him at the Justice Department took a hard look at the Bureau and didn’t like much of what they saw. They have been talking about it ever since.
The FBI, so it’s said, is not ail that hot. The FBI, so it’s said, rigs its crime statistics to show itself in the most favorable light. It is existing on a reputation gained chiefly during the gang-busting thirties and the spy-catching forties. The Bureau, we are now told, is reluctant to enter any case unless chances of breaking it are good, and it frequently hogs the credit for arrests and convictions, conveniently ignoring contributions by local law enforcement officials. And, it is said, the Bureau had to be prodded into action in the vital fields of civil rights and organized crime because Hoover concluded that both areas were too politically controversial and too unlikely to produce favorable statistics quickly and easily.
R.F.K. vs. J.E.H.
The recent Report on Crime issued by the National Crime Commission also emphasized that detailed, reliable information on organized crime in the nation is greatly lacking at present. The problem is, how do you come by it? Evidence indicates that the major part of the FBI’s program against organized crime — instituted at Robert Kennedy’s insistence — consists of an expanded wiretapping and bugging operation. And there are those who say the Agency has cut back on this now.
Kennedy and Hoover have been throwing rocks at each other since the assassination.
Of all the many traumas produced that November, perhaps the least understood was the one suffered by the executive branch, whose members, Hoover among them, had settled down with the realization that John F. Kennedy was going to be in the White House — and his men were going to be in charge — until 1969. Few people within the federal bureaucracy were prepared, either emotionally or intellectually, to accept the abrupt, unanticipated transitions of power caused by the first presidential assassination in modern times.
Hoover was one of the few. During his long tenure as director of the FBI, Robert Kennedy was the first, and probably the last, Attorney General whose political authority exceeded Hoover’s own. He also was the first, and no doubt will be the last, ever to use his desk buzzer to summon Hoover into his office. Hoover was sixty-nine years old at the time and no doubt had reconciled himself to the hard fact that this inglorious condition would remain his until retirement.
According to William Manchester, it was Hoover who called Kennedy at home and informed him that “your brother [not “the President”] is dead.” That same day, Herbert (Jack) Miller, then assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division of the Justice Department, flew to Dallas. But he might just as well have stayed home, for his presence there was pointedly ignored by the FBI.
By way of contrast, when the Yugoslav embassy in Washington was bombed this past winter, FBI agents paid routine calls on people who lived in the neighborhood. One such person is Edwin Weisl, Jr., the assistant attorney general in charge of the land and natural resources division. Weisl was impressed by the courtesy and bearing of the two agents, particularly since it was apparent that neither of them recognized him, and subsequently wrote a complimentary note to Cartha D, (Deke) DeLoach, who is Hoover’s assistant. DeLoach showed the note to Hoover, who promptly issued reprimands to both agents for not knowing who Weisl was.
Thus, it is accurate to say that of all the transitions caused by the assassination, the swiftest occurred at the Department of Justice. Since then, Hoover has snubbed Kennedy and refused to speak to him on more than one public occasion. In retaliation, Kennedy has become to the FBI about what Ralph Nader is to General Motors.
Hoover and Lyndon Johnson, on the other hand, are old, close friends. For years, when Johnson was in the Senate, the two men were neighbors who lived only a few doors apart on 30th Place in northwest Washington. In May, 1964, the President issued an executive order which, in the public interest,” waived the compulsory retirement that would have become effective on Hoover’s seventieth birthday and proclaimed that the FBI director could keep his job “as long as I am in the White House.”
An inaccurate story widely circulated in Washington has it that Hoover’s first action after the Kennedy assassination was to gather up all the FBI files on the Kennedycommissioned Bobby Baker investigation and deliver them to Johnson. Not only is that story inaccurate, it also fails to give proper credit to the subtle political instincts of both men. What seems to have happened is that Hoover decided to make Johnson ask to see the files, and Johnson, recognizing the ploy, delayed the request as long as possible. Johnson was confined to Bethesda Naval Hospital when his name was first mentioned in the Baker public hearings, which were then under way. That gave him legitimate reason to look into those files at last, so he immediately phoned Hoover and ordered them sent over. The President’s relationship with Hoover has little to do with their personal friendship, however. Rather, it is based on a mutual appreciation of Hoover’s political powers and the uses he can make of them. ‟Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” asked Juvenal. “Who will watch the watchers?” In this instance, the answer is — a wary Lyndon Johnson.
The politics of FBI snooping
Despite all the criticism it has received in recent years, despite all the controversy, there really is little that is wrong with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Its equipment and facilities are first-rate. Its agents are capable and dedicated. And even its severest critics acknowledge that the Bureau docs a creditable job in any area, once it commits itself to action.
There are those who worry about the possibility that the Bureau, given its head, could become some sort of national MVD-like secret police force. But fact does not support this, either. To the contrary, Hoover always seems to have been well aware of the ultimate dangers of a “national police force.” He has spoken out publicly on the subject many times. And on his orders, the FBI has scrupulously observed the rules on forced confession, unwarranted arrest, and search and seizure.
The record is not so clear on telephone bugging, and is further obscured by the political maneuvers of recent months. A lot of people in Washington are still wondering who and what motivated the Bureau suddenly to fess up and admit that its agents violated Fred Black’s constitutional rights when they bugged his telephone. Robert Kennedy evidently sensed that Hoover and Johnson were coming at him like Mister Inside and Mister Outside. Shortly, Washington lawyer Courtney Evans, who served as the FBI liaison between Kennedy and Hoover, wrote him a letter which said, in effect, “You didn’t know about the bugging. Bobby.”
“Yes, he did too,” Hoover quickly replied.
There the matter rests, at least for the time being, although one thing is sure: Hoover will never agree that the FBI bugged a phone without first obtaining the required approval from the Attorney General.
The power of the files
Within its central files the FBI possesses enough material, it is said, to blackmail, or at least thoroughly embarrass, half of America, and there are many who fear that the files would be extremely dangerous if they ever got into the wrong hands. The files most certainly do exist. There are millions of them. And no doubt they would make racy reading. But the fact is that their size, their mystery, and their very nature provide a built-in safeguard against any Gestapo-like use of them.
There is a file on virtually every politician, and it is not at all difficult to imagine what the reaction would be upon the discovery of any evidence that the files were being improperly used. As proof of this, consider, for example, the warning grumbles Washington made when word got around that President Johnson and his appointments secretary, Marvin Watson, were making constant use of the files in the process of filling jobs within the Administration.
Every special agent in the FBI writes a memorandum on every conversation he has when he carries out an investigation. Every scrap of material collected is saved. All this goes into these files. Thus the files contain both evaluated and unevaluated (“raw”) material; their very purpose, in fact, is to serve as a tool of evaluation. They are available only to authorized persons within the Agency, the Justice Department, and the White House.
Neither does the FBI’s problem lie in the fact that Hoover is a rightwing conservative. As one of Washington’s very best bureaucratic politicians, Hoover has always known that even his great national popularity and the power it gives him could not prevail against the pressures which would have resulted had he used the FBI — except in the most selected, isolated instances — to further the political cause he believes in. The tightrope walk he performed this winter on the U.S.Soviet consular treaty is a perfect example of this knowledge being put to use.
The problem with the FBI, to state it bluntly, is that J. Edgar Hoover is an old man. He is seventytwo years old, and he has been director of the Bureau since 1924. It is as if Kellogg were still Secretary of State and had no apparent inclination to retire anytime soon. More than one member of Congress has noted with apprehension that Hoover sometimes has to be helped in and out of his car by aides when he journeys up to Capitol Hill these days. Others have noticed his hands now tend to tremble. What is more, his chief assistants at the Bureau are no spring chickens either and are equally set in their ways.
Hoover is a bachelor and an egotist, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is both his child and his monument. Because it does constitute his life’s work, he is both inordinately proud of its record and fearful of its future without him, for it is an organization built and operated almost entirely on the principle of personal loyalty.
Perpctuat ing power
But there are two instruments in his possession which could guarantee that his influence will remain, almost as strong as ever, even after he has gone. One is the book of rules and regulations. For all practical purposes, Norman Mailer could run the FBI, and if its rules and regulations were all enforced to the degree they arc at present, it would still be Hoover’s FBI. The other is the degree to which he can name his successor. His present recommendation would be one of two men, Deke DeLoach or Assistant Director Clyde Tolson, and either could be counted on to change little. One force for change may evolve from a view under consideration by the new Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, that future FBI chiefs be subject to Senate confirmation.
When J. Edgar Hoover leaves, as one day he must, the decision the President must make is not whether he wants the FBI to continue being the FBI. The answer to that is easy and obvious. The hard decision is whether or not he wants it to remain as J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI — in faithful reflection of this extraordinary man’s faults, vanities, and prejudices, as well as his virtues.
It is possible, one would hope, to keep the one without the other.
— Douglas Kiker