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Enemies is the first definitive history of the FBI’s secret intelligence operations, from an author whose work on the Pentagon and the CIA won him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.   We think of the FBI as America’s police force. But secret intelligence is the Bureau’s first and foremost mission. Enemies is the story of how presidents have used the FBI as the Enemies is the first definitive history of the FBI’s secret intelligence operations, from an author whose work on the Pentagon and the CIA won him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.   We think of the FBI as America’s police force. But secret intelligence is the Bureau’s first and foremost mission. Enemies is the story of how presidents have used the FBI as the most formidable intelligence force in American history.   Here is the hidden history of America’s hundred-year war on terror. The FBI has fought against terrorists, spies, anyone it deemed subversive—and sometimes American presidents. The FBI’s secret intelligence and surveillance techniques have created a tug-of-war between protecting national security and infringing upon civil liberties. It is a tension that strains the very fabric of a free republic.


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Enemies is the first definitive history of the FBI’s secret intelligence operations, from an author whose work on the Pentagon and the CIA won him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.   We think of the FBI as America’s police force. But secret intelligence is the Bureau’s first and foremost mission. Enemies is the story of how presidents have used the FBI as the Enemies is the first definitive history of the FBI’s secret intelligence operations, from an author whose work on the Pentagon and the CIA won him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.   We think of the FBI as America’s police force. But secret intelligence is the Bureau’s first and foremost mission. Enemies is the story of how presidents have used the FBI as the most formidable intelligence force in American history.   Here is the hidden history of America’s hundred-year war on terror. The FBI has fought against terrorists, spies, anyone it deemed subversive—and sometimes American presidents. The FBI’s secret intelligence and surveillance techniques have created a tug-of-war between protecting national security and infringing upon civil liberties. It is a tension that strains the very fabric of a free republic.

30 review for Enemies: A History of the FBI

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    Tim Weiner's Enemies: A History of the FBI is an interesting book about the FBI's straddling the line between legal and illegal pursuit of criminals. The book spends a lot of time discussing the career and legacy of J Edgar Hoover dispelling myths (most evidence discounts the commonly held belief that he was a closeted homosexual) and describing in detail his relentless pursuit of power in his personal fight against Communism which colored most if not all of his tenure. There are some great, tim Tim Weiner's Enemies: A History of the FBI is an interesting book about the FBI's straddling the line between legal and illegal pursuit of criminals. The book spends a lot of time discussing the career and legacy of J Edgar Hoover dispelling myths (most evidence discounts the commonly held belief that he was a closeted homosexual) and describing in detail his relentless pursuit of power in his personal fight against Communism which colored most if not all of his tenure. There are some great, timeless quotes which bear relevance today. In 1920, in freeing 13 prisoners held in abysmal conditions on Deer Island having been arrested with highly questionable techniques, Judge George Anderson said, "A mob is a mob whether made up of government officials acting under instructions from the Department of Justice, or criminals, loafers or the vicious classes." (P. 40). The corrupt president Harding and his Attorney General, Harry Dougherty, exemplified many of the same characteristics of our current administration and Hoover thrived in this environment. Alice Roosevelt Longworth: "Harding was not a bad man. He was just a slob - a slack, good-natured man with an unfortunate disposition to surround himself with intimates of questionable character." (P. 53). Sad to note that some things never change. History records the various scandals such as the Teapot Dome bribes of $300,000 taken by the Secretary of the Interior from oil companies among others. Unfortunately, Hoover and the FBI were so obsessed with chasing the "Reds" that little was done to stop this and revelations were made after Harding's death in 1923. It was disheartening to read that FDR allowed Hoover to accumulate vast amounts of information on suspected Nazis and Communists obtained via illegal wiretaps and black bag break-ins. Rarely however, was this information able to be used to thwart evil-doers. That being said, the FBI was key in breaking the various Nazi cyphers which did help the war effort. However, a dangerous precedent was set when occasionally the targets were political opponents rather than real dangers to American democracy. In the 50s, Hoover went after homosexuals and Communists (which he lumped into the same category) with a vengeance creating the environment of paranoia exploited for political gains for a short time by the notorious Senator McCarthy. It is unsettling to note that the FBI kept a Sex Deviates Program in operation which destroyed many lived and careers and which really only ended in 2011 when homosexuals were able to openly serve in the US military (p. 176). After Brown vs Board of Education which made segregation of schools illegal, the KKK went on a burning and killing spree which was largely ignored by Hoover who was among other things, a racist himself - Bill Sullivan: "He hated liberalism, he hated blacks, he hated Jews - he had a this great long list of hates." (P. 199) This irrational hatred led Hoover and the FBI to target the entire Civil Rights movement including MLK and others as "Communist sympathizers" for which wiretaps were sought and obtained. Weiner does not accuse the FBI of being involved in the big political assassinations of the 60s: JFK, RFK, MLK, etc but he does describe Hoover's antagonism with each of these figures. Naturally, there is also lengthy discussion of Watergate and the 9/11 WTC attack. The latter however is a bit hurried as it is given far less space than the Hoover period. I recall being nearly convinced by some of the 9/11 conspiracy theories that circulated in the aftermath, but see from Weiner's book that facts would tend to discount any collusion whatsoever between Bush and the attacks. It was incompetence and inter-agency rivalry that allowed al Quaeda to perform this horrific dead - and there were multiple warnings that were ignored due to bureaucracy rather than willful ignorance. One can still wonder why Bush allowed the Bin Laden family to leave to Saudi Arabia immediately after the attacks when all other flights were grounded, but this is not discussed and therefore - at least to me - remains mysterious. As for the overall book, it is more of a condemnation of the FBI's overreach than a year-by-year history of the Bureau. I would have liked more information on what they did right in pursuing the mafia in the 30s to 50s for instance and less of the Communist paranoia. Also, I was left with some uncertainty as to the overlapping jurisdictions of the FBI, the Justice Department, the CIA and the NSA - but then perhaps that was Weiner's point: the lack of a charter for the FBI since its founding left room for too much interpretation and this abuse of power over the years. On a positive note, the description of Mueller's tenure gives me confidence that in his current role as a special prosecutor, he is probably the one man that has the integrity to stand up to power in these troubled times. Highly recommended reading in the wake of Comey's firing and the legal battles that will certainly plague DC for the foreseeable future. I can't wait to see Comey's testimony this week...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    "A free people must have both security and liberty. They are warring forces, yet we cannot have one without the other." When William Webster became Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1978, he was shocked to find that the FBI, spawned from the Bureau of Investigation in 1935, was without a legal framework for its activities and operations. Author Tim Weiner describes: "The Bureau had no charter—a legal birth certificate from Congress spelling out its role. It had never had on "A free people must have both security and liberty. They are warring forces, yet we cannot have one without the other." When William Webster became Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1978, he was shocked to find that the FBI, spawned from the Bureau of Investigation in 1935, was without a legal framework for its activities and operations. Author Tim Weiner describes: "The Bureau had no charter—a legal birth certificate from Congress spelling out its role. It had never had one. It still does not." Weiner's Enemies is a whirlwind history of how such an entity came to be and how, limited only by the "president's oath to take care that the laws are faithfully executed," its boundaries and missions have stretched and pulled and become what they are today. The author further specifies his goal as honing in on the history of the FBI's secret intelligence operations, describing the book (in part) as "a record of illegal arrests and detentions, break-ins, burglaries, wiretapping, and bugging on behalf of the president." Most of what I found lacking in the book lay outside of Weiner’s intended scope. So, I only have myself to blame for the long list of events about which I want to know so much more. In all fairness, those details and anecdotes would have rendered this already hefty book into an unwieldy tome. You can’t have it all, I suppose. American Machiavelli There's a reason that a good chunk of FBI history reads much like a biography of its famed first director, J. Edgar Hoover. Since I already got most of my Archer-referencing J. Edna Hoover ya-yas out reading The Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover earlier this year, I’m gonna shy away from commenting much on the man himself. However, it's clear that without Hoover, there simply is no history of this breed of federal activity. "He was a founding father of American intelligence and the architect of the modern surveillance state. Every fingerprint on file, every byte of biographic and biometric data in the computer banks of the government, owes its origins to him." Got a problem with that? Well, yeah! Duh. In a government that purportedly relies on a system of checks and balances, this kind of power (which, of course, is a function of information) is not meant to be left on the shoulders of one man without some serious supervision. And Hoover had the cunning necessary to keep that consolidated power. If you’re including his years as Director of the BOI, then Hoover’s reign starts with Calvin Coolidge in 1924 and closes during the Nixon Administration in 1972. Legalizing Spycraft The Espionage Act of 1917 was a game changer such that when Hoover became the chief of the Justice Department’s Radical Division in 1919, anyone in possession of information that could harm the nation (basically, anything with “disloyal ideas”) could be tossed in the slammer. You had your anarchists, socialists, and, of course, the good old Communist conspiracy, all of which the Justice Department wanted to quash, and thought J. Edgar was the man to do it. To no great surprise, things got out of hand pretty quickly as espionage set its sights on senators at the whim of the attorney general. “The Bureau of Investigation had been created as an instrument of law. It was turning into an illegal weapon of political warfare.” The transition from BOI to FBI in 1935, however, was not inconsequential. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt, a wartime president (in case you forgot about a little thing called WWII), Hoover was first charged with tackling cases that crossed state boundaries- gangster wars, Prohibition . You know, stuff that had Hoover holding tommy guns for documentaries like You Can’t Get Away With It (below) in 1936. Those criminal justice elements, and raids on political meetings, private homes, bookstores and bedrooms, however, didn’t give Hoover the kind of wiggle room he felt he needed to compete with the experienced foreign espionage services of the Soviets, Germans or Japanese. Enter, the Smith Act of 1940 which "included the toughest federal restrictions on free speech in American history: it outlawed words and thoughts aimed at overthrowing the government, and it made membership in any organization with that intent a federal crime." Wartime, Wiretaps and Turf Wars Though Hoover had a hefty load on his plate under FDR, World War II required new arms of intelligence, and Roosevelt appointed William “Wild Bill” Donovan spymaster for the Office of Secret Services (which was, itself, a secret). Hoover was never big on sharing, and, thus, was not a fan of Wild Bill (considered the “intellectual father” of the CIA). Thus began decades of painfully uncoordinated branches of American secret intelligence. Hoover was ever-aware of the lay of the land, and how best to manipulate higher-ups to get necessary approval. Weiner points out that: “if we don’t do this people will die” has withstood the test of time as a one-liner with a record of garnering quick signatures. When the going was good, Hoover was first in line to take the credit. When Nazi saboteurs , including George Dasch (below) were captured in 1942, Edgar was sure to get a letter to the Oval Office ASAP boasting of how the FBI had effectively stopped the Third Reich from invading American soil (not bothering to mention that Dasch, in fact, turned himself in). And, in a vast oversimplification of affairs, let’s just say that when FDR passed and Truman took office, Hoover tried to treat Truman like a gullible babysitter, claiming FDR totally would have let him watch TV after 9pm, or, you know, run a black bag job or two. From the Red Scare to the War on Terror I was born in 1984, so names like Timothy McVeigh , Ted Kaczynski , and David Koresh come to mind when I think of FBI takedowns of yesteryear. Then I remember hearing a little something something about some McCarthy fellow who dominated the small screen for a while, getting to watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers in high school history class, and Boris and Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle, and it comes back to me that the threat of Communism was kind of a big deal. This would be the part of the book where I leaned heavily on Wikipedia to give me a bit more context on a hit parade of names that came up in a mix of Bureau espionage achievements and embarrassments. You know, the type of stuff that would have Ronald Reagan joking into the microphone during soundcheck: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever.” Even as the targets of secret intelligence operations and the faces of terror shifted from the likes of Aldrich Ames and Alger Hiss , to the Blind Sheik (below) and Osama Bin Laden , there remained one constant, critical threat to the American way of life. I think FBI Director Robert S. Mueller (from 2001 to 2013) summed it up best: “We did not have a management system in place to assure that we were following the law.” The Rules of Engagement Weiner does get into the detail of how changes in technology and personnel (not to mention geopolitics) altered/continues to alter the elusive balance between security and freedom. He does a pretty damn good job of it too, so, you know, read the book, because it's interesting and intricate stuff. Some rules have become a bit more clear. You know, like the fact that “if invited in, law enforcement can enter your home without a warrant.” (citation, Cyril Figgis). And, once that happens, well I'll let Agent Hawley say it: [Oh, come on! Did you really expect me to do this entire review without at least one Archer reference?]

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    An alarming and sobering book, comparable to the same author's study on the CIA. From the 1920s to 1972, the FBI was little more than the personal satrap of J. Edgar Hoover. From the First Red Scare, John Reed and Emma Goldman all the way up to the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement - he had almost total control over domestic intelligence. However, the FBI also acted as a foreign analysis and counterintelligence bureau, counteracting or competing with the CIA on multiple occasions. Their re An alarming and sobering book, comparable to the same author's study on the CIA. From the 1920s to 1972, the FBI was little more than the personal satrap of J. Edgar Hoover. From the First Red Scare, John Reed and Emma Goldman all the way up to the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement - he had almost total control over domestic intelligence. However, the FBI also acted as a foreign analysis and counterintelligence bureau, counteracting or competing with the CIA on multiple occasions. Their record was mixed, at best. Some of their best successes were in World War II - completely destroying the German espionage network in the US for example, but they completely missed Pearl Harbor, despite having broken the Japanese code. Eisenhower was a cooperative ally, trying to get intelligence on the Soviet Union (which was a success). Under the LBJ administration, Hoover was determined to smear Martin Luther King, whereas LBJ wanted to smash the Klan (which they did!) They did, in fact, keep tabs on the sexual liaisons of senior government officials, and Hoover did threaten Kennedy at least once with this information. Nixon was too paranoid even by their standards, demanding information on connections which did not exist. When even they balked at breaking into the Dem's headquarters, he organized the Plumbers and did it himself. Like the CIA, the FBI had its own foreign interventions. In one instance, an FBI informant took power in the Dominican Republic. After Hoover's decline and fall, Nixon's administration fell shortly after, and the organization had nearly destroyed itself before it could be rebuilt again. Some directors were weak, and others were openly disastrous - Louis Freeh, instead of investigating the budding Middle East terror networks like the CIA, refused to speak to Clinton at all and made the now-baffling decision of allying with the Gingrich congress and prosecuting Clinton for perjury. Now that the NDAA and its new indefinite detention provisions have been signed into law some months ago, the organization may yet be stronger than ever. The powers which it had lost in the 1970s with Hoover's passing sprang back with the Patriot Act. It remains to be seen what will be done, and how many other executives are tempted this power, mercurial as it is.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Reading this book i realized a couple things i didn't know before. One, that J. Edgar Hoover was probably the most powerful man in American history, only because of the amount of sway that he had on just about anyone. And two, that the FBI is this weird mix of 1984 and the Wizard of Oz, where you have this agency that is presumably watching you all the time but it does have a head; and that head, until his death, was J. Edgar. I really love the fantastical element of his character. The daunting s Reading this book i realized a couple things i didn't know before. One, that J. Edgar Hoover was probably the most powerful man in American history, only because of the amount of sway that he had on just about anyone. And two, that the FBI is this weird mix of 1984 and the Wizard of Oz, where you have this agency that is presumably watching you all the time but it does have a head; and that head, until his death, was J. Edgar. I really love the fantastical element of his character. The daunting seriousness coupled with the insatiable lust for being on the top of the mountain, where you oversee everyone else and no one sees you, a very private way of living, behind the screen, Wizard of Oz: Ehrlichman approached the director with caution. His staff had warned him "that every meeting in Hoover's office was secretly filmed or videotaped. But they did not prepare me for the Wizard of Oz approach that his visitors were required to make." From the corridors of Justice, Ehrlichman was ushered through double doors guarded by Hoover's personal attendants. He walked into a room crammed with tributes to Hoover--plaques and citations emblazoned with emblems of American eagles and eternally flaming torches. The anteroom led to a second, more formal room, with hundreds more awards. That led to a third trophy room with a highly polished desk. The desk was empty. "J. Edgar Hoover was nowhere to be seen," he wrote. "My guide opened a door behind the desk, at the back of the room, and I was ushered into an office about twelve or thirteen feet square, dominated by Hoover himself; he was seated ina large leather desk chair behind a wooden desk in the center of the room. When he stood, it became obvious that he and his desk were on a dais about six inches high. I was invited to sit on a low, purplish leather couch to his right. J. Edgar Hoover looked down on me and began to talk." I find this book terrifying. Because in developing the FBI, J. Edgar thrust into our justice system all of the covert shit that haunts us, the lists of radicals or subversives, the secretive tribunals, wiretapping, dossiers of politically important characters and what's worst this sprawl of information contained by, now, the NSA in a neverending database in Bluffington, UT. Talking with Tim Weiner through the Goodreads History club, I found out that Hoover was motivated because, quite simply, he thought Communism was Evil. That's capital E, E-vil. He was in the midst of a holy war for American Freedom against the communist usurper. This book does set up a context for that fear, right as the mad bombers of Luigi Galleani are bombing Chicago's chief of police and Wall Street; i understand that harrowing fear of a world under attack and the extremes you would do in the circumstance. Hoover bought into Communism/Anarchism bent at this young and impressionable moment in his life as the never-ceasing wherewithal that we buy into terrorists having now. Not only a call to end what we know as freedom, but martyrdom for the sake of making sure our way of life is removed for their political ideals. Understanding that, Hoover sought to take them out of the picture. This begat the Palmer Raids which begat the WWII lists of subversives which begat the Security Index and Cointelpro and the CIA's formation. After reading this book, i actually believe that Hoover was the Cold War. Now, you might say, that's crazy. World-wide arms race with all of its soldiers spies. Hoover could not solely be responsible for that entire make-up. No, not exactly. But when we really conceive the beginnings of the Cold War, Roosevelt saying in 1940, that spies, saboteurs and traitors are the actors in this new strategy. With all of these we must and will deal vigorously. And that was Hoover's M.O., "constant surveillance," as Pinkerton wanted. So it began in the name of national security, but i like a quote by Louis Brandeis a Supreme court justice who railed against the authority to allow wiretapping, even in the name of making society suffer and giving criminals greater immunity than has been known heretofore. You always have to question, "Who is that policing force?", or as Brandeis put it, the greatest danger to liberty lie in insidious encroachments by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. In the name of securing our freedom, Hoover developed a force of "intelligence" that kept everyone in this country in-check. Baggage on JFK and MLK, Adelaide Stephenson and Eleanor Roosevelt. Not to mention student groups, the Black Panther Party, and politicians galore. It's true, there are subversive agents that are trying to respell the ways in which America operates itself. And owing to the Alexander Hamilton's quote, the epitaph of the book, denying them will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being free But is this worth 10,000 immigrants being arrested in 1920. 31,000 immigrants after World War 2. the infiltration of political groups by spies to inform and possibly work as provocateurs. or possibly the most heinous offense, allowing an information collection agency and clandestine operating force of this massive power to fall into the wrong hands, such as Bush and Cheney or Richard Nixon. This so-called safety has long term implications. And the paranoid feeling that they know everything you do lingers. Don't know much what to do about it, other than read books like this and keep informed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bettie☯

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5_Xs...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Horza

    If you liked Legacy of Ashes, you'll like Enemies. The converse also applies; Weiner retains the fast-paced, journalistic style of Legacy - tantalising links are left hanging and background is left as exercise for the reader. Like his biography of the Agency this effort starts to fade as it heads closer to the present, deprived of declassified documents and on-the-record testimony it starts to read as a recap of recent NYT/WaPo exposes and the insights become less and less penetrating - one wonde If you liked Legacy of Ashes, you'll like Enemies. The converse also applies; Weiner retains the fast-paced, journalistic style of Legacy - tantalising links are left hanging and background is left as exercise for the reader. Like his biography of the Agency this effort starts to fade as it heads closer to the present, deprived of declassified documents and on-the-record testimony it starts to read as a recap of recent NYT/WaPo exposes and the insights become less and less penetrating - one wonders whether Weiner's glowing assessment of Mueller's FBI will look anywhere near as convincing in twenty years time. Regardless, Enemies does a great job of placing the FBI, largely thought of as a law-enforcement organisation firmly under the spotlight in its capacity as the United States' domestic intelligence service, exploring and exposing it's successes, failures and the inherent tensions of running a secret police force in a democracy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    An informative disturbing book on the history of the FBI, which at its worst moments has functioned as something like the United States version of the Stasi. As the book describes, for the first half century after its creation it was the tool of one man alone, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover turned the bureau into a weapon to snuff out communist subversion in the United States. At the time of its creation the threat of revolution in America was real and the bureau was above all created to prevent such a An informative disturbing book on the history of the FBI, which at its worst moments has functioned as something like the United States version of the Stasi. As the book describes, for the first half century after its creation it was the tool of one man alone, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover turned the bureau into a weapon to snuff out communist subversion in the United States. At the time of its creation the threat of revolution in America was real and the bureau was above all created to prevent such an occurrence. The bureau made war on workers movements and helped support “the bosses” in their battle to crush organized labor. In fairness, the Soviets were doing espionage in America and dreamt of triggering a revolution of the working class that would lead to a Soviet America. Later on they would abandon revolutionary goals and focus on trying to steal military secrets and win informants; which they did with considerable success. But in what has become a running theme of FBI operations, the bureau response to foreign espionage was like taking a sledgehammer to an anthill. With the Palmer Raids and numerous other purges the bureau set a precedent for sweeping up and abusing huge numbers of innocent people in order to find the few guilty, a blunt tactic it continues to this day. So much for sophisticated detective work, which the bureau cultivates an image of. Throughout its history many legal experts and even FBI officials themselves have warned of the danger of the bureau becoming an American secret police, akin to those maintained by the Tsars and the Soviet commissars. Whether it is depends on your perspective. But the bureau has undeniably engaged in wanton blackmail of elected officials, as well as the targeting and destruction of grassroots political movements in the United States. It has also targeted the KKK and snuffed out genuine foreign espionage. But it seems as though it’s greater zeal and abuse has focused on racialized targets and political enemies. Reading what they did under Hoover I have little doubt that such an institution is at least capable of using blackmail and undemocratic means to destroy an elected president, including one as loathsome as the current holder of office. If you start a political movement that would even dream of challenging power in the United States, or are a politically active individual from a disfavored minority, you can expect to be targeted by the nastiest of tactics in the bureau arsenal. Among these are harassment, surveillance, entrapment and more. This is not hyperbole but plain fact, experienced by Black Americans, as well Muslims from any background who have lived through post-9/11 America. I was expecting a dull read but this was actually a page turner. There are also details of historical episodes I had never even known of before, like an investigation to apprehend the assassins of an Israeli military official in DC in the 1970s. The book would’ve benefitted from more big picture analysis and got too much into the weeds of certain investigations at time. Despite that it is an informative and largely enjoyable history of the bureau. It offers a mixed picture of the FBI that will likely be a Rorschach test based on ones perspective.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David

    Dryly factual. Five stars for the overwhelmingly interesting facts, one star for the dry writing style which rarely goes into sufficient detail in its rush to recount large events often taking up large swaths of time. Of course, the detail I'm looking for would at least triple the length of the book, so you may disagree. The writing style would certainly make me hesitant to read three times the pages. This book should be read by all Americans despite the intelligence-report style of writing. This Dryly factual. Five stars for the overwhelmingly interesting facts, one star for the dry writing style which rarely goes into sufficient detail in its rush to recount large events often taking up large swaths of time. Of course, the detail I'm looking for would at least triple the length of the book, so you may disagree. The writing style would certainly make me hesitant to read three times the pages. This book should be read by all Americans despite the intelligence-report style of writing. This is an honest and seemingly unbiased account of the many failures and few triumphs of the FBI in the areas of counterintelligence and terrorism. The complete disregard and contempt for the strict rule of law that the FBI has often demonstrated in the past is well documented. It also shows how even well-meaning ideology, morals, and political views can hamper and destroy what should be a completely independent and apolitical branch of the government.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tim Floyd

    What a fascinating book! I was really disturbed at how much intelligence was floating around before the 9/11 attacks. Even as far back as the mid-1990s. I have a lot greater respect for director Robert Mueller. Mueller was essentially thrown into the position (after battling an aggressive cancer) right as the 9/11 attacks happened. His resolve to maintain a bureau of integrity and legality is quite impressive. Knowing what Mueller is up to these days, it only reinforces my respect for the man. I What a fascinating book! I was really disturbed at how much intelligence was floating around before the 9/11 attacks. Even as far back as the mid-1990s. I have a lot greater respect for director Robert Mueller. Mueller was essentially thrown into the position (after battling an aggressive cancer) right as the 9/11 attacks happened. His resolve to maintain a bureau of integrity and legality is quite impressive. Knowing what Mueller is up to these days, it only reinforces my respect for the man. In all Enemies was a tremendously informative book which was filled with all sorts of thrilling stories and detailed background stories.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Helaine

    This is not a pretty picture of the FBI. In fact, when you finish it, you wonder why we should be supporting this institution with our tax dollars. This book focuses on the FBI's role in terrorist activity prevention and investigation so I hope that the history of the FBI with regard to good old crime is better. Some info that I didn't know: The FBI for most of its existence didn't even have a viable information system to retrieve all the information it obtained, legally and otherwise. We heard This is not a pretty picture of the FBI. In fact, when you finish it, you wonder why we should be supporting this institution with our tax dollars. This book focuses on the FBI's role in terrorist activity prevention and investigation so I hope that the history of the FBI with regard to good old crime is better. Some info that I didn't know: The FBI for most of its existence didn't even have a viable information system to retrieve all the information it obtained, legally and otherwise. We heard a lot about how the non-cooperation and non-communication between the various intelligence services aided and abetted the events of 9/11. The author shows that this divided intelligence function had its roots in FDR's initial pre-WWII decision to divide the function among the FBI, Army and Navy . What is more amazing is all the long-time Soviet spies who functioned within the intelligence services for years without detection. Weiner has 84 pages of source footnotes to back up his facts. It's an amazing and frightening read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tess Mertens-Johnson

    I love history, and this book follows the FBI from it’s beginning to modern times. How – if the media from the bureau’s inception was then what it is today, life would be different. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and our history books at school were very “vanilla”. This book goes into detail of the corruption and illegal doings of the people who are in charge of one of the most important departments in our law enforcement portfolio. The book discussed the need for the bureau and went into detail ab I love history, and this book follows the FBI from it’s beginning to modern times. How – if the media from the bureau’s inception was then what it is today, life would be different. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and our history books at school were very “vanilla”. This book goes into detail of the corruption and illegal doings of the people who are in charge of one of the most important departments in our law enforcement portfolio. The book discussed the need for the bureau and went into detail about Hoover who ran it for many years. It followed all of the presidents and the administrations during it’s time and it was an eye opening look at the behind the scenes of many government agencies and the politicians of the times. It was very interesting and I learned great things and not so great things about our leaders. I would recommend this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    This book kept my husband and me entertained through a trip to Phillie and then to Michigan for Memorial Day. Considering recent news, many of the names mentioned at the end of the book are in the news again. Of course, the first half (or more) of the book involves J. Edgar Hoover. Much of the book, we've lived through. It was just a matter of dusting off the cobwebs.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Albert

    As I approach the midway point of Enemies: A History of the FBI I must confess I'm surprised at how easy the book has been to read. Being that J. Edgar Hoover was synonymous with the FBI, I'm not surprised to find that so far it is basically about the man who singlehandedly built the FBI to what it is today. Even knowing what I did about how Hoover used, and abused his powers to fight communism, I have still been shocked at how far he actually went to increase and retain the power that he welded As I approach the midway point of Enemies: A History of the FBI I must confess I'm surprised at how easy the book has been to read. Being that J. Edgar Hoover was synonymous with the FBI, I'm not surprised to find that so far it is basically about the man who singlehandedly built the FBI to what it is today. Even knowing what I did about how Hoover used, and abused his powers to fight communism, I have still been shocked at how far he actually went to increase and retain the power that he welded. And how single-minded he was in his pursuit. He seemed to think that everything was linked to communism, from homosexuality to the civil rights movement. I'm very much pulled back to the book every time I set it down. I can't wait to find out what he's going to do next. I'm approaching the Kennedy years so I'll finish this review when I'm done. Gotta find out how he got along with the Kennedy brothers. Final Review As I expected, Hoover didn't get along with the Kennedy's too keenly. The post-Hoover FBI didn't fair well either as subsequent directors failed to command the fear that Hoover did. Enemies is a fast paced read that will keep you turning pages. It deals mainly with national security issues rather than domestic policing, however I recommend it for anyone interested in the FBI or the security of the US. I liked it enough that I look forward to reading Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. This book was a Goodreads First-Reads giveaway.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Craig

    This is another great installment (no. 2 of a projected trilogy) from Tim Weiner. The book focusing not on the criminal investigation side, but the intelligence side of the FBI. It is a hard look at an organization that had it share of controversy, mainly from Hoover's view that there is a Communist somewhere, possibly everywhere. It really is a must read to understand how the FBI functioned, the lines it crossed, and its hope to return to the law, while trying to track down terrorists in the ne This is another great installment (no. 2 of a projected trilogy) from Tim Weiner. The book focusing not on the criminal investigation side, but the intelligence side of the FBI. It is a hard look at an organization that had it share of controversy, mainly from Hoover's view that there is a Communist somewhere, possibly everywhere. It really is a must read to understand how the FBI functioned, the lines it crossed, and its hope to return to the law, while trying to track down terrorists in the new war on terror.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    The FBI has a carefully curated image as heroic G-men, busting major criminals like mafia dons, bank robbers, kidnappers, and art thieves (hello Robert K. Wittman). But behind the image is a paradox, the workings of a secret police agency in a democracy, a shadowy organization that operates beyond the normal boundaries of the law. In Enemies, Tim Weiner ably traces the paradoxes of the FBI in its long history. The Bureau of Investigation (not yet Federal) existed before J. Edgar Hoover, but the f The FBI has a carefully curated image as heroic G-men, busting major criminals like mafia dons, bank robbers, kidnappers, and art thieves (hello Robert K. Wittman). But behind the image is a paradox, the workings of a secret police agency in a democracy, a shadowy organization that operates beyond the normal boundaries of the law. In Enemies, Tim Weiner ably traces the paradoxes of the FBI in its long history. The Bureau of Investigation (not yet Federal) existed before J. Edgar Hoover, but the first director left such a mark on the FBI that's his story is its story. Hoover joined a minor agency, and in the turbulent era of anarchist bombers and Communist revolutionaries around the First World War, turned it into a crack machine for targeting subversives of all stripes. Hoover pioneered wiretaps and blackbag jobs, and a voluminous system of secret files directly under his control. FDR called on Hoover to track down Nazi agents, and the two formed a partnership based on political gossip secret intelligence. The period immediately after the Second World War was perhaps the most influential for Hoover, as he used artful leaks to frame the emerging Cold War, and made his anti-Communist views the dominant framework of the American government. Hoover ardently believed that Communists aimed to overthrow the American government, and that there was a direct line between Moscow and the American Left (including labor and civil rights activists). Furthermore, a rash of breeches at the CIA convinced Hoover that Communism and homosexuality were linked as well. Hoover's war on "deviance" prompted spying into the private lives of American citizens, especially Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the massive COINTELPRO campaign to subvert and disorganize the American left. Though the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Hoover formed partnerships with Vice President and then President Nixon based on anti-communism, and LBJ based on political intrigue. Hoover was the man who knew all the secrets. The twin blows of his death in 1972, and the Watergate burglary, where ex-FBI Nixon staffers ran into a newly independent FBI investigation, prompted the first crisis of faith, one from which the FBI has never really recovered. It turned out that the FBI's crown jewels of wiretapping and blackbag jobs had no Constitutional legitimacy or legislative basis. COINTELPRO was massively illegal. Despite all the effort involved in fighting Communism, FBI counter-intelligence was a shambles, and people with access to secrets across the government sold out to the Soviets again and again. Since 1980, and especially since 9/11, the FBI has repeatedly tried to reorganize itself as a counter-terrorism intelligence agency, mostly to resounding failure. Weiner documents bureaucratic fiefdoms that refuse to communicate, agents without the touch to work confidential sources well, analysts who can't access materials due to outdated computer systems, and a lack of clarity and purpose that stretches for decades. Most cuttingly, prior to 9/11 the FBI and CIA anti-Al Qaeda units hated each other. When the FBI agent in charge died in the WTC attacks, his CIA counterpart said that his death was "the only good thing that happened that day." Despite a worldwide presence, thousands of agents, and billion dollar budgets, the FBI's vaunted successes in the War on Terror seem mostly to be about entrapping mentally ill Muslims into terror plots where the FBI supplies the plan, the weapons, and even the Jihadi rhetoric. Weiner's book forces us to confront an expensive and painful legacy of failure, an undemocratic erosion of freedoms that has not even brought much security. Yet there's a vagueness about what he thinks intelligence should do, vis a vis subversives and terrorists, that weakens his argument. This is only a partial history, because the FBI does investigate and arrest common criminals. And finally, while it's easy to direct the apparatus of a secret police against unpopular subversives, we need more and better investigations of white collar crime and financial fraud, particularly in the wake of 2008 financial collapse. Enemies is an important part of the picture, and likely the sexiest and most interesting part of the picture, but it is only one part.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alisa

    The history of the FBI from its inception up to the early days of President Obama's first term in office. The FBI is an institution cloaked in secrecy and mystique, not all good, in the eyes of many Americans. What is great about how this author writes and approaches his subject is to dig deep into the details, line them up so that the facts tell the story all while drawing together disparate parts and weaving together relevant pieces to lay the story all out there. Victories to missed opportuni The history of the FBI from its inception up to the early days of President Obama's first term in office. The FBI is an institution cloaked in secrecy and mystique, not all good, in the eyes of many Americans. What is great about how this author writes and approaches his subject is to dig deep into the details, line them up so that the facts tell the story all while drawing together disparate parts and weaving together relevant pieces to lay the story all out there. Victories to missed opportunities, he leaves nothing out. He gives detail and analysis without imposing too much of his own judgement, and keeps the story line moving. The content sometimes scared the hell out of me, frankly. The tactics instituted by J. Edgar Hoover of secret wiretapping and mass imprisonment went too far. Perhaps that is too easy to say in hindsight, but the reality is that Hoover was convinced that the communist threat (to the extent there was one) was behind the civil rights movement and therefore justified wiretapping of civil rights leaders and their lawyers and others around them including hotel rooms they used when traveling. To find what? Nothing, as it turns out. At some point it seemed like the fact they were finding nothing spurned them on to look even harder. It was not a good foundation for an agency that is entrusted with keeping the country safe. Secrecy was ingrained in the FBI for decades. Hoover kept secret files that no one knew about until after his death, not even within the agency. At the same time you have to admire Hoover's tenacity in how he wielded power and influence with all the different President's under which he served. They didn't all like him, and I don't think he cared too much about that, as long as he could get what he felt he needed to do the job he believed he was charged to do. By the end of the book I was not in complete shock and despair. Things get better - they get worse for awhile, but they get better by the time we get around to the present day FBI. I have a great deal of repsect for what the women and men of the FBI are tasked with, and like any job there are good and bad among the bunch. It is clear to me that the leader of the organization plays a critical role and has the hardest job of all, to pursue a vision that keeps our country safe in a way that protects civil liberties and follows the rule of law. An intense book but very well done. Full disclosure: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway through The History Book Club. Thank you Random House!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Journalist and historian Weiner (Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA) examines the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an intelligence agency, ferreting out spies, terrorists, internal dissidents and political enemies. It’s a different approach than most FBI histories - the Bureau’s famous, and infamous crimefighting exploits receive scant attention - but Weiner demonstrates how counterespionage was its true raison d’etre. Founded by Theodore Roosevelt to battle corporate crooks, during WWI a Journalist and historian Weiner (Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA) examines the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an intelligence agency, ferreting out spies, terrorists, internal dissidents and political enemies. It’s a different approach than most FBI histories - the Bureau’s famous, and infamous crimefighting exploits receive scant attention - but Weiner demonstrates how counterespionage was its true raison d’etre. Founded by Theodore Roosevelt to battle corporate crooks, during WWI and its immediate aftermath it instead focused on subversives, creating an agency its defenders branded a bulwark for national defense and enemies deemed an American Gestapo. J. Edgar Hoover’s half-century reign over the Bureau dominates the book: his compulsive hatred of Communists, blacks, artists, educators, union leaders, student radicals and anyone vaguely progressive pushes the Bureau into surveillance, blackmail and oppression, sometimes with the connivance of presidents, often against their wishes and with little oversight from Congress, the Justice Department or a deferential media. Some of the stories are well-known, like Hoover's harassment of Martin Luther King; others less so, like his role in overthrowing the Dominican government in the mid-'60s. Upon Hoover’s death, the fallout from Watergate and the Church Committee, the Bureau’s gutted and forced to rebuild, only to find reforms compromised by inept leaders, political infighting, technological obsolescence, unreliable informers (and infiltrators) and enemies (particularly terrorists, foreign and domestic) it doesn’t know how to fight. As with Ashes it’s not a flattering picture, but neither is it unfair: Weiner shows the Bureau full of honorable men recognizing the faults of Hoover’s legacy and striving to overcome it, but often falling short for reasons not entirely of their own making. Either way, a fascinating, compulsively readable account of the uses and abuses of police power in a democracy.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kara Beal

    Upon finishing this book, my conclusion is that the history of the FBI can be boiled down to J. Edgar Hoover, warrantless wiretaps and black bag jobs (a phrase I learned that means breaking and entering for spying purposes). The FBI began it's life as the president's secret police force, then it branched into counter-intelligence during World War I. The scope of J. Edgar Hoover's power, and his willingness to abuse it, intimidated a string of presidents and attorneys general. Hoover dies consider Upon finishing this book, my conclusion is that the history of the FBI can be boiled down to J. Edgar Hoover, warrantless wiretaps and black bag jobs (a phrase I learned that means breaking and entering for spying purposes). The FBI began it's life as the president's secret police force, then it branched into counter-intelligence during World War I. The scope of J. Edgar Hoover's power, and his willingness to abuse it, intimidated a string of presidents and attorneys general. Hoover dies considerably after the half-way point in the book (to give you some sense of his influence). Then Mr. Weiner chronicles the Watergate scandals, double agents during the Cold War, conflict with the CIA, decades of weak leadership, and counterterrorism in the modern age. The book was interesting on the whole, but the second quarter, deep into the J. Edgar Hoover (as opposed to Herbert Hoover) era, it became difficult for me to keep my attention focused on who Hoover was targeting, blackmailing and bugging. But even that reinforces one of the themes of the book--the FBI has done a lot of stuff that no one is happy about. Though it has solved a great deal of crime along the way. The tension of freedom versus security is clear throughout. Interestingly, Mr. Weiner (who has also written a similar book, which I have not read, on the history of the CIA) portrays the FBI as highly ethical and on the moral high ground compared to the CIA on the treatment of terror suspects in the last two decades. 3.5 stars--rounded down to three stars because of that really slow part in the middle that I had a hard time getting through. (I'm sure it is historically accurate, but it was also dull.)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mark Mortensen

    Few authors would feel qualified to tackle a historical account of the FBI, but Tim Weiner had the qualifications and put forth an unbiased account. The overwhelming theme of the book follows’ Alexander Hamilton’s quote “To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free”. From its origin in the early 20th Century to present the FBI in its effort to protect America has accumulated and maintained vast files of personal information on Communists, mobsters and others Few authors would feel qualified to tackle a historical account of the FBI, but Tim Weiner had the qualifications and put forth an unbiased account. The overwhelming theme of the book follows’ Alexander Hamilton’s quote “To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free”. From its origin in the early 20th Century to present the FBI in its effort to protect America has accumulated and maintained vast files of personal information on Communists, mobsters and others known simply as potential “Enemies”. On the other end of the spectrum are some American citizens and high ranking government officials who consider the FBI as an “Enemy” infringing upon their way of life. J. Edgar Hoover served as the tight controlling figurehead of the FBI from the mid-1920’s to the early 1970’s. Weiner dispelled myths associated with Hoover’s personal life noting that in essence Hoover was married to the FBI. It was his way and life. After decades of free reign the pendulum swung back and America’s judicial system forced the FBI into self examination. Today the bureaus mission continues on serving a vital role in identifying “Enemies”, who desire to dismantle the foundation our nation was built upon.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I got this book through a goodreads giveaway; that didn't affect my opinion. Excellent, well-sourced work of relatively (can't expect total) impartial scholarship covering the history of the FBI, focusing on the Bureau as an intelligence organization (if you're interested in crime fighting, the mob, Waco, etc., you'll be disappointed). A tale of utter incompetence, constant leaks, constitutional infringements, blackmail, political infighting and abuses, miscommunication, petty jealousies, and que I got this book through a goodreads giveaway; that didn't affect my opinion. Excellent, well-sourced work of relatively (can't expect total) impartial scholarship covering the history of the FBI, focusing on the Bureau as an intelligence organization (if you're interested in crime fighting, the mob, Waco, etc., you'll be disappointed). A tale of utter incompetence, constant leaks, constitutional infringements, blackmail, political infighting and abuses, miscommunication, petty jealousies, and questionable successes. On the bright side, also a tale of many dedicated men and women working against inertia, confusion, and absurdly outdated technology, who apparently never condoned or engaged in the modern torture and humiliation tactics of the CIA and Army. The one negative of the book is that the endnotes aren't referenced in the text; highly annoying and not acceptable for a work of history. That's the only reason I don't give the book 5 stars. Even so, I'd recommend it to anyone who thinks it might interest them; I enjoyed it so much I'm looking forward to reading Weiner's past work.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Olethros

    -Principalmente, de su faceta en Inteligencia y Contrainteligencia.- Género. Historia. Lo que nos cuenta. Relato sobre la organización que cubre algo más de cien años, orientado mayoritariamente a su trabajo como agencia de información (con alguna concesión a labores policiales más convencionales cuando es pertinente para ilustrar algún aspecto importante de sus tareas de “espionaje”), que nos lleva desde la creación del Bureau of Investigation en 1908 y la posterior incorporación de Hoover a sus -Principalmente, de su faceta en Inteligencia y Contrainteligencia.- Género. Historia. Lo que nos cuenta. Relato sobre la organización que cubre algo más de cien años, orientado mayoritariamente a su trabajo como agencia de información (con alguna concesión a labores policiales más convencionales cuando es pertinente para ilustrar algún aspecto importante de sus tareas de “espionaje”), que nos lleva desde la creación del Bureau of Investigation en 1908 y la posterior incorporación de Hoover a sus filas, hasta la creación del Federal Bureau of Investigation propiamente dicho en 1935 y su consolidación a lo largo de los años, llegando hasta finales de 2011. ¿Quiere saber más sobre este libro, sin spoilers? Visite: http://librosdeolethros.blogspot.com/...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Shaun

    This book is not as much a comprehensive review on the history of the FBI as the title might suggest. It's more of a biography of J. Edgar Hoover and his interactions with the Presidents and the Attorneys General of his time with an elongated addendum of what happened after he died. This makes sense considering the book was created after a declassification of quite a bit of confidential documents made during Hoover's time. It's still an interesting read nonetheless, especially if you are interes This book is not as much a comprehensive review on the history of the FBI as the title might suggest. It's more of a biography of J. Edgar Hoover and his interactions with the Presidents and the Attorneys General of his time with an elongated addendum of what happened after he died. This makes sense considering the book was created after a declassification of quite a bit of confidential documents made during Hoover's time. It's still an interesting read nonetheless, especially if you are interested in the behind-the-scenes politicking at the highest levels. Reader beware, though, as with all politics, it's a pretty ugly sight seeing how things really get done.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    Current events have peaked my interest in everything from Watergate to the history of the FBI. I'd seen Weiner's Enemies cited by a number of media outlets as a definitive modern history of the institution, so I was excited to jump right in and see what history tells us about the FBI's current role in partisan squabbling. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by a lot of what I found and simultaneously disheartened and assured by our present situation given some more historical context. The book Current events have peaked my interest in everything from Watergate to the history of the FBI. I'd seen Weiner's Enemies cited by a number of media outlets as a definitive modern history of the institution, so I was excited to jump right in and see what history tells us about the FBI's current role in partisan squabbling. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by a lot of what I found and simultaneously disheartened and assured by our present situation given some more historical context. The book can be divided into two major parts –The Hoover Era and Everything After the Hoover Era – that follow a single theme centered around the Fourth Amendment as its sanctity is alternately violated or fetishized depending on the way the political winds were blowing and whether or not Americans felt afraid enough to tolerate violations of their civil liberties. The short of it is, according to Weiner, the FBI has mostly not been a faithful steward of our rights and has regularly relied on extraconstitutional methods to obtain evidence or to persecute individuals the bureau believed were dangers to American political and social stability. They often behaved in this way at the explicit direction of presidents of both parties. For a long time, the arbiter of what preserved America and made her safe was one man: J. Edgar Hoover. The first half of the book reads almost like a biography. It should. Hoover fought for the creation of the FBI and then ruled over it like a feudal lord using its resources to protect his interests and advance the interests of various presidential or congressional patrons from FDR to McCarthy and Nixon. He served presidents of both parties with equal faith and what bought his loyalty more than political ideology were promises of independence and funding for his beloved Bureau. The more power and independence promised and delivered, the more Hoover tried to fulfill the wishes of that president. What was most remarkable to me about this era of the Bureau was the ambiguity of its mission. Born in 1980, I've always associated the FBI with law enforcement. That's not the way Hoover originally envisioned its mandate, however. In his mind, the FBI was an intelligence agency, focusing at times on finding and eliminating terrorist or espionage threats from Communists to Nationalists (and the occasional Civil Rights organizer). He was loathe to pursue the mob and white collar crime barely seemed to register to him. He viewed the CIA as a competitor and regularly sought to undermine it and supplant it with the FBI. In the meantime he approved thousands of black bag jobs, warrantless wiretaps, and authorized the collecting and storing of useful information about political rivals for the future. After Hoover, the FBI struggled to regain its reputation, stature, and a clear sense of purpose. To this day Congress hasn't fully defined in legislation the legal mandate of the Bureau. After Watergate and a string of other controversies (including the revelation of the COINTELPRO program), a string of directors struggled to change the culture at the agency and set it on a legal footing that didn't involve presidential authorizations to engage in extraconstitutional behavior. It wasn't until the tenure of Robert Mueller that it seems to have found that footing. As Weiner recounts, Mueller set up over the course of his tenure a legal framework where the FBI could seek and get classified wiretaps against hostile powers through normal (judicial) legal channels. The culture of the agency changed. Where once it was common to engage in breaking and entering, the FBI found itself in a position to bear witness to and reveal to the rest of America abuses in detention and interrogation that became common at black sites throughout the Iraq War and the War on Terror. It was FBI agents who reported abuses at places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and the agency finally seems to have very recently discovered a backbone when it comes to protecting and defending the constitutional rights of citizens. Well...I guess that last bit depends on who you're asking these days, but clearly its behavior is far more constrained than it was in Hoover's day. Overall this was a phenomenal work of history that relied on thousands of documents and interviews. Weiner spins an excellent narrative for an agency that has a hundred year history in everything from counterintelligence to mob-busting. The success he has lies in his discipline. Weiner always finds a way to turn the events he's narrating back to the central theme of privacy and the fourth amendment's protections as a way of grounding the story and preventing it from straying too far afield. A very helpful piece for those perplexed about the Bureau's sudden intrusion into our politics. It's not really that new. What's new is that we're actually hearing about it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bill Shannon

    J. Edgar Hoover is the main character in this book, at least for the first 2/3rds, and if there was ever any question that Hoover is one of the most consequential people in American history, that question no longer exists in my mind. But the Hoover of the book surprised me: my mind's eye had always pictured Hoover as a Machiavellian, power-hungry manipulator: the Master of Whispers of the American government. But the Hoover I read about is less a scheming Edward G. Robinson type, and more of a d J. Edgar Hoover is the main character in this book, at least for the first 2/3rds, and if there was ever any question that Hoover is one of the most consequential people in American history, that question no longer exists in my mind. But the Hoover of the book surprised me: my mind's eye had always pictured Hoover as a Machiavellian, power-hungry manipulator: the Master of Whispers of the American government. But the Hoover I read about is less a scheming Edward G. Robinson type, and more of a dedicated patriot. I have no doubt in my mind that Hoover loved this country, even if he also loved the accolades, power and influence that came with his station as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The fact that Hoover was America's top cop from the FDR Administration through Nixon(!) is almost unfathomable. But he wasn't kept in that position because of any dirty secrets he held over the power brokers -- or at least not that the book reveals. He was simply the best person for the job for the better part of four decades. He was a tactical genius, and yes, he did skirt around certain legal obstacles, but from what I can tell, he did it out of a true love of country. Within the story of Hoover and the shadow he casts over the Bureau nearly half a century later, is a chronicle of all the growing pains and traumatic events in American history. From the Red Scares (1910s and 1950s), to essentially destroying the Klan in the 1950s and '60s, to the COINTELPRO of the the last decade of Hoover's life. The latter -- when the FBI started spying on American citizens for fear of subversion -- is kind of the turning point of the FBI, when it became less about defending America and more about spying and tapping the phones of people who aren't necessarily breaking the law, but have dangerous ideas. After Hoover's death in 1972, the Bureau went through a few years of triumph -- finding the evidence for Watergate -- and about two decades of relative incompetence. When Bill Clinton shit-canned Director William Sessions in '93, nobody protested because he was patently awful. Although Louis Freeh wasn't much better. One of the more interesting chapters in the Bureau's history is the final chapters of the book, which detail the course correction of the Bureau, moving away from warrantless wiretaps and waterboarding to using (gasp!) the law to take down terrorists. I'd be curious to see if they put in any kind of addendum later on to include the Comey firing. If you have a fancy for American political history of the 20th century, you'd be hard pressed to find a more interesting and fact-filled book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Nunez

    Wiener’s FBI book is very good. It is divided into two halves. After a brief prelude of a decade in which the bureau mostly chased anarchists and implemented the Red Scare, the story hits its stride when J Edgar Hoover was appointed director in 1924, a post he would vacate only upon his death in 1972. Hoover remade the Bureau in his own image: an image of honesty, patriotism and professionalism over a reality of dissimulation, paranoia and the trampling of civil liberties. Hoover worked well wit Wiener’s FBI book is very good. It is divided into two halves. After a brief prelude of a decade in which the bureau mostly chased anarchists and implemented the Red Scare, the story hits its stride when J Edgar Hoover was appointed director in 1924, a post he would vacate only upon his death in 1972. Hoover remade the Bureau in his own image: an image of honesty, patriotism and professionalism over a reality of dissimulation, paranoia and the trampling of civil liberties. Hoover worked well with the most political presidents, such as FDR, LBJ and Nixon. He fought viciously with other such as Truman and Kennedy. To these he was disloyal and he worked to undermine them and their policies. His extreme nastiness was often evident, never more than when he took great pleasure in informing his nominal boss Bobby Kennedy of the murder in Dallas of his brother, JFK. Hoover’s focus was in fighting local communists. He never believed the mafia to be a danger and never pursued organized crime seriously. But even Hoover with his warrantless searches, bugs and wire taps did not go far enough for Nixon. Post Nixon and post Hoover the Bureau had great difficulty in finding its role. Its leadership was often lackluster, at least until Robert Muller, who managed to give it a moral center in the post-9-11 era. Over its existence the FBI has often failed in its mission and has fallen prey to bureaucratic infighting and compartmentalization. Other times it has enjoyed great successes. This is a good history of the bureau, told at the right level of detail.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    This took me a while to read because it was a bit dry in spots, and I took some time this summer to slow down on my book reading (my news reading was at an all-time high, though!). But in the end, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'd love to pick the brains of current FBI agents and see what they think of J. Edgar Hoover. What a conundrum! He helped make the FBI as powerful as it is but wow, he did plenty of really shady and awful things. I enjoyed the more modern history more than anything else becaus This took me a while to read because it was a bit dry in spots, and I took some time this summer to slow down on my book reading (my news reading was at an all-time high, though!). But in the end, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'd love to pick the brains of current FBI agents and see what they think of J. Edgar Hoover. What a conundrum! He helped make the FBI as powerful as it is but wow, he did plenty of really shady and awful things. I enjoyed the more modern history more than anything else because it is a lot of stuff that I remember. The Nixon years alone...my goodness. I loved reading about Robert Mueller, who sounds like an impressive person, and the infamous hospital showdown with Mueller and James Comey protecting AG John Ashcroft from the nefarious influences of the Bush administration read like a spy thriller! I was surprised to hear how close the FBI came to being dismantled completely in the mid-aughts, due to a muddled mission and bad direction from the Bush administration. Mueller rebuilt it and I believe it is an honorable institution today due in no small part to his influence. This was well-researched and a good history of the Bureau.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Given its length, you would think that this is a very thorough history of the FBI, but in reality it seems almost entirely to be about the FBI's unconstitutional (and for much of its history, at least, explicitly illegal) activities as a domestic spying agency. This book leaves my opinion of J. Edgar Hoover (the central character in most of the book) largely unchanged, in that I always though the was an awful sociopath - though I guess I didn't realize that he was also explicitly racist as well. Given its length, you would think that this is a very thorough history of the FBI, but in reality it seems almost entirely to be about the FBI's unconstitutional (and for much of its history, at least, explicitly illegal) activities as a domestic spying agency. This book leaves my opinion of J. Edgar Hoover (the central character in most of the book) largely unchanged, in that I always though the was an awful sociopath - though I guess I didn't realize that he was also explicitly racist as well. I think this is a good book even if it's a bit one-sided (doesn't hurt that it plays into my biases against the FBI), but I don't think it's a holistic history of the FBI. It doesn't cover, for example, almost anything about their everyday law enforcement responsibilities. 3.5 of 5 stars

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cary

    Here's a quick summary of why you might want to read this: it's a well-researched and documented history of the FBI, including all the good and they bad, about Hoover in particular, but the good-bad stuff didn't end with him of course. Hoover led the FBI for 55 years (about 2/3 of its existence) and so there's a lot about him and his relationships with the many presidents who came and went over during his tenure. The last third of the book takes on the post-Hoover decades: how it slowly rose fro Here's a quick summary of why you might want to read this: it's a well-researched and documented history of the FBI, including all the good and they bad, about Hoover in particular, but the good-bad stuff didn't end with him of course. Hoover led the FBI for 55 years (about 2/3 of its existence) and so there's a lot about him and his relationships with the many presidents who came and went over during his tenure. The last third of the book takes on the post-Hoover decades: how it slowly rose from the disgrace of Hoover's decline and the Nixon years, through the shock of the terror attacks of the 90s and early aughts. It ends around 2010, so our man Comey hasn't come along yet (except in a fascinating vignette as the Deputy Attorney General). This book gave me a lot more context in which to place the FBI (and Comey) today, to say nothing of simply being a well-written (the author won a Pulitzer for his history of the CIA) and fascinating history.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mack Hayden

    I loved Tim Weiner's book on the CIA as well, but I really think he outdid himself with this one. He manages to comb through decades of people, investigations, scandals, etc. without ever missing a beat. It's engaging, informative, and essential—the FBI's successes aren't ignored, but neither are its myriad failures, moral lapses, and even outright crimes. While the tone here is critical, it'd be hard to call this book biased. Weiner paints the picture of a tragically, and sometimes comically, f I loved Tim Weiner's book on the CIA as well, but I really think he outdid himself with this one. He manages to comb through decades of people, investigations, scandals, etc. without ever missing a beat. It's engaging, informative, and essential—the FBI's successes aren't ignored, but neither are its myriad failures, moral lapses, and even outright crimes. While the tone here is critical, it'd be hard to call this book biased. Weiner paints the picture of a tragically, and sometimes comically, fragile institution, one propped up by fear and hubris as much as, if not more than, anything else. The highest levels of power and law enforcement are still cursed with human leadership—who could expect anything different?

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    Not so much shocking revelation after revelation, but more threading together a long history where various things make sense as part of a whole. If there are times when an American citizen might be disappointed in their country and the law, well, that's not really a surprise, is it? It is still good to see that there are people who serve honorably, and times when the government does the right thing. The book fills in a lot of blanks for things of which I had heard but did not know the intricacies. Not so much shocking revelation after revelation, but more threading together a long history where various things make sense as part of a whole. If there are times when an American citizen might be disappointed in their country and the law, well, that's not really a surprise, is it? It is still good to see that there are people who serve honorably, and times when the government does the right thing. The book fills in a lot of blanks for things of which I had heard but did not know the intricacies. There is still always so much more to know.

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