PE Question #10 ~ The Transformation of the FBI

by Bryan Burrough

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PE Question #10 ~ The Transformation of the FBI

Unread postby Liz » Wed Feb 20, 2008 11:23 am

Pg. 324:

For the first time, the Bureau found itself the the target of withering press attacks. In fact, it was the first many Americans had ever heard of the Bureau of Investigation or J. Edgar Hoover or Melvin Purvis; several newspapers ran articles explaining who they were. More than one suggested Hoover would be forced to resign. COMIC OPERA COPS, the Milwaukee Sentinal called them. "The government authorities……have made [the Dillinger manhunt] a farce-comedy--except that it has turned to tragedy in killing innocent bystanders rather than the hunted desperado," the Chicago Times editorialized.…..

Doris Rogers was struck by how beaten the agents appeared as they returned to their desks that day. They seemed shell-shocked, but it was more than that; it was the first time, Rogers realized, that many of the younger men understood they could actually get killed. Their thrilling postgraduate job was no longer a game. For the moment, none of the men could bring themselves to talk about what had happened. No one wanted to talk about Jay Newman, who lay in a Wisconsin hospital bed, nor about Carter Baum, an office favorite.


Comment on the transformation of the FBI.

Can you think of any similar bureau or organization in our time?


LIZ NOTE: Try to stay clear of the issue of their blunders for now, if you can.
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Unread postby Betty Sue » Wed Feb 20, 2008 11:53 am

After the Little Bohemia debacle, Hoover finally came to the conclusion that his college boys needed the help of some real 'gunslingers.' He searched for and brought in and trained his 'Cowboys,' men skilled in firearms combat. They and Ed Hollis, one of Hoover's own, set out with the mission to kill the elusive gangsters, Dillinger, in particular. Though there was still plenty of room for improvement, this group was better prepared for their mission.
A "target of withering press attacks" today? FEMA? The bordering patrol between the U.S. and Mexico?
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Unread postby Liz » Wed Feb 20, 2008 1:17 pm

Thanks for starting us off, Ma Dillinger.

I can’t imagine how frustrating that would have been for these young guys fresh out of college taking on public enemies without the proper tools (guns or training) to be able to do their jobs successfully, but being expected to do so regardless. Not to mention the threat of death facing them. Talk about stress! That was not what they signed up for. In that sense, I liken it to those who had joined the Reserves in peace time, never expecting that they would be called to go to war—and then Desert Storm or the Iraq War happens. The difference is that those in the Reserves had to have known there was that potential and they were properly trained.
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Unread postby Lady Jill » Wed Feb 20, 2008 5:37 pm

First thing that comes to mind, is that the so called FBI was brand new. Don't think they realized what was to happen. Seems it started out as Hoover's "baby", with a lot of passion behind it, so those youngsters didn't have a clue. After all gangsters and those bank robbers had a lot of practice with guns.

As for 'today'. . . I feel what would put men in these amatuer ranks, was the Viet Nam war boys. They were just citcizens, drafted, with a small amount of training and then thrown into a country where they couldn't see the enemy, let alone understand the war. Sad indeed. So many killed. :sad:

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Unread postby Parlez » Wed Feb 20, 2008 7:03 pm

It seems to me the whole FBI thing initially was a reflection of Hoover's extremely limited, out-of-touch-with-reality concept to heroism. From his recruiting preferences to his manic office practices to his complete personal cowardice, the organization was doomed from the get-go. I don't think any young man with any fortitude would think joining the FBI was a good idea back then; it would sound too boring! And, obviously, the 'college' boys who tended to go for administrative/office jobs ended up being cannon fodder for Hoover's misplaced fanaticism. He didn't really have a clue about how to stop the 'criminal element'. Certainly his smug idea about using brain power and mimeograph machines against armed outlaws was a strategy that proved to be...naive.

Similarities to today? Yes, the military fits I suppose. Especially the jargon and lies and unsavory techniques recruiters use to get high school kids to sign up these days. :mad:
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Unread postby gemini » Wed Feb 20, 2008 7:06 pm

I think Doris Rogers got the situation about right when she said it seemed the young officers had just realized their job was hazardous and they could be killed. Hoover intentionally hired young inexperienced men so they would conform to his ideals. He didn't hire the older gunmen until he saw his error and his young force must have felt unprepared for the job they were doing. They were forced to find out in trial by fire and it must have come as a shock to them that they were not just investigators.

Not a bureau or organization but our country seems to be getting bad press for some of our deeds like Abu Garad, Guantanamo, and Katrina. As a people we were used to the US being an admired country who helped others and our name has been tarnished in the world as of late. We are like the early FBI who found their bad press a result of their leadership.
Last edited by gemini on Thu Feb 21, 2008 3:37 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Feb 20, 2008 8:21 pm

I think Hoover was very concerned with image. When he hired the young college men he didn't know the War on Crime was in the offing. He was trying to carve a politicial and funding niche for his department, and certainly for himself, in the political world of Washington. He thought the clean cut image would suit his purposes. When things got out of hand and he realized the bad guys had real guns and would use them, he had to call in some professionals of his own to save the day and the college boys were caught in the political and literal crossfire - much more than Hoover or his recruits bargained for.

I like all of your modern day parallels. I think the Bureau of Homeland Security is a good example of a governmental entity that was created basically from scratch and is still defining its role. FEMA existed before but certainly had to reinvent itself in the aftermath of Katrina.
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Unread postby nebraska » Wed Feb 20, 2008 8:31 pm

My brain is sort of mushy, PE had so much information and I know I must have retained some of it, but not nearly as much as I wish I had. :banghead: I just remember reading some of this early FBI stuff and wondering "What the heck were they thinking?????" To begin with, the college boys were lawyers, if I remember correctly .........not lawmen........maybe their goal was just to find the facts and then turn the evidence over to real lawmen.......but unarmed untrained lawyers? :-O Of course, looking at some of the blunders now it is easy to be critical in retrospect, 20/20 hindsight and all of that. The beginning days were a learning and building process.

However, I wonder if things would have changed as much without the press being so critical. As we discussed earlier, Hoover was mostly about his own ego. I wonder if so much change would have happened as rapidly (bringing in the cowboys, for instance) if the press wasn't making him look like a fool.

Anyone who runs for public office is drug through a microscopic filter I doubt if any of us could survive. Every word, every private conversation, every youthful indiscretion ..... it is a tough business and I sometimes wonder why anyone finds that scrutiny worth the goal.

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Unread postby Liz » Thu Feb 21, 2008 3:09 am

Great answers! Vietnam had never occurred to me to be a parallel, but I think it is an excellent one. :cool:

I just have to know….was I the only one who didn’t know about this aspect of the early years of the FBI? It was quite a shock to me.
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Unread postby dharma_bum » Thu Feb 21, 2008 5:24 am

Hoover almost had an almost Hollywood vision for the FBI—style over substance—in which he was the Great and Powerful Oz... pay no attention to the petty bureaucrat behind the curtain. It seemed more important to him that his agents look the part and hold the moral high ground than actually have the skills to do the job. it was reprehensible how he allowed them to march to slaughter in the name of empire building.

We're living the modern equivalent with our current administration... well, you asked. IMHO, of course.
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Unread postby nebraska » Thu Feb 21, 2008 7:48 am

dharma_bum wrote:Hoover almost had an almost Hollywood vision for the FBI—style over substance—in which he was the Great and Powerful Oz... pay no attention to the petty bureaucrat behind the curtain. It seemed more important to him that his agents look the part and hold the moral high ground than actually have the skills to do the job. it was reprehensible how he allowed them to march to slaughter in the name of empire building.

We're living the modern equivalent with our current administration... well, you asked. IMHO, of course.


db, what a fabulous way to describe what Hoover was doing!

Liz, you are not the only one who was much enlightened about the FBI's early days. I knew very little .... ok, more like nothing :blush: ....PE was a real eye opener.

On second reading of the question, I realized my answer about political candidates did not quite answer the question; on the other hand, I do think the press influences the candidates and the voters by what they choose to publish.

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Unread postby Parlez » Thu Feb 21, 2008 8:23 am

Liz wrote:Great answers! Vietnam had never occurred to me to be a parallel, but I think it is an excellent one. :cool:

I just have to know….was I the only one who didn’t know about this aspect of the early years of the FBI? It was quite a shock to me.

I had no idea the FBI had such a terrible beginning. And I really was surprised to learn Hoover's leadership was so awful. I guess I just assumed the FBI was more or less conceived and developed and organized the way (I assume) it is today. I thought the bureau was a powerful, professional force to be reckoned with right from the get-go.

One point about the analogy to Viet Nam: the draft made recruiting unnecessary; there was no choice about whether or not to join. The FBI recruited young men of a certain type, and said young men had a choice as to whether to join or not. The outcome was the same in both instances, but much worse in Viet Nam: lambs to slaughter.
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Unread postby Sheri » Thu Feb 21, 2008 12:55 pm

Many good points made. :hatsoff: The only thing I have to add is that it's amazing to me how clueless and arrogant Hoover was in what it was going to take to round up the Enemies. Obviously he thought it was going to be brief and easy, with everyone patting him on the back with gratitude for his genius. Like Dharma bum, I couldn't help make a connection to a current leader.

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Unread postby suec » Thu Feb 21, 2008 1:18 pm

A little telling detail for me was with the arrest of Karpis, as they forgot to take some handcuffs, even with Hoover there and th staging of the whole show. And that was after they had been trnsformed into a truly professional organisation. And even though they were successful, they got him by riding piggy back on other people's efforts.


I think Hoover was very concerned with image. When he hired the young college men he didn't know the War on Crime was in the offing. He was trying to carve a politicial and funding niche for his department, and certainly for himself, in the political world of Washington. He thought the clean cut image would suit his purposes. When things got out of hand and he realized the bad guys had real guns and would use them, he had to call in some professionals of his own to save the day and the college boys were caught in the political and literal crossfire - much more than Hoover or his recruits bargained for.


DIDHOT, I agree.
Hoover had a brief to clean up the Bureau and make it more professional, and they appointed him to do just that, and he set about that task, in his own way. But the role changed beyond all recognition. The men's jobs mutated into something else, which meant they were no longer the right appointments after all. Or they had to grow into being the right ones themselves. That kind of thing still happens a lot, for instance in the rapidly changing technology revolution.
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Unread postby Liz » Thu Feb 21, 2008 3:32 pm

suec wrote:A little telling detail for me was with the arrest of Karpis, as they forgot to take some handcuffs, even with Hoover there and th staging of the whole show. And that was after they had been trnsformed into a truly professional organisation. And even though they were successful, they got him by riding piggy back on other people's efforts.

I remember reading that, shaking my head, and thinking to myself, it’s a hopeless case. :rolleyes:

BB & Sugar, I’m certain that our former view of the FBI was heavily influenced by the positive press it historically received and it’s portrayal on TV and in movies.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.


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