The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was highly respected by nearly everyone except criminals and Communists. The criminals hated the FBI because it made it more difficult for them to carry out their illegal activities. The Communists despised Hoover because he was a formidable obstacle to their plans to communize America. Hoover directed the FBI for 48 years, having been appointed by President Calvin Coolidge and reappointed by seven other presidents.
Ray Wannall, a retired assistant director of the FBI, served under Hoover for 30 of those years. He is the author of a new book, The Real J. Edgar Hoover For The Record. “When I joined the FBI in 1942,” he writes, “I considered him a national hero even then because of his successful battle against crime in the 1930s and the early stages of subversion. Nothing that has happened since has changed my opinion of him, and I had the distinct advantage of knowing the man much better than many who have denigrated him.” Nearly all the agents who served under Hoover have remained fiercely loyal to him.
His record of distinguished government service has never been equaled. He transformed the bureau from a badly managed, corrupt organization to the premier law enforcement agency in the country. As its size and budget have increased under his successors, its reputation for competence and integrity has declined. It has lost much of the respect that it enjoyed in Hoover’s day.
Wannall points out that at the end of Hoover’s first year as director, he sent a message to all the special agents in charge of FBI field offices in which he said, “I am strongly of the opinion that the only way whereby we can gain public respect and support is through proper conduct on our part….When a man becomes part of this Bureau he must so conduct himself, both officially and unofficially, as to eliminate the slightest possibility of criticisms as to his conduct or actions.”
Louis J. Freeh, who Bill Clinton announced would be the new director the day after he fired William Sessions and had him locked out of his office, resigned before he had completed 8 years of his ten-year term. His tenure had been marked by scandal after scandal. One of the first was his handling of the investigation of the FBI role in the 1992 siege of Randy Weaver’s home at Ruby Ridge, Idaho that resulted in an FBI sharpshooter killing Weaver’s wife. The Washington Post reported on August 5, that Justice Department officials had recommended disciplinary action against Freeh and three other FBI officials. It said that on January 3, of this year, that recommendation was secretly rejected by Assistant Attorney General Stephen R. Colgate.
The Post story by George Lardner, Jr. said FBI agents who had exposed how badly those officials had handled the Ruby Ridge investigation “denounced Colgate’s refusal to impose sanctions on top FBI officials as ‘outrageous’ and a ‘whitewash.'” These agents told the Senate Judiciary Committee that “senior FBI officials had subjected them to threats and retaliation for conducting a thorough investigation.”
Wannall says that one of Hoover’s principles was that rank had no privileges. Freeh issued “get-out-of-jail-free” cards to his high-ranking pals. Assistant Director Larry Potts lied about his role in the Ruby Ridge affair, but Freeh promoted him to deputy director. He had to back down, and Potts was demoted. But when Potts retired, a big party was held for him in Washington, attended by heads of FBI field offices from all over the country. A seminar was scheduled, but only a handful attended. It was used to justify official travel expenses for those attending the party.
Freeh rejected whistleblower Fred Whitehurst’s exposure of incompetence and dishonesty in the FBI crime lab, and when his charges were upheld by the Justice Department Inspector General, Freeh put Whitehurst on administrative leave. He claimed the IG had recommended it, but the IG denied it and demanded a correction.
The Oklahoma City bombing proved to be Freeh’s Waterloo. One week before McVeigh was to be executed, it was disclosed that thousands of FBI documents that were supposed to have been given to the attorneys had not been turned over. Freeh told the White House he wanted to resign just before the story broke. It was good riddance. He was no J. Edgar Hoover.