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Broken : the troubled past and uncertain future of the FBI /

Main Author: Powers, Richard Gid, 1944-
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Free Press, 2004
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Review by Choice Review

In FBI histories coincidentally issued almost simultaneously, Theoharis (Marquette Univ.) and Powers (CUNY Graduate Center) complement each other, and together provide an excellent overview of the bureau's history. Theoharis, unquestionably the dean of FBI history, contributes an authoritative, if too brief, volume. Taking a rather impersonal, dry approach, Theoharis concludes that the FBI, whose history he summarizes as marred by "failure and abuse," will continue to "undermine both the spirit and foundation of our cherished democracy" unless Congress uncharacteristically establishes serious oversight to ensure an end to its long-established practices of straying "into the monitoring of political activities and personal conduct." Although without doubt Theoharis has read everything significant about the FBI, his book quite bizarrely lacks bibliography and footnotes, simply referring readers to a lengthy bibliography published five years ago and vaguely to Freedom of Information Act material as his "principal sources," thus seriously limiting the book's scholarly usefulness. If Theoharis's book is impersonal, short, unsourced, and left-liberal, Powers repeatedly injects his (confused but usually more conservative) views into a volume that is unnecessarily long but extremely readable and generally well footnoted. Although definitely worth reading, his book suffers from frequent irritating and pointless personal intrusions, especially since his documentation of repeated FBI foul-ups and misdeeds collides with repeated calls for the FBI to be "unleashed" in the post 9/11 world from political pressures that have allegedly led the agency to pussyfoot around to avoid offending civil liberties sensibilities. This inconsistency is somewhat illuminated in Powers' acknowledgments, which reveal that after 9/11, a book "begun in an effort to describe what the Bureau was doing right" turned into a "search for what had gone wrong," and ended with another course reversal, an admission not likely to inspire confidence that facts lead him to conclusions, rather than vice-versa. ^BSumming Up: Recommended, both books. All levels/libraries. R. J. Goldstein Oakland University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

The failure of our various intelligence agencies to unravel the 9/11 plot has now been well documented. Since the FBI had the statutory responsibility for domestic intelligence gathering, most of the blame has fallen on them. Powers, who has written extensively on issues of national security and law enforcement, asserts that the recent intelligence failures of the FBI can be traced directly back to a form of original sin. The FBI was idealistically launched under the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, with the purpose of investigating crimes by the rich, powerful, and politically well connected. Unfortunately, the bureau quickly became a political tool. Powers illustrates how the FBI misused its powers during the Red Scare of the 1920s and the campaigns against labor organizations and civil rights groups. He also describes J. Edgar Hoover's consummate skills of self-promotion as agents tracked down public enemies during the 1930s. Powers tends to gloss over some of the great achievements of both Hoover and the bureau, and his links between earlier and current failures is tenuous. However, as a history of the nation's most powerful law enforcement agency, this work is informative and engrossing. --Jay Freeman Copyright 2004 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Popular historian Powers, biographer of J. Edgar Hoover, has produced a timely and nuanced history of the legendary agency that puts its current struggles in appropriate context. Beginning with the debate about the need for a federal detective force in the early 1900s, Powers traces the evolution of a small unit within the Justice Department into the G-Men of lore. Despite some odd omissions (there is no mention of the bureau's role in investigating the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy or the first bombing of the World Trade Center) and a little sloppiness (Rudolph Giuliani passed on trying the Mafia Commission in order to try a political corruption case, not to handle insider trading investigations), Powers succeeds in showing how the FBI's handling of terrorist threats prior to 9/11 was the direct result of the public backlash against Hoover's excesses and a desire to better respect civil liberties. His balanced and reasoned defense of recent director Louis Freeh, who has become a convenient scapegoat in the eyes of many, will spark renewed debate, especially as the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and consideration of reforms of the intelligence community remain in the spotlight. History Book Club alternate. Agent, Virginia Barbar at William Morris. (Oct. 16) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

In order to understand how the FBI's ineptitude and noncooperation contributed to the 9/11 catastrophe, Powers (G-Men: Hoover's FBI in American Popular Culture) examines its troubled history and finds that over the years the crime-fighting organization had become heavily politicized and its goals and objectives distorted by its director's ego. The revelations and investigations since 1972 had made the FBI gun-shy, and bureaucratic procedures and self-preservation had replaced professional good sense. Once again, Hoover's reign planted the seeds of future problems. While the FBI is unquestionably a first-class investigator of criminal activity, preventing this activity is more important. Although there are hopeful signs of change, such as a new emphasis on intelligence evaluation, only time will tell whether the FBI can truly transform itself. As this book addresses a serious national issue, it is suitable for all libraries. Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The battered police agency gets smacked one more time--hard. Powers (History/CUNY; Not Without Honor, 1996), a specialist in the history of the FBI and American anticommunism, opens by observing that the Bureau is not necessarily shot through with incompetence from top to bottom: after all, a field agent in Phoenix reported to Washington that a bunch of Sunni Muslim flight-school students appeared to be up to no good, outlining "a plan of action for the Bureau to follow that, had it been implemented across the country, would have had a very good chance of uncovering several, maybe all, of the strands of the plot." Incompetent the agency is, though, and the plan wasn't followed at least in some measure because the FBI, thoroughly politicized and "politically correct . . . scrapped promising investigation rather than risk accusations that by tracking suspicious Middle Eastern men they were racial-profiling everyone from the Middle East." How did the agency become so timorous, so sensitive to criticism? That's the meat of Powers's thesis, which alternates between praising true accomplishments--the stunning destruction of the continent-wide Nazi spy ring in 1941, for example, and the taming of Murder, Inc.--and decrying a long succession of foul-ups. By Powers's account, these errors include the failure to track Lee Harvey Oswald's movements in the fall of 1963 and the bungling of the Symbionese Liberation Army/Patti Hearst kidnapping case in the 1970s, the latter of which spoke to profound public disaffection for an agency whose reputation had been golden until the Nixon years, for which reason "no one . . . came forward with information on what was clearly, even from the perspective of the radical left, a dangerous, anarchic, and murderous gang." By the 1990s, things had degenerated, Powers writes, to the point that the FBI scarcely had any domestic surveillance capabilities and was utterly unprepared for the terrorist threat of recent years, which "could not be solved with a stroke of public relations." Necessary reading for would-be reformers and critics of the agency alike. Copyright ┬ęKirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.