Hoover became his most paranoid, and most dangerous, during the early Cold War. Soviet spy rings were real enough. But Hoover fueled the nation's anti-Communist frenzy, warning that millions of Russian children were training as "suicide paratroopers," and that a secret army of domestic Communists secretly plotted to use "weapons of mass destruction," then a new concept, to destroy America. His solution? He proposed detaining 25,000 political suspects in military stockades, setting up secret prisons for U.S. citizens, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and so on.
During the 1960s, the FBI illegally wiretapped and spied relentlessly on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.and other civil rights leaders, convinced they were under Moscow'sdirection, but ignored the predatory Ku Klux Klan, the most violent U.S. terrorist group of the century. Hoover balked at investigating the Mafia, but happily built voluminous files on the sex lives ofJohn F. Kennedy and others.
Hoover died in his bed in 1972, and Congress belatedly imposed oversight and reforms on the FBI. Yet the bureau barely changed. Scores of Soviet spies were unmasked in the mid-1980s, including a senior FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, and Aldrich Ames, a senior CIA officer. They had sold Moscow a catastrophic collection of national security secrets. Weiner's assessment of the breach is perhaps his most pitiless.
The traitors thrived for so long because U.S. counterintelligence "had become a shambles," he writes. "The FBI and the CIA had not been on speaking terms for most of the past 40 years. The sniping and the silences between them did more harm to American national security than the Soviets."
The last few decades largely follow the headlines, including FBI errors prior to the 1993 World Trade Tower attack, the Oklahoma City bombing, and other fiascoes. When Al Qaeda emerges in force, Weiner finds senior FBI and CIA counterterrorism specialists "too busy making war on one another" to focus on Osama bin Laden until it is too late. Sadly, one is given little reason to assume the FBI will do better in the future.
Drogin is the deputy bureau chief of the Times Washington Bureau.