Enemies: A History of the FBI

by Tim Weiner

Hardcover, 2012




New York : Random House, c2012.


Presents the history of the FBI's secret intelligence operations, detailing how the bureau has been used to conduct political warfare, and how it became the most powerful intelligence service in the United States.

Media reviews

Contrary to conventional wisdom and Clint Eastwood movies, J. Edgar Hoover did not accumulate his power by barging into the Oval Office with a thick dossier of dirt on each new president and his family. Hoover was indeed a vicious gossipmonger, yet the most damning information he possessed could not be disseminated easily. No newspaper of his time would print it, no radio or television station would broadcast it.

User reviews

LibraryThing member rybie2
Having read four books about the US' Federal Bureau of Investigation, I did not expect to learn much from this one. I could not have been more wrong. Award winning author Tim Weiner has written a truly stunning history of the agency. Much of the information is new-- having been taken from over 200 oral interviews with FBI agents, and from >70,000 pages of secret documents released (after many years of battle) through the Freedom of Information Act. The result is a detailed, comprehensive account of the history of the FBI and of J. Edgar Hoover, the man who built the agency and ran it as a private fiefdom for four decades.

Taking an historical approach to its subject, Enemies begins with the anarchistic terrorism of the 1920s, the "Red Scare", and communist activity in the post- World War I period. It traces the growth of the agency in response to espionage during WW2, its activity during the Cold War, the political activism of the 1950s through 1970s, the scandals and incompetence and errors of the post- Hoover years, and the agency's reactivation in 2001. One of several overarching themes is the long- standing rivalry between the FBI and CIA, manifested by mutual suspicion and competition for power and funds, resulting in antagonism that left the nation weaker in the face of foreign threats. The history of the agency, in Weiner's analysis, is thoroughly intertwined with the life and preoccupations ("obsessions") of its long- term director. J. Edgar Hoover is presented as a Machiavellian character who routinely engaged in illegal spying, wiretapping, and "black bag" jobs against US citizens; who worked for decades to foment discord in political groups that he opposed (he had particular hatred of the civil rights movement, which he insisted was directed by the Soviet Union); and who used his knowledge to blackmail political leaders and consolidate his power. No politician dared cross him, and US presidents who sought to force his retirement (Kennedy and Nixon among them) were thwarted.

Enemies is brimming with revelations. For example, consider the Watergate break-in and its aftermath, events resulting in the impeachment and resignation of US president Richard Nixon. I thought I was well informed on the issues, but this book brought a new perspective, since it is now clear that the FBI played a major role in the downfall of the Nixon presidency. First, the reason the White House was involved in spying and illegal break-ins was because the FBI refused to do so at Nixon's behest – not on moral or legal grounds (since the FBI had been doing these things illegally for decades) but because Hoover thought they'd get caught and it would tarnish the FBI's image. Second, it is now clear that the Watergate cover-up would likely have succeeded if the FBI had followed White House orders. As the White House tapes reveal, within 24 hrs of the break-in, presidential aide John Ehrlichman ordered the FBI to stay out of it, but the FBI refused. Nixon then ordered the CIA to tell the FBI to cease its investigation, but that effort failed too. Third, FBI personnel were responsible for revealing to the news media details about the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up. Mark Felt (the "Deep Throat" of Washington Post fame) and other upper- echelon agents exposed what the White House had been doing, for a combination of professional and selfish motives. (Felt was miffed at not having been chosen as director when Hoover died). In fact, Nixon and his aides knew that Felt was leaking information to the newspapers and tried unsuccessfully to get Director Patrick Gray to fire him. As for Gray, he was playing both sides of the situation, to his own advantage. On the one hand, he declined to fire Mark felt to plug the leaks to the media. On the other hand, however, he burned documents delivered by John Dan that could have incriminated the White House further. What's more, during the ensuing investigation, Gray was secretly sending information about what the Bureau had found out directly to the White House.

Despite the momentous nature of its revelations, Enemies is a sober (non-sensationalistic) account. Its tone is so matter-of-fact that the reader continually must remind himself of the significance of what he is reading. While the picture of the FBI is far from positive, the book has no evident political agenda. On the contrary, the author fully acknowledges the difficulty of the FBI's mission of keeping the populace safe within the bounds of legal authority, and the inherent tension between security and freedom. Nonetheless, the overwhelming sense that the reader gets is of a renegade agency that for much of its history has operated outside of the law as a virtual "secret police," answerable to no political authority and arguably as big a threat to the republic as the foreign enemies it sought to combat. Tim Weiner's book now constitutes the definitive history of the FBI, and for the time period it covers, is unlikely ever to be superceded.
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LibraryThing member mschuyler
I’m mystified that so many reviews of this book say that it is dull reading, uninspired writing. To me it reads like a fast-paced mystery. It goes from plot to plot, from scheme to scheme in whirlwind fashion as the author attempts to detail the history of the FBI. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you impatiently wait for the next story to conclude.

That’s also part of the problem with the book. It’s like traveling down the Interstate at 70 mph, too fast to really take in the details. Part of the issue may be that the book attempts too much. On the one hand, the first 50% of the book is a sketch biography of J. Edgar Hoover. Of course, the natural argument is that in the first half century of its existence, the FBI WAS J. Edgar Hoover. Although the metaphor may be attractive, it’s beside the point. As a result, it’s not a very good biography of Hoover and it’s not a very good history of the FBI. Had the author’s attention remained on one or the other, it would have been a stronger volume.

The second major issue of the book is its negative tone. To the author the FBI can rarely do anything right. From illegal wiretaps to botched investigations, from flawed agents to obsolete computer systems, one wonders how the FBI ever managed to get anything done ever. You’ll read of many failures and lapses of judgment in this book, and celebrate few successes.

The author takes the typical lofty high road that the FBI must walk a pristine path of legality no matter what our enemies may do. It’s kind of like the old Bill Cosby joke where the colonials won the coin toss and decided the rules. The colonists could wear whatever they wanted to, shoot from behind trees, fire and run away while the British had to wear red and march in a straight line. The author also takes pot shots at people, saying J. Edgar Hoover was “beady eyed” or an agent didn’t get a position because he “looked like a librarian.”

Unless you are rooting for the author these ad hominem attacks detract from the book. They are unnecessary. Further, the author sometimes gets things flat out wrong or shows his political stripes. For example, he says the incident where the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 over the Persian Gulf was an “unprovoked attack by an errant American admiral,” a claim completely opposite of what really happened. So after a while you begin to get the picture. The author doesn’t much like the FBI, and he thinks this expose will set the record straight. It won’t.
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LibraryThing member stevesmits
Our republic has faced external and internal threats since nearly its beginning. A critical challenge for our system of government in dealing with these real or perceived threats is whether we can address them while maintaining the individual liberties guaranteed by the constitution -- liberties which without question impede the range of responses government may use to respond.

Sadly, we fail time after time. From the Alien and Seditions laws of the 1790's to imprisonment of dissenters in WWI and internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII to today's electronic invasions of privacy in the war on terror, we have been largely incapable of holding true to our ideals.

Nowhere is this shown more clearly than in the history of the FBI. Tim Weiner's incredibly well-researched book describes the abuses of the FBI in its efforts to deal with foreign and domestic enemies. While the notion of FBI misdeeds is familiar to us, the details are shocking. Warrantless wiretaps, bugging, break-ins were not the actions of rogue agents, they were standard practices and pervasive in use from the begining of the agency one hundred years ago.

The willingness to use such techniques and their extent is related to J. Edgar Hoover's obsession with communist and other left wing parties, but to focus only on him is to miss a major theme of Weiner's story. Many, many political leaders were aware of Hoover's approach and sanctioned it openly or tacitly. Surely the powerful political influence developed by Hoover over his long tenure inhibited presidents and attornys general from taking the principled position they should have, and admittedly some of the enemies were indeed threats, but those are lame excuses in view of their oaths to uphold the constitution. (One of the few admirable incidents was the resistance of the current director, Robert Mueller, and then attorney general Ashcroft to Bush's/Cheney's efforts to grossly violate the privacy of individual Americans under the Patriot Act's electronic surveillance provisions.)

As unsettling as presidents' toleration of Hoover's illegalities is the fact that some, especially Johnson and Nixon, seemed to relish hearing the "dirt" Hoover collected on their political opponents and others.

The consequences of this long era of misconduct are reverbating today. After the Watergate episode in which the FBI, below the level of director L. Patrick Gray, resisted the White House effort to cover up the break-in, the agency went through a series of ineffective directors with the exception of Mueller who seems to have scruples. The insularity and bureaucratic rivalry with other intelligence agencies that was so important to Hoover, seems to have persisted until the pre-September 11 years when the lack of sharing of intelligence blinded us to the major danger of radical Islamists. One hopes that this shortsightness is very much diminished now.

Some of the threats over time were real, e.g. Soviet espionage efforts to get nuclear secrets. Some were important, e.g. the violent actions of the KKK against civil rights activists in the 1960's. Other threats were more imagined, e.g. the communist party USA or thousands of Japanese-Americans in 1942. Whether real or imagined, the disturbing message of Weiner's history is that our government does not seem able to resist resorting to extreme tactics that clearly violate the constitution. Adhering to the safeguards contained in the constitution would and do inhibit the effectivness of law enforcement and counter espionage actions, but that is the price we must pay if we are to preserve on a larger scale our unique and precious civil liberties.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
Tim Weiner begins his extensively-researched history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation by observing that “Over the decades, the Bureau has best served the cause of national security by bending and breaking the law.” The 104 years of the Bureau’s existence has been a constant tug-of-war between the Nation’s need for national security and the desire of its citizens for the protection of civil liberties. And at the center of this struggle between safety and freedom was J. Edgar Hoover, who served a forty-eight year tenure as the head of the FBI.

Weiner benefited from over seventy thousand pages of recently declassified documents and more than two hundred oral histories from agents who worked for the Bureau. Weiner claims the newly unsheathed evidence shows Hoover in a new light; as not a monster but as “an American Machiavelli": astute and cunning and a master manipulator, but also the architect (for good or evil) of American intelligence and surveillance.

The story begins in 1908 during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s principal concern was the anarchists, like the one who assassinated his predecessor, William McKinley. He ordered his attorney general to create an investigative service within the Department of Justice. The order resulted in the formation of the “Bureau of Investigation.” The Attorney General, Charles Bonaparte, sought the approval of Congress to start such an independent bureau, but was emphatically rejected. Bonaparte and TR merely waited until Congress adjourned, and hired 34 “special agents” with money from the Department of Justice’s expense fund. As Mark Twain observed, Roosevelt was “ready to kick the Constitution into the back yard whenever it gets in the way.” Interestingly, the FBI to this day doesn’t have a Congressional charter spelling out its role—it is the creation of an executive order!

Nationwide domestic surveillance under the Espionage Act of 1917 received a fillip when J. Edgar Hoover was appointed chief of the Justice Department’s newly created Radical Division. Originally charged with keeping tabs on radicals and other “untrustworthy” citizens during the war, Hoover turned the appointment into a life-long career.

Hoover’s organization did not become known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation until the early years of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. The great Depression spawned a crime wave of bank robberies and hijackings. In response to the perceived lawlessness and incompetence of local law enforcement, Congress passed statutes making it a federal matter if interstate travel were involved in the commission of a crime or robbery of a federal bank. The newly christened FBI was charged with enforcing the new federal criminal statutes. With the help of numerous Hollywood movies and some professional public relations, Hoover became the public face of the government’s battle to fight crime.

Despite his public acclaim as a fearless crime fighter, Hoover always considered his primary task to be combating communism, not law enforcement. He made certain that the FBI’s principal activity was intelligence gathering, not assembly of evidence to sustain legal prosecution. Unbeknownst to the vast majority of Americans, for Hoover’s entire career, the FBI allocated the lion’s share of its resources and talent to surveillance of suspected communists.

From the 1930’s through the 1950’s the Communist Party in the United States never became a mass movement, but it did have several members well placed in the American atomic weapons program, and the Party was clearly beholden if not completely subservient to the Soviet Union. The FBI was able to infiltrate the Communist Party, but it did not identify several spies until they had already disclosed some important atomic secrets and decamped to Russia.

Ignoring the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment’s proscription of unwarranted searches and seizures, the FBI became expert at “black bag jobs”—breaking and entering private homes and foreign embassies, planting electronic listening devices, and stealing and copying personal documents. That expertise of undetected surveillance was turned on many prominent people. Hoover kept the information thus gathered very secret, but was able to use it as a kind of blackmail when he felt the need.

By the 1960’s the general awareness of the realities of Soviet communism had tarnished the ideological luster of the Communist Party. Membership in the party had shrunk to a level that it was not clear whether there were more communists in the United States or more FBI agents surveilling them. Nevertheless, Hoover saw communists everywhere, except in the Ku Klux Klan and the mafia. He completely ignored directions from Attorney General Robert Kennedy to investigate “the Mob.” He seems to have genuinely believed that the leaders of the civil rights movement were directed from Moscow. It was not until Lyndon Johnson became president and a series of horrendous murders of civil rights workers occurred that the FBI directed some attention to the Klan.

The assassination of Martin Luther King proved to be a real turning point in the FBI’s priorities. Despite the fact that Hoover and President Johnson despised King, the Bureau pursued King’s assassin relentlessly and caught James Earl Ray after 53 days and one of the most intense man hunts in history.

For most of his career, Hoover paid scant attention to constitutional constraints. He seemed indifferent to the fact that much of the information in his secret files was inadmissible in court. Nevertheless, there were bounds that even he would not cross. When Richard Nixon tried to limit the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate break-in and some illegal wire taps that Henry Kissinger had planted on his own staff, Hoover refused to “call off the dogs.” Hoover died on May 2, 1972, but ultimately, it was information gathered by the FBI that brought down the Nixon presidency on August 8, 1974.

After Hoover’s death, the FBI fell into disrepute as disclosures of his illegal spying and racial prejudice became public. The Bureau faced the embarrassing task of having to investigate itself. Attorney General Edward Levi drafted the first legal guidelines in the Bureau’s history for conducting investigations. The guidelines were governed by the principle that the government should not break the law to enforce the law. He assigned Department of Justice personnel to investigate misconduct by FBI agents.

By the 1990’s the threat of communism had faded, and the Bureau redirected its attention to the threat of Muslim extremism. Surprisingly, various FBI agents had good partial information on the 9/11 plot to hijack airliners. Lack of information sharing with the CIA complicated the analysis of the various threads that were known by different people in the U.S. security apparatus. Unfortunately, the one agent who was able to connect the dots was ignored by his superiors.

Weiner is optimistic that the current agency has improved its competence and its respect for legal constraints. He points out that FBI agents protected John Ashcroft in his hospital bed when he defied Vice President Cheney's orders to conduct a program of warrantless electronic surveillance. He notes that administrative structures to share information have been implemented. He describes numerous convictions for engaging in terrorist plots. He gives high marks to the current director, Robert Mueller.

Evaluation: This is an important book about a critical national institution. To some extent, it is also a social history of the United States for the last 100 years. The author is thorough in his research and fair in his judgments, giving credit where appropriate and vigorously criticizing the personal shortfalls of many prominent historical figures. It is not a dry history, but like Weiner’s award-winning book on the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, is full of fascinating anecdotes that make you want to run and share them with everyone you know. Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member bbrad
This book tells a story, superbly well, that all Americans should consider: When our leaders for decades chose security over liberty, the resulting bureaucratic monstrosity did incalculable damage to our country's fundamental values.

At the heart of this story is one man, J. Edgar Hoover. In 1917, at age 22, he began working in Federal law enforcement and very quickly took the reins of the "Radical Division" of the Justice Department. As the tide of American fear of anarchists and communists rose, Hoover rose with it (and fanned it) to become the head of the FBI, staying in that office until his death in 1972.

Myriad incidents of lawless bugging, wiretapping, black bag breaking and entering, suriptitious opening of first class mail, blackmail and reputation smearing are recounted here. Hoover kept most of this from view, but Weiner dishearteningly relates how every President during Hoover's tenure learned of these operations and came to use and value them as political tools, or food for their paranoia that foreign agents were behind civil discontent.

Historians of modern America have told us of Hoover's power and invulnerability, largely as a result of his unlawful intelligence gathering, from which no politician or public figure was immune. Weiner explores in detail how Hoover's power came about and how he used it, largely for self perpetuation, but also to protect the "American way of life" from the foreign born, intellectuals, liberals, organized labor, pacifists, Negroes who did not kinow their place and homosexuals (I'm sure I've left some groups out). FBI employees mirrored Hoover's image of what America should be. "The FBI . . . [was] a man's world - usually men of Irish or Italian heritage schooled by Jesuits and raised in a closed culture of police and priests."

In recent popular culture Hoover has been portrayed as a cross-dressing fairy. Weiner says there is no evidence for cross-dressing, and "[n]ot a shred of evidence supports the notion that Hoover ever had sex with [his lifelong male companion Clyde] Tolson or with any other human being. They were personally and professionally inseperable, Hoover left Tolson his worldly possessions in his will, and there are photographs of the two men together that can be read as revealing human feelings deeper than fondness. One of Hoover's biographers called their relationship a sexless marriage . . ." It is unlikely that Hoover self identified as a homosexual. In fact, he and President Eisenhower, whose 1953 Executive Order banned homosexuals from government service, " . . . connected communism and homosexuality . . . they both believed without question that homosexuals were especially susceptible to foreign intelligence services."

The FBI after Hoover's death is described by Weiner as hapless, feuding with the CIA to the detriment of both, and a very late and woefully unprepared entrant into the digital age. Director Gray cooperated with Nixon's cover up of Watergate; Director Sessions was aloof and ineffectual; Director Freeh feuded with President Clinton, and the two didn't speak during four years of their official tenure. Investigations after 9/11 showed the Bureau's incompetence in dealing with the al-Qaeda threat. In 1991, for example, the Bureau had exactly one Arabic translator and could not process or understand the intelligence it was gathering from Islamic militants.

One finishes this book with a feeling of great unease. The vaunted FBI turns out to have been an idiosyncratic fiefdom, directing its energies at gays and commies, while leaving the country largely unprotected from international threats. What it did accomplish was largely with tainted methods.

One can only hope for better days ahead.
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LibraryThing member johnclaydon
You may be tempted, as I was, to start with the section on the cold war. But start with the purple prose of the first chapter to know from the beginning what the author is doing. The technical term is bullshit artist.

If you try to use the book for scholarly purposes you extract your information from a morass of vague mush. It is not just there. It takes an effort of construction.… (more)
LibraryThing member Artymedon
And I was mistaken in thinking that I would escape the Bonaparte family reading a quintessentially American history of one of its world famous goverment department. How wrong was I. This is a temporary review of a well researched book.
The connection between a Roosevelt and a Bonaparte at the origin of the FBI is powerfully entertaining.… (more)
LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
My many thanks to LibraryThing's early reviewers program and to Random House for sending me a copy of this book. It is an eye-opening, well-researched and intelligently-constructed history of the FBI in its role as a "secret intelligence service." The book examines how the Bureau has long been operating outside of the rule of law -- "the foundation on which America was built", and offers its readers a look at the ongoing struggle between national security and civil liberty. It also details the relationships the FBI directors (especially J. Edgar Hoover) have had with American presidents since the Bureau's inception. Although I may not personally agree with the author's final conclusion, it's still a very well-written book.

Enemies is incredibly interesting, fleshing out bits and pieces of history with which I'm somewhat familiar, and it offers anyone remotely interested in the topics he covers a great deal of fodder for further reading. It's very reader friendly, and despite some reviews I've read about it being snooze material, it will grab the attention of anyone who's interested. What you won't find here are any juicy pieces of speculation about Hoover and his sex life, which is just as well -- it's all hearsay anyway and it's also irrelevant. I think, though, that Weiner might be looking through his rose-colored glasses -- an FBI manual of operations is all well and good, but time and again, and he shows it himself, when push comes to shove in a matter of national security, the government can exercise greater powers that don't always mesh with our constitutional rights.
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LibraryThing member 5hrdrive
Perhaps it's because I read this immediately after finishing Brethren (about the Supreme Court in the 1970's) but I'm left wondering if anyone in government cares at all about the Constitution anymore. This is a terrific account of the creation, development, near destruction, and resurrection of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1908 through the present day. Accordingly, the first half of the book is primarily about J.Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI from it's inception until his death in the early 70's. Using warrant-less wiretaps, bugging, and "black-bag jobs" (burglaries) whenever he pleased, Hoover fought primarily against communism but also against the civil-rights movement and whomever he considered an enemy or rival with every dirty trick at his disposal. One could argue that the ends justify the means, but really, should one person in government have the power to set aside the Fourth Amendment? Nowadays there is apparently a panel of judges that rules on wiretap requests so at least there is some oversight, but the ability to spy on American citizens by the Executive Branch scares the daylights out of me.

Overall an excellent survey of the FBI - one that I will recommend to anyone interested in government and 20th century American History.
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LibraryThing member LVassmer
Thank you Early Reviewers! I found this book to be highly informative and an interesting read into the history of the FBI. The book is obviously well researched and from page to page I found myself telling anyone around me the new tidbits I was reading. I did find myself being unable to sit and read this book for any period of time. I found it best to sit and read a couple pages and then digest those for a bit and then read on. Many of the facts were so terrifyingly eye-opening that I couldn't take it in all at once. The biggest flaw I found with this book, which probably could not be avoided, was keeping up with who was who. Since this spans such a long history I found myself confused on who anyone was (besides Hoover of course!) and the author gave little explanation. This made it a much more difficult read, but I still would recommend it for anyone that has any interest in the FBI.… (more)
LibraryThing member RaucousRain
I am really glad I read this book! At times, it feels like reading a great fictional thriller – but knowing that it is a well-researched fact-filled tome makes if even better in my opinion. It surely is not the stuff of which broadcast news is made … however; it provides the reader with an amazingly powerful insight into how, since its inception, the FBI has been in the forefront with influencing political decisions in our country. Fascinating. Sometimes scary. Well worth reading!… (more)
LibraryThing member NewsieQ
After finishing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, starting Enemies was a bit of a letdown. I went from a scintillating piece of narrative non-fiction of the can’t-put-it-down/page-turner variety to a pretty straightforward history of the FBI, written in a flat, journalistic style. But I realized almost immediately that these were two very different books and that Enemies is engaging in a totally different way.

Just about every chapter brings new revelations about the FBI and its founder/long-time director, J. Edgar Hoover. I found myself saying to myself, “Wow, I didn’t know that,” over and over again. We think “enhanced interrogation” began in the recent wars … think again. The FBI is under the control of the President …not a chance. The FBI stands for the rule of law … no way. I also found the rivalry between the FBI and CIA quite interesting.

I have to hand it to the author, he could have sensationalized the story – there’s plenty of material there. But he chose instead to tell the tale as a series of short essays, chronologically and without a lot of folderol. And the back notes are extensive enough to please readers who devour them, as I do.

Review based on publisher-provided advanced readers’ copy of the book.
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LibraryThing member John_Vaughan
Of course readers enter into a dialogue with authors, but I do not usually find myself arguing with them from the onset. In Tim Weiner’s excellent book, nicely produced by Random House, on J. Edgar and the FBI he states, on the very first page of his opening note, that Hoover was seen by his opponents as a ’goddam sewer’ and that most of us know him “only as a caricature; a tyrant in a tutu…” none of this, Weiner claims, was true. Oh yes it was I challenged and found that this excellent and fairly balanced life seemed to prove that Hoover was exactly that.

Targeting homosexuals – as well as Shirley Temple and John Lennon – this is a man who lived with his Mummy until she died, and was then ‘very close’ to his life partner and chief assistant Clyde Tolson for more than 40 years, even sunbathing, vacationing and lodging with each other. They were both lifelong bachelors and are buried side by side.

No tutus perhaps but an evil Machiavelli who created the closest thing to a black-mailing, corrupt and illegally operating secret police like the Gestapo, Stasi or KGB this country should ever have. From his obsession with communism, and the infamously illegally operating CoinTelPro Hoover helped create the climate of the attitudes that supported McCarthy’s “un-American” vendetta of harassment and slanders.

Not until the stand and threatened resignations … offered against the Bush and Cheney domestic spying initiative after 9/11 that would have by-passed all constitutional oversights … by Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller was the FBI returned to a legal operating footing and was headed by a respecter of US citizens rights under the Constitution.

Robert Mueller has said he wants no historian to be able to write, of his reconstructed FBI ”You won the war on terrorism, but you sacrificed your civil liberties.

An excellent fascinating and frightening book.… (more)
LibraryThing member RandyStafford
Weiner’s book has one great strength. It rests entirely on on-the-record statements and recently declassified FBI documents. There is no questionable Bob Woodward secret sourcing going on.

Weiner’s book is also well-written and moves quickly – perhaps too quickly when one comes across an area where more detail is sought. However, that’s where the extensive footnotes come in with a great deal of the declassified documents to be found online. And this is, after all, a one volume history with a great deal of ground to cover: the existence of the FBI as a secret intelligence and security service. This book is not at all interested in the FBI investigating conventional crimes.

The FBI came into existence in July 1908 as the Bureau of Investigation in the Justice Department – after Congress had refused to appropriate money for keeping tabs on anarchists, foreign-born radicals, and politicians and developers looting public lands. In typical fashion, Theodore Roosevelt simply waited until Congress adjourned, dipped into a Justice Department’s expense account, and created the agency anyway. It was never created by a Federal charter and still doesn’t have one to this day. From its beginnings, it was there to gather intelligence on suspected and actual subversives.

J. Edgar Hoover, the man synonymous with the FBI, joined the Justice Department on July 26, 1917 at age 22. At age 23, he was overseeing the thousands of Germans interned in government camps during World War One and surveillance of hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents. On August 1, 1919, the 24 year old Hoover was made head of the Justice Department’s new Radical Division which, under the guise of the 1917 Espionage Act – still on the books but rarely enforced – spied on thousands of Americans thought to be violent anarchists or members of a “Red” communist conspiracy. It was in the time of a massive Wall Street bombing and the attempted assassination of several government officials via mailed bombs. The government responded with the famous Palmer raids, massive arrests followed, in the case of the foreign-born citizens, by occasional deportation. But those raids were actually directed and organized by Hoover.

While not a biography, a large part of this book is about Hoover, how he molded the FBI until his death – still as head of the FBI because he had been exempted from a mandatory retirement provision – on May 2, 1972. To his credit, Weiner, on the first page of the book, quickly dismisses nonsense about Hoover as a transvestite or closet homosexual. (Those seem to be rumors spread by William Donovan, head of the OSS, and a political rival of Hoover’s.) What he was, says Weiner, was an “American Machiavelli”. The relationship that many presidents had with him was summed up by the one that relied on him the most, Lyndon Johnson, “a pillar of strength in a city of weak men”. What Hoover’s organization did was provide information on domestic subversion and terrorism, penetrated the link between the American Communist Party (indeed, it had an agent at its first meeting) and its Soviet masters, and, perhaps most astonishingly, provided real-time battlefield intelligence during the forgotten American invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965.

But there were embarrassments that Hoover buried. These weren’t always matters of illegal activity. Hoover sincerely maintained his wiretaps and letter interceptions and buggings and “black bag” jobs (illegal break-ins) were legally ordered by presidents, and Weiner covers the ever changing legal interpretations the Bureau has operated under. They were things like losing track of one Lee Harvey Oswald – exactly the sort of Marxist agitator with Soviet ties that the Bureau was interested in or the pathetic early attempts to run its own intelligence operations in Latin American countries starting in 1940.

Weiner rightly supports the notion that Hoover had a particular idea of America and regarded anyone threatening that as a subversive worth keeping an eye on. The notorious COINTELPRO program was about that – specifically not only monitoring groups regarded as subversive but destroying them through propaganda campaigns and by sowing dissension within them. While the Ku Klux Klan was targeted along with left wing groups, Weiner does establish that Hoover was far less interested in the latter.

And Hoover was always interested in perpetuating the legend of the spyhunting FBI, wanted the agency to be highly regarded. It was the possible fear of exposure and the attendant public relations damage he feared, and not any legal squeamishness, that made him pull back on domestic spying operations as early as 1966 and 1967. And Weiner is quite good on the wars between the CIA and the FBI and notes the times that the FBI scooped the former with correct information.

The book’s first three parts, “Spies and Saboteurs”, “World War”, and “Cold War”, cover the Hoover years. The last 142 pages of text cover the FBI’s recent efforts on fighting terrorism and its general patheticness in internal communication, intelligence analyses, cybernetic resources, and focus, and it how was penetrated by several double agents. It is here that we get the second major figure of the book, Robert Mueller, who is clearly Weiner’s ideal of an FBI director, the figure who squared the circle of reconciling security with constitutional freedoms. As someone who was an adult during most of those years, it was still good to have various news stories of recent FBI activity put in a context or, in some cases, hearing about them for the first time.

For those interested in the history of American counterintelligence, this is essential as a one volume resource for the FBI. However, it is not without some questionable elements and omissions. Weiner insinuates that the Industrial Workers of the World simply practiced rhetoric against World War One. In fact, some of the organizations leaders did conspire with members of German intelligence to foment rebellion in parts of America. It is implied that Director Louis Freeh was wrongly obsessed with President Clinton’s sexual misconduct and investigating Chinese influence pedaling instead of investigating terrorism. Freeh’s tenure certainly was not good for the FBI, but you could argue that Clinton’s perjury was probably as serious a crime as Nixon’s Watergate cover-up – the scandal that continues to fascinate journalists like Weiner and makes for the only boring reading in the book. (In Weiner’s defense, Watergate did play a large role in creating disarray in the FBI and is integral to the book’s theme.) As for Chinese espionage, that country’s intelligence operations seem to use no neat division between military and political operations, government agents and private citizens seeking favor with their government. I note that no mention is made of the controversial FBI investigation of Israeli espionage in America, specifically the charging of Larry Franklin by the FBI under the 1917 Espionage Act in the so-called AIPAC spy scandal. Since Weiner makes a point of noting that Vides Casanova, the El Salvadoran National Guard general suspected of ordering the murder of four American church workers, was granted U.S. residency by President Reagan, why not also note that President Clinton gave pardons to 16 members of the FALN, the Puerto Rican terrorist group involved in over a hundred bombings as well as at least six murders and an armored car robbery and that is mentioned in the book several times?

Finally, the name of Jamie Gorelick appears nowhere in the book though she is sometimes blamed for the “wall” that inhibited the sharing of intelligence between FBI agents working criminal matters and those working intelligence cases. Weiner portrays it as purely an institutional misunderstanding on the part of the FBI, not the result of a dictum from a Justice Department superior.

Still, in that matter, as well as his favoring liberty and civil rights over security, Weiner’s book is also a useful counterargument to many prevailing political currents these days. Even if you don’t agree with his conclusions, his data’s validity must be acknowledged however incomplete the context is at times.
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LibraryThing member bookwormgeek
The fascinating story of the creation and history of the FBI, Enemies is also a history of intelligence gathering in the US. In it's 100 year history the FBI has had some tremendous successes, and some equally tremendous failures. J. Edgar Hoover's commitment to national security (or what he perceived as national security) shaped every facet of the FBI. The scope of his power is actually pretty terrifying. Weiner does a good job of laying all the cards on the table (the good, the bad, and the ugly) while telling a compelling story and making us all confront an important moral dilema - Does the end justify the means when national security is at stake?… (more)
LibraryThing member BlackjackNY
A well-researched and very compelling history of the FBI. The only equal to Hoover's power that comes to mind is Robert Moses(see:The Power Broker), but of course Moses' power had nothing to do with basic American freedoms that Hoover and the FBI disregarded entirely. The saddest part of the book is the realization that even after September 11th, various agencies still withhold information from each other instead of sharing, all to protect their little fiefdoms, something seen in the smallest local government offices.… (more)
LibraryThing member dwbwriter
A masterful follow-on to Legacy of Ashes. This is easily Tim Weiner's finest book.
LibraryThing member Wabbit98
This could have been so much better than it actually turned out to be. Instead of analysis, we just get fact after fact. Instead of any attempt at historical judgement we get a book that could have been written by the PR people for the FBI. The short chapters do not help delve into any depth about what happened, why it happened, or any sort of analysis at all. This is a wasted opportunity to explore one of the most dangerous organizations against the average citizen in the United States. Instead we get a pretty bland picture, with really no critique of anyone.… (more)
LibraryThing member michigantrumpet
As a former state prosecutor, I fall generally in the 'law and order' camp. I am also a firm believer in the rule of law. As such, this compelling and engrossing history of the FBI had me writing out a check to the ACLU. A secret police force may be necessary for law enforcement and security. Too much power in the hands of a long-term dictator used for political ends is far too dangerous and must be tempered. The history of the FBI is marred by the trampling of basic civil rights while chasing largely non-existent bogeymen. Important lessons from the past which are fully relevent to our modern era. 'Term limits' on the tenure of the director, proper oversight nd sharing of information a ingest agencies are modern improvements, but we must ever be vigilant to protect our basic freedoms. Weiner had access to many documents released pursuant to a FOIA request and his book is indispensable to understanding the FBI.… (more)
LibraryThing member meacoleman
Tim Weiner does a thorough job of investigating the investigators, presenting a very readable history of the FBI and proving that some things never change, even as the decades pass. I heard Mr. Weiner interviewed on NPR's "Fresh Air" and wanted to read the book, but after the first 100 pages, I decided that I thoroughly despised J. Edgar Hoover and wasn't so interested in the story any more.… (more)
LibraryThing member LamSon
Weiner’s book chronicles the darker side of the FBI, from Hoover’s time to the War on Terror. For the less cynical, Enemies provides a shocking portrait of the top law enforcement agency repeatedly breaking the law. Opening mail, break-ins, and wiretaps are just a few of the things the FBI did under the guise of upholding the law. Then of course, there is the gossip fuelled information kept by Hoover to use as leverage against political leaders that might question the actions of the FBI.

Although more time could have been spent on the Clinton and post-9/11 years, this is a very good book. I look forward to reading Weiner’s previous work on the CIA.
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LibraryThing member danieljayfriedman
Tim Weiner’s unforgettable and indispensable Enemies: A History of the FBI traces the domestic and foreign intelligence activities of the FBI’s from its origins in the founding of the Bureau of Investigations in 1908, through the creation of the Department of Justice’s Radical Division in 1919, through its evolution into the contemporary Federal Bureau of Investigation. Given the domination of the FBI by J. Edgar Hoover, its first and by far longest standing director, the FBI’s intelligence gathering activities from the 1920s through the early 1970s focused largely on those groups and individual perceived by Hoover as threats to U.S. security. As perceived by Hoover, domestic security threats included “integrationists,” in Hoover’s unforgettable language, homosexuals, and, of course, Communists and others regarded by Hoover as radicals.

In Enemies, Weiner, the previous winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his journalism and the National Book Award for his Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, slowly and convincingly reveals the often appalling history of the FBI’s often illegal gathering of information on American citizens through burglary, wiretaps, and opening of U.S mails. Voluminous records were maintained on citizens and aliens who were threats to U.S. security, on loyal citizens whose fully legal political views were regarded by Hoover as threats to the U.S., and on critics of the FBI. Long after Hoover recognized the illegality of the FBI’s surveillance activities—well into the 1960s—“black bag jobs” and warrantless wiretaps continued. Hoover misled and misled U.S. presidents. Hoover misled and misled the U.S. Congress. Hoover misled and misled U.S. judges. Hoover shared secrets discriminately, with those politicians and even journalists who, he believed, shared his ideological agenda.

To Weiner’s credit, Enemies is not a jeremiad against J. Edgar Hoover. In fact, Enemies reads as a cautionary tale of entrenched bureaucracy and inadequate governmental oversight. Weiner ends Enemies on an almost optimistic note, detailing the attempts of the 21st century FBI leaders and agents to develop and adhere to strict and strictly legal guidelines on their activities.

Enemies is compellingly written and thoroughly researched. It should be required reading for students of contemporary U.S. history, and even more so for national elected and appointed officials with oversight responsibilities of the FBI and U.S. intelligence services.
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LibraryThing member sherman1951
This book is both frightening and reassuring. It is frightening to know what the FBI has done it is almost 100 year history in the name of national security. The obsession, first with Communism, and then the New Left, and anti-war movements; the failures on identifying real Communists and spies within its own organization and more important, preventing the attacks on 9/11 (partly a result of aging technology, a leadership vacuum, and a long-standing feud with the CIA. But there have been success along the way - ferreting out German agents during WWII, and post 9/11 success in preventing future attacks and its "honorable" methods of interrogation of enemy combatants under tremendous pressure from the Bush-Cheney administration. Enemies recounts all of these successes and failures in this history that explains the role of the FBI as a domestic intelligence service. The FBIs mission, is of course, conflicted. They must both make us secure and ensure our liberties under the Constitution. It is easy to be a critic of the FBI but this book, written by noted national security writer Tim Weiner provides a fair balance in the "tug-of-war between national security and civil liberties..." Of course any history of the FBI needs to address J. Edgar Hoover. Weiner attempts to distill the rumors of Hoover as a "cross-dressing crank" and identifies him more as an American Machiavelli and credits him with being the architect of American intelligence. The book adds tremendously to our understanding of the workings of the FBI over the last 90 years and its current adherence to principal of maintaining at least some hope of keeping our civil liberties.… (more)
LibraryThing member Mathenam
Enemies, A History of the FBI by Tim Weiner is a well researched, interesting book about the FBI, and Hoover. It's so informative, that at times it is tedious to read through the dry nature of the book. It is well written, and history buffs should like it, but I would not recommend this title for fans of non-fiction that read like fiction.… (more)
LibraryThing member akreese
While Enemies is incredibly informative about the history of the FBI, it was for the most part dense and dry. I worked very hard for every bit of the 200+ pages I read of this book. I will freely admit that I was reading many other books during the two and a half months that I tried to chip away at it; making it my goal to read at least twenty pages per day. It became an exercise of self-control: how much could I force myself to read each day?

The irony is that once I read a few pages each time and got myself into the right frame of mind, I did find that there was a lot of interesting (if somewhat depressing) information about the history of the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover’s obsession with hunting down communists, and his perception of anything having to do with civil rights being inherently communist were not entirely surprising, but the depth of his deceptions and the lengths he went to because of them were surprising. His efforts to undermine the CIA and his attempts to set himself up as ruler of all American intelligence as well as head of a national police force, bordered on treason.

In the end, despite the interesting facts, I just couldn’t force myself to push through the rest of the book in order to say that I had finished. It was quite informative, but written in such a way as to remind me of dense college textbooks – the sort that will probably only appeal to die-hard political history buffs.
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