Hoover’s first act after the roof fell in on his denial of a Mafia was to institute a Top Hoodlum Program. Each office in the country was supposed to come up with the names of the ten top hoodlums in their jurisdictions. It was an ill-conceived program. Some of the field officers had dozens to pick from, some had only one or two, and others couldn’t figure out how to tell if someone was a Mafia guy or just a member of an Italian social club.
Hoover had dealt with the famous gangsters back in the Thirties on a targeted basis. In and out, get the publicity and get away. He and his men went after “Pretty Boy” Floyd, “Baby Face” Nelson, “Ma” Barker, Alvin “Old Creepy” Karpis and John Dillinger. Hoover referred to the gangster type criminals as “scum,” “rats,” “vermin,” and “vultures.” He believed they might infect his men if they got too close to them so he took a hit and run approach at big names leaving most of the hoodlums to the local cops. But now under pressure Hoover had to push his field offices to start learning more about the LCN.
Judge Wolf in his 661 page treatise said that when Bobby Kennedy arrived at the Justice Department Hoover did not believe there was a national crime syndicate. Wolf indicated that in 1962 Hoover was still being dragged to the altar of recognizing the Mafia’s existence when he stated, “no single individual or collation of racketeers dominates organized crime across the nation.” That quote did not support Judge Wolf’s conclusion. Hoover could very well have meant there were other organized crime groups aside from the Mafia. For by 1962 unlike what Wolf wanted to believe, Hoover had long since come around to accepting the Mafia’s existence and understanding its methods.
The facts on the ground show how well-informed Hoover had become. Chicago had a group of young agents who were bored with doing background checks and arson investigations who jumped at the chance to get involved in the Top Hoodlum program by doing something about it. At the end of July 1959 they had put a bug in a tailor shop which was the headquarters of the Chicago outfit which they would call “Little Al.” For six years this bug taught the FBI more about organized crime than it would learn in all the other bugs it placed in other LCN meeting places throughout the country. Hoover received a daily report of its activities.
All the bugs were put in by doing black bag jobs (illegal breaking-ins) in order to secretly listen to the conversations of the people in the location another act of questionable legality. It is estimated that Hoover had up to a thousand bugs in operation at the same time gathering evidence which was not admissible in court but extremely useful in setting the groundwork for getting admissible evidence.
With these bugs who needed informants? The FBI certainly didn’t. It could keep its hands clean and not associate with any of the people who Hoover disdained. More information on the Mafia came to Hoover in 1963 when Joseph Valachi started to tell his agents the story of life. There was so much information pouring in that Hoover had a solid grasp of the actions of the Mafia. Hoover wrote in September of 1963 that Valachi’s information “corroborated and embellished the facts developed by the FBI as early as 1961 which disclosed the makeup of the gangland hordes.”
That was Hoover’s stock-in-trade ever since he was a young man. If he set his mind to finding something out he persisted until he had the answer. Bobby Kennedy may have thought little about Hoover’s knowledge of organized crime because Hoover might have purposefully deceived him. They weren’t friends and Hoover hung on to his job because he had the pictures. Objective facts show he was deeply knowledgeable about the Mafia by 1963,
William Roemer the famous FBI agent who wrote four books about the FBI’s war against the Mafia was in the forefront of the Chicago bugging operation. He tells how all the information they had been gathering was proving helpful throughout the United States. They knew where every big gangster was going and who he was meeting with.
Like with the Apalachin meeting, again the roof fell in on the FBI. It was on July 11, 1965 a day Roemer called “the fatal day!” He said it “was a heinous slaughter, destroying our coverage of the mob.
Apparently the FBI in DC had placed a bug on Fred Black who was a friend of Bobby Baker who was LBJ’s buddy and bag man. LBJ a man who entered public life poor, spent his whole career there, and emerged with 43 million dollars felt the FBI was getting a little too close to him. As a result that July day LBJ entered an executive order requiring that the FBI stop using all the electronic bugs.
Roemer said the FBI “had three primary avenues of investigation — electronic bugs, informants and physical surveillance. Mr. Hoover did not allow undercover work by his agents due to his belief that u.c. tended to corrupt agents.” After the bugs came out, the FBI was left with no good way to investigate organized crime.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you what the FBI did in this desperate situation.