I think it is fair to say that the FBI has done much good and some evil during its existence. That is something we have accepted because the good outweighs the bad. It’s a weighing factor. If it reaches the point where it does more harm than good maybe it will be too late to do anything about it.
Yesterday I spoke about its use of illegal means to accomplish its ends. It didn’t and doesn’t play by the rules the rest of us have to obey. It has its own set of rules that sound good in the reading yet they are often drowned in the exceptions and execution. Judge Mark Wolf in his 661 page examination of its operations during the Whitey Bulger and Stevie Flemmi era noted how often it happened. The exception became the rule.
The FBI having no oversight in a democracy is a foul thing. The one time Congress dared to look into its doings was shortly after J. Edgar Hoover died on May 1, 1972. The Senate sensing its weakness found the gumption to examine what it had been doing over the years. It was at the time when as Tim Weiner in his 2012 book Enemies noted, “[Hoover] left behind an institution that almost died along with him.”
The Church Committee examined whether the FBI and the CIA threatened the “rights of American citizens.” In the introduction to its final report the Committee quoted Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone, the man who appointed J. Edgar Hoover to his position, that “There is always a possibility that a secret police may become a menace to a free government and free institutions because it carries with it the possibility of abuses of power which are not always quickly apprehended or understood.” The Committee stated: “Our investigation has confirmed that warning.”
The FBI’s enormous power is gained because it can investigate everyone and no one can investigate it. It is our own secret police force. The Patriot Act expanded its already vast powers. Its recent decision to allow its agents to investigate us without opening a file and with no indication we are engaged in criminal activities provides little comfort.
The present day FBI is a gift to us from J. Edgar Hoover. A stern upright man who was considered by his men as “he who must be obeyed”. He was in his comfort zone going after Radicals, Communists, Nazi Spies, and the various Sixties groups as the SDS, the Black Panthers and the Weathermen. Enemies, rightfully notes “he foresaw the apocalyptic threats we face today.” He would have felt right at home in our War Against Terror.
He was never comfortable going after the Mafia which he referred to as a National Crime Syndicate. The reasons for this were according to some his fear that his agents would be corrupted by the Mafia (Did he also foresee the mess that happened in the Boston FBI office?), others suggested he had some friendships with Mafia types who influenced his thinking, and others speculate that he did not see it as a threat to the foundation of America as he believed the other groups presented.
On November 17, 1957, a meeting of about 100 Mafia leaders from all over the country took place in Apalachin, New York. Sergeant Edgar G. Croswell had been watching this location for a year. When he picked up indications a meeting was planned and saw that the group had assembled, he and other members of the New York State police broke it up making up to 70 arrests. (State Police Colonel Tom Foley who worked closely with the FBI wrongly gave the FBI credit for that raid writing it “had made a famous score in 1957, when it rounded up a slew of baffled Mafiosi at what was supposed to be their top-secret gathering in Binghamton, New York.’)
The Apalachin busts threw Hoover for a loop. The outrage in the country and in Congress demanded he do something about it. He scoured his offices around the country to see what they knew. Bobby Kennedy said after Apalachin that the FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics) had something on everyone arrested at Apalachin but the FBI didn’t have any information on 40 of the 70 arrested. The information which the FBI gathered on the other 30 consisted of newspaper clippings.
Hoover’s decision that there was no national crime syndicate (Mafia) required that his robotic police force put on blinders to its existence. Now things had to change. Hoover began to adjust to the idea that there may be a National Crime Syndicate. He would never let his men call it the Mafia. He insisted it be called the LCN (La Cosa Nostra). Some suggest he did this so he could continue to deny the existence of the Mafia. It is more likely though that he was following what the Mafia guys called themselves, cosa nostra (our thing). That was their generic term but in each city they referred to their group by local names. In Chicago they called it the outfit, in Kansas City the combination or the syndicate, in New England the office, in Philadelphia the big boys or Italian club and in Cleveland it was called the combination. Some cities limited membership to Italians yet it seemed in other areas Mediterranean folks like the Jews and Greeks were let in. I don’t think the Irish need have applied.
Tomorrow I’ll explain what actions Hoover took.