The FBI’s Use of Criminal Methods To Protect Us From Domestic and Foreign Enemies

I have mentioned my concern in the past with aspects of FBI Agent John Connolly’s case in Florida.  The overall concern is that duties and responsibilities of Connolly as an FBI agent handling top-level informants were and are murky.  This has been a deliberate policy of the FBI. We’ve seen it most recently with Mafia Capo Mark Rossetti where his FBI handler said his job “was to keep him safe.”  What did he mean by that?

This brought me to a consideration of the FBI culture which I have touched upon and what I will write about in the future.  I’ve noted how in the organized crime area it was part of the FBI culture that an agent could commit criminal acts to gather evidence against organized crime members.  It is now well known that during the late fifties and for twenty or so years after that the FBI set up processing centers where they secretly opened mail that came to people from overseas.  I once had a letter sent to me opened which caused me a little bit of a problem.

Tim Weiner in his compelling book Enemies, A History of the FBI, shows both the FBI’s importance to America as well as the means it took to protect what it believed were America’s interest.  He describes his book as “a record of illegal arrests and detentions, break-ins, burglaries, wiretapping and bugging on behalf of the president.” He says it shows how:  “presidents, attorneys general, and FBI directors alike — have used and abused their powers in the name of national security.” 

I’ll write more about his book as I go along.  Suffice it to say for now is that the FBI protected us from our enemies using both legal and illegal means.  Yet, it always presented itself as a model of propriety, a shining bureau on a hill hiding its inexplicable fear of bad publicity and concealing its commitment to do whatever was necessary to protect us Americans.  A fair judgment of the FBI is that it helped greatly to preserve our liberties but in doing so infringed upon the rights of some of us.

One of the wars the FBI waged was against the Mafia.  J. Edgar Hoover refused to admit its existence for thirty years as it roiled America’s urban areas building up enormous power.  When he finally was forced out of his self deception, the FBI took up the fight and between 1960 through 1990 turned the Mafia into a shell of its former self.  In fighting the Mafia,  Hoover and is predecessors used all the tools at their command.  Hoover in his 48 years  was  not constrained by laws that impeded his fight.

Into that war John Connolly was sent.  He used the tools then available to him.  The uproar of the public and the media when it discovered that he had used Whitey Bulger and Stevie Flemmi as informants caused the FBI to abandon him.  What he did as a special agent was known to all in the FBI.  How then was it criminalized by the organization whose history is to use criminal means to achieve its object?  How then did it fall upon the state of Florida to prosecute him for an action done while an FBI agent?

These are matters I hope to explore.  But let me give you a couple of quotes by people we should keep in mind when we think of the FBI.

The first I found in a book by Barry Denenberg titled, The True Story of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI.  I recommend this book as an introduction into the story of the FBI because it touches on the highlights and low spots of Hoover’s years that is easy to read and is even-handed.  He set out a quote by Congressman J. Swagar Sherley a Democrat from Kentucky who served from 1903 to 1919.  He said:  “In my reading of history I recall no instance where a government has perished because of the absence of a secret-service force, but many there are that perished as a result of a spy system.  If Anglo-Saxon civilizations stands for anything, it is for a government where the humblest citizen is safeguarded against the secret activities of the executive of the government.”

The other I found in the book Enemies.  That was said in 1787 by Alexander Hamilton.  “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct.  Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates.  The violent destruction of life and property incident to wars, the continual effort and alarm attendant on the state of continued danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights.  To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.”

6 thoughts on “The FBI’s Use of Criminal Methods To Protect Us From Domestic and Foreign Enemies

  1. Came across this while looking for something else…I assume the part about agents not being allowed to drink coffee on duty is a joke, correct?

    1. It is true that the FBI agents were treated like children and at one time were not allowed to drink coffee on duty so they had to sneak around and hide when they wanted some. It created a system where deception was the order of the day. I think over time after Hoover died things relaxed a bit.

  2. It’s very funny you mention two men in a black car pulling up in front of my house. Here’s what happened. I wrote this note to myself, “6-18-2012. State police unmarked cruiser. Lic. Plate # 1365. Pulls up in front of house. Parks.” I put the note in the top drawer of my dresser and forgot about it until today. First of all, you know the house. There’s “no parking” on either side of the very busy, congested street. There’s no reason to park there. When they pulled up—there were two middle aged men in street clothes in the car whom I did not recognize (I know some retired state cops at the YMCA and it certainly wasn’t them)—I at first thought nothing of it. I was puttering around with the lawn and bushes, at the end of the driveway. I had my shirt off, getting a little sun. After about five minutes, I looked and the cruiser was still there. An arm came out of the passenger side. A cup of coffee—in a Dunkiin Donuts’ type Styrofoam cup—was raised up and held high for a few seconds as if the guy was signaling me, saluting me or toasting me. I thought, “He’s just stretching his arm.” Another several minutes passed. The car was still there. I decided I’d walk down and see what was up, if anything. The car (the police cruiser) was parked about ten feet beyond the King Scarlet Tree. I began to walk down and got to within ten feet of the driveway side of the King Scarlet—about 20 feet from the cruiser— and it suddenly sped off. It didn’t just slowly pull out and mozy on down the road. It sped away. What do I make of it? I don’t know. It was just strange enough that I noted it. You know that all my encounters with the constabulary have not been pleasant and benign. We know that there are a few bad apples in every bunch. A high falutin’, far fetched, surrealistic idea is that maybe these two guys didn’t like my books or letters-to-the-editor criticizing prosecutors and the state police or my chit-chat down the YMCA and maybe they thought they’d show me something. A more reasonable idea is that it was just a coincidence, and, being bad cops, they thought they could park anywhere they wanted, obstructing traffic, to take their coffee break. Reasonable minds lead us to reasonable conclusions. Artists create by looking beyond what the “reasonable man” sees. “The heart has reasons the mind knows not of.” If the whole matter was benign, which I believe it was, it nevertheless is grist for the mill of an imaginative novelist. I think I’ll call the novel, “Black Car” or “Boston Blackie” or “Black Mass” or “Black Mascara” or “Black and Blue Blood-Lust”; salacious titles sell well.

    1. Interesting story: has all the stereo typical marks of an undercover cop car – big, two men, Dunkin Donuts coffee cup. It couldn’t be FBI since they are not allowed to drink coffee while on duty; however, they could be FBI who were drinking coffee to throw you off their scent. Why don’t you have some of your retired cop friends run the plate. Although it is an unusual number for an under cover car. I admit it is a strange place for a couple of guys to park a car – no one parks there. It is an unusual episode that could be anything from totally innocent to highly dangerous. When you go into your house at night be sure you leave the door open behind you so you can check to see if anyone is hiding there and if someone is you can quickly get out, on the other hand if you leave the door open behind you someone can sneak in after you. Don’t know what to recommend. I assume you’ve got those .38s and .45s that you can use to take down any threat by an intruder.

  3. Great post. I, too, fear in the name of “national security” our rights are being sacrificed. Recently I sent a book to John Connolly. I got a telephone call from a nice woman at the prison who said that books can only come to inmates directly from a recognized publisher. She said she’d send it back to me. When it arrived, a week later than expected–I thought she had forgotten—the brown package was completely cut across the top and opened. She had wrapped both ends in reams of Scotch tape. The package had not fallen apart. It had been cut wide open. Couple that with a book a sent to Notre Dame Law Professor Charles Rice, a former Marine: the envelope arrived, the book was missing; He said the package had been opened; couple that with three viral attacks on my computer in the last month, one which locked it, froze it soli–that one had a phony FBI logo on it: “This Computer has been seized by the FBI; you have downloaded Copyrighted MP3Files and Movies.” I had not! and couple that with a message I frequently got on my computer: “someone else is using this computer, if you shut down now, they may lose data. Do you want to proceed shutting down?” and couple that with being thrown out of the July 4th Esplanade concert by a TSA agent because I had a pocket knife in my possession, and it’s no wonder people get paranoid. I’m just a small pea on a pod in a great big country of 300 million people. But I remember what Abraham Lincoln said when our country was small–about 30 million people:
    January 27, 1838
    “At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth in their military chests; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in the trial of a thousand years.
    “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

    1. We must always remain alert as to the actions of our secret police. I don’t think that the actions you refer to necessary shows that you are being targeted by anyone. The TSA took a wine opener away from me at the airport; I’d expect they’d take a knife from someone at the Espanade but I wonder how they got jurisdiction to do anything there.
      If you see a big black car parked across the street from your house with two men in suits sitting in it then maybe you can think something is afoot.
      There is no doubt that the danger to America will come from within. It’ll come when we lose control of our policies to the moneyed interests that control our politics. If they take over they will force our country to wage wars to please their personal interests. They will take steps to make sure those that have the most get even more.

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