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Sunday, June 30, 2019

J. Edgar Hoover: The Man, The Myth

     My interest in J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI is both scholarly and personal. I became an FBI agent in June 1966 and left the bureau--on good terms--in November 1971. Eight months after I mustered out, J. Edgar Hoover died. Since his death in May 1972, other than late-night jokes alluding to his cross-dressing--an unfounded rumor injected into mass culture by a hack-written book--serious interest in the FBI's fourth director (1924-1972) faded.  Hoover briefly came back into cultural news in 2011 with the release of  "J. Edgar," a big-budget film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo Di Caprio as Director Hoover. While the film covered Hoover's career from the gangster era through the Lindbergh kidnapping case, the McCarthy witch-hunt, and the cold-war spy v. spy period, the real buzz concerned the film's depiction of Hoover as a closet gay.

     Over the years I have written pieces, mostly critical, about Hoover and the FBI. I have been particularly critical of the FBI Crime Lab. However, regarding the director and his views of militaristic law enforcement, I wrote the following in my book, SWAT Madness:

     "FBI agents in the Hoover era dressed like businessmen. Hoover would have considered the now common FBI lettered jackets, ball caps, and quasi-military wear unprofessional. If agents needed more firepower [agents didn't carry guns until 1936] for a high-risk arrest or raid, they called on the local police for assistance. But his was rare. Most of the time FBI agents used patience, stealth, intelligence, and timing to arrest fugitives believed to be armed and dangerous. During Hoover's tenure, only a handful of agents lost their lives on duty, and very few civilians died at the hands of his agents. Although Director Hoover had his faults and excesses, he did not believe in a national police force, and he did not want his beloved agency over militarized. He preferred the image of the professional, scientific criminal investigator to the crime-fighting warrior. Today, the FBI has at least 56 SWAT teams attached to its field offices around the country. Mr. Hoover must be turning in his grave."

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