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  • The FBI: A History
  • Galen Roger Perras
Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodri —The FBI: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Pp. 317.

It seems odd now, but one might recall that, in the heady days of the elder Bush's New World Order following the Cold War's stunningly swift demise, many people, including some who should have known better, boldly predicted that the end of [End Page 253] the world of espionage and intelligence gathering was nigh. Indeed, some charged that even spy novels, that great staple of the literary world in the twentieth century, would not long survive either. The end of History had come, the liberal West had emerged supreme and unchallengeable, love would reign over the planet, and no one would or could seriously challenge the new great peace.

Then, to deliberately use a charged phrase, 9/11 exploded literally and metaphorically upon the global scene; we are still facing the seemingly endless consequences of that horrifying and fateful day. Those terrorist attacks, coupled with the ongoing, perhaps ill-fated, and seemingly limitless War on Terror of the Bush administration, have been a boon to those interested in the now ill-defined world of espionage, intelligence gathering, and law enforcement. One could fill a quite large library with the numerous works that have sought since September 2001 to explain the complexities and failures of intelligence gathering with the American intelligence community. This book, warts and all, seeks to add to that burgeoning discussion.

A British scholar based at Edinburgh University is well placed to contribute to the debate. A specialist in modern American history, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones has written extensively on intelligence issues, including at least two monographs and one edited collection on the history of the Central Intelligence Agency. As the author makes clear in his short preface, however, the work in question is his attempt "to produce a work from a stand-point that is liberated from the bureau's filing system: in other words, it is the story of the FBI set in the context of broader historical events" (p. vii). The results are mixed.

First, as someone interested in twentieth-century American and Canadian military intelligence operations, I know personally just how difficult it can be to lay one's hand on materials from bureaucratic intelligence communities. Those who collect and analyse secrets are notoriously reluctant to let those tidbits see the light of a revealing day. Some of Jefferys-Jones's studies of the CIA have been criticized for employing limited original research. That charge can be levelled here as well. A bit more delving into FBI case files would have improved the book, especially in its earlier chapters, as the relevant records can be more easily obtained. Not surprisingly, as one gets closer to the present time in the book's last five chapters, which deal with the post-1972 period, much of the cited material comes from secondary materials. Original documents, in many cases, have not yet seen the light of day, and may not for some time to come given recent American laws that have forced the National Archives in Washington to reclassify previously open material.

Secondly, as the author also states in his preface, his book intends to study the American FBI as a model perhaps for creating a similar law enforcement and domestic security-gathering body for the European Union. As someone who has straddled academe and the policy-making world, I also understand just how difficult it can be to reconcile the often conflicting needs of scholarship and bureaucratic needs and desires. In this regard, the author is often keen to point out the FBI's great many failings —racism practised within and outside the Bureau, political opportunism, clumsy anti-Communism, and the baleful influence [End Page 254] of J. Edgar Hoover over the FBI for 50 odd years—while playing down its accomplishments. The FBI is described variously as an "American Gestapo" and the "apparatus of an oppressive police state" (p. 11). While I share concerns about the power wielded by such enforcement and intelligence-gathering agencies wherever they might be found, including the FBI, I think calling the FBI a Gestapo...


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pp. 253-255
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