Enemies: A History of the FBI
Random House. 537 pp. $30
By Susan Rosenfeld
In the Author’s Note prefacing his book on the FBI, Tim Weiner describes Enemies as the “history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a secret intelligence service,” its major mission, according to Weiner, for most of the past hundred years. The book chronicles the “tug-of-war between national security and civil liberties”—except that as Weiner portrays the FBI, with rare exceptions, there is no tug-of-war. “Security” far outweighs civil liberties and the Constitution.
This book is not an objective study of FBI history. Instead it selects examples that bolster the contention that the FBI put its wars against anarchists, Communists, the New Left, and foreign and domestic terrorists ahead of any consideration for the Bill of Rights. Weiner concedes that proponents from all these groups actually committed acts of espionage or violence. But for the most part, he features perpetrators who were never punished.
Weiner also oversells the role that surveillance played in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and beyond. As former foreign counterintelligence (FCI) agent Robert Lamphere noted in The FBI-KGB War, “only a small fraction of the New York field office [in the 1940s]—fifty or sixty men out of a thousand—was concerned with Soviet espionage and few agents outside the squad really knew or cared much about Soviet spies.” Add to that, foreign counterintelligence work was secret and could go on for years without resulting in any arrests or glory for its agents. That discouraged them from pursuing careers in FCI. By the post-Hoover era, foreign counterintelligence had become a backwater where one could place agents with the least ability such as Richard Miller, the first FBI agent to be accused and convicted of espionage.
At the same time, Weiner either minimizes Bureau successes or turns them into reasons for criticism. Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, for example, the FBI had identified potential Japanese, German, and Italian spies and saboteurs and secured their arrest. Hoover opposed the 1942 internment of West Coast Japanese because in Hoover’s mind, everyone who posed a danger had already been detained. Instead, Weiner chose to emphasize whatever illegal techniques the FBI used to identify some of these enemies.
Weiner faults the Cold War FBI for not arresting more Russian spies. However, sources opened in the 1990s reveal that the Soviets had to change tactics and even recalled some spy handlers back home when FBI surveillance compromised their ability to contact their assets. As current FBI historian John Fox has noted, “Espionage is a difficult crime to prove, and prosecution for espionage, therefore, is not the standard by which to judge the success of a counterintelligence program.”