From charlesreid1


Part 1

“ There is quite a deal of hysteria in the country about German spies. If you will kindly box up and send me from one to a dozen I will pay you very handsomely for your trouble. We are looking for them constantly, but it is a little difficult to shoot them until they have been found.”

As the Senate’s alarm at the Red threat increased, the fighting spirit mustered for the world war festered. Nine million American workers in war industries were being demobilized. They found new jobs scarce. The cost of living had nearly doubled since the start of the war. As four million American soldiers started coming home, four million American workers went out on strike. The United States never had seen such confrontations between workers and bosses. The forces of law and order felt the Reds were behind it all.

The president appeared as a prophet of doom. Wheezing, coughing, seeing double, blinded by headaches, Wilson delivered an apocalyptic vision to the American people. He foresaw the nation and the world under the never-ending threat of war. He spoke of the Russian Revolution as if it were a gigantic cloud of deadly gas, floating west across the Atlantic, bringing “the poison of disorder, the poison of revolt, the poison of chaos” to America. “Do you honestly think, my fellow-citizens, that none of that poison has got in the veins of this free people?” the president asked. “Men look you calmly in the face in America and say they are for that sort of revolution, when that sort of revolution means government by terror.” Without peace, “that poison will steadily spread, more and more rapidly until it may be that even this beloved land of ours will be distracted and distorted by it.” He warned that the United States would have to be ready to fight “in any part of the world where the threat of war is a menace.” The enemies of the United States would not rest: “You have got to watch them with secret agencies planted everywhere.” The nation would have to keep a great standing army and navy in a constant state of high alert. “And you can’t do that under free debate,” the president said. “You can’t do that under public counsel. Plans must be kept secret. Knowledge must be accumulated under a system which we have condemned, because we have called it a spying system. The more polite call it a system of intelligence.”

As the president whistle-stopped westward across the Great Plains, a new American intelligence system was taking shape in Washington.

“Real Americans, men who believe in law, order, liberty, toleration of others’ views on political and religious subjects, are not given to advertising themselves and their patriotism. They have too much respect for Americanism and for patriotism to disgrace these fine words as they are being daily disgraced by those using them for personal or political notoriety.”

Biddle had to find a way around that ruling. He told the president to appoint a special military commission. It would run a secret trial against the saboteurs under military law. When this decision came to the Supreme Court for a review, as it inevitably would, Biddle would argue that enemy combatants, waging a secret war against America, could be tried and punished by a military tribunal under the laws of war. The same argument would be raised in America’s twenty-first-century war on terror.

American and British warplanes had bombed most of Berlin to rubble and the Soviets had crushed what remained. On July 16, a motorcade took Truman through the city. The ruins stank of death. Corpses rotted in the rubble and wild dogs scavenged their bones. A civilization lay in a state of collapse. “I thought of Carthage, Baalbek, Jerusalem …,” Truman wrote in his diary. “I hope for some sort of peace—but I fear that machines are ahead of morals by some centuries and when morals catch up there’ll be no reason for any of it.”

Ten years before he came to Washington to be sworn in to the House of Representatives, while he was still in law school, Nixon had applied for a job at the FBI. He never heard back. But he would make the most of his contacts with the Bureau for the next quarter of a century. In February 1947, Father Cronin helped him make the first of those connections. He personally briefed Nixon on the FBI’s investigations into American communism and Soviet espionage, introduced him to agents who specialized in Red-hunting, and became Nixon’s back-channel liaison with the Bureau.

“Espionage is as old as man,” Hoover began. “We have always had it and we will continue to have it until the brotherhood of man becomes a reality as well as an ideal.”

National Security Act in the spring and summer of 1947. The bill proposed to unify the American military services under the aegis of the Pentagon; to create a secretary of defense to oversee the army, the navy, and a nuclear-armed air force; to form a new National Security Council to coordinate military, intelligence, and diplomatic powers at the White House; and to establish the first permanent peacetime American espionage service. “Espionage is as old as man,” Hoover began. “We have always had it and we will continue to have it until the brotherhood of man becomes a reality as well as an ideal.” Until then, the United States had to have a permanent and professional spy service established under law. He said no one was better qualified to run it than he himself.

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Hoover capped his secret briefing by playing on the president’s fears of a secret police. “Luckily for us,” he said, “there is no more horrible example of what can happen through the creation of one vast central superstructure that both investigates and judges than the German Gestapo.”

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Hoover was surpassed by a rival whose rhetoric flew higher. Allen Dulles was Wild Bill Donovan’s leading protégé, a star at Donovan’s Wall Street law firm, and the brother of John Foster Dulles, the Republican Party’s shadow secretary of state. Puffing on his pipe, he gave suave, sophisticated, and factually slippery testimony to a closed congressional hearing on the National Security Act on June 27, 1947.

One month later, on July 26, President Truman signed the National Security Act. The FBI was given no new powers to prosecute the Cold War. The director of Central Intelligence was given many. Hoover began spying on the CIA from that day forward. He started wiretapping CIA officers suspected of Communist sympathies or homosexual tendencies.

Hoover’s political warfare intensified month by month. “It strikes me as a waste of time to cultivate this outfit,” he wrote after offering CIA officials a tour of the FBI’s training academy. He furiously rejected an aide’s draft of a polite letter to the director of Central Intelligence: “Please cut out all of the slobbering palaver. We know they have no use for us & I don’t intend to do a Munich.” When the CIA asked the FBI what it knew about the Comintern, Hoover swatted down the request: “Waste no time on it. We have more pressing matters.”

But now he had witnesses. The Bureau had been running a double agent inside the Party for five years. He was a middling and mild-mannered Communist functionary who delivered devastating testimony to the grand jury and at the trial of the eleven leaders. In time, his story became a classic black-and-white television show called I Led Three Lives, with an introduction instantly familiar to a generation of Americans: “This is the story, the fantastically true story, of Herbert A. Philbrick … Average citizen, high-level member of the Communist Party, counterspy for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Venona was one of America’s most secret weapons in the Cold War—so secret that neither President Truman nor the CIA knew about it. On the occasions that Hoover sent intelligence derived from Venona to his superiors, it was scrubbed, sanitized, and attributed only to “a highly sensitive source.” Hoover decreed: “In view of loose methods of CIA & some of its questionable personnel we must be most circumspect. H.”

Almost two years passed before Hoover formally briefed the White House and the National Security Council: “For some months representatives of the FBI and of the Department of Justice have been formulating a plan of action for an emergency situation wherein it would be necessary to apprehend and detain persons who are potentially dangerous to the internal security of the country.” The detentions would begin in time of war, an emergency, a national crisis, a “threatened invasion” or a “rebellion.” Under the plan, the president would sign an emergency order suspending the writ of habeas corpus and instructing the FBI to begin the nationwide roundup. The attorney general would send the president a “master warrant” attached to the FBI’s Security Index, whose existence Hoover finally revealed to the president. “For a long period of time the FBI has been accumulating the names, identities and activities of individuals,” Hoover wrote. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States.” That number eventually would double. “The plan calls for a statement of charges to be served on each detainee and a hearing be afforded the individual,” Hoover advised the White House. “The hearing procedure will not be bound by the rules of evidence.”

Hoover made plans to fill the detention centers in a time of national emergency, and Congress secretly financed the creation of six of these camps during the 1950s. But no Cold War president seriously considered the mass incarceration of suspected subversives. It took the first president of the twenty-first century to do that.

Dewey, would be elected president in November 1948. Dewey, who had made his name as a crime-fighting prosecutor, would be the first conservative in the White House in a generation. Hoover was working behind the scenes to support Dewey, who shared Hoover’s views on the national emergency that confronted the United States. Hoover had hoped that a new president would grant him new powers, perhaps making him the attorney general while allowing him to retain command over the FBI. Truman looked powerless and politically spent as the election approached. Crossing through Indiana by train on a long whistle-stop campaign, with the election four weeks away, Truman caught a glimpse of a Newsweek magazine poll of America’s fifty most prominent political reporters. Their unanimous prediction: Dewey defeats Truman. Every poll and every pundit said the same. Hoover went to sleep on election night confident in that outcome. At 11:14 A.M. on Wednesday, November 3, 1948, the bulletin went out across the world: Truman had won the biggest upset in the history of the American presidency. A shift of only 33,000 voters in California, Illinois, and Ohio would have given Dewey victory. When Hoover heard the news, he left his desk at FBI headquarters and did not come back for two weeks. His public relations office told the press that Hoover had pneumonia. He simply disappeared.

Coplon was found guilty, but the verdict would not stand. Judge Learned Hand, who heard Coplon’s appeal, overturned her twenty-five-year sentence. He publicly rebuked Hoover—a rare event in American jurisprudence.

On September 20, the CIA issued a report saying the Soviets probably would not produce an atomic weapon for four more years. Three days later, President Truman announced to the world that Stalin had the bomb. American planes had picked up the radioactive fallout from the secret Soviet test. The balance of terror shifted.

Hoover discovered, to his intense chagrin, that the FBI had overlooked its own records on Klaus Fuchs for four years. They were English translations of captured German army documents, and they had been in the FBI’s possession since shortly after the end of World War II, when Fuchs was still spying for the Soviets in the United States. They revealed that Fuchs was well-known as a “communist of relatively important character.” The fault lay with a brilliant but erratic FBI counterintelligence supervisor named William K. Harvey. Hoover had fired him for alcoholism in 1947; he had then joined the CIA. The evidence went unseen until after Fuchs confessed.

The secret National Security Agency history picks up the story. “The FBI began piecing together information” on why Venona had gone dark. The Bureau “was aghast to learn in 1950 that Weisband was employed at Arlington Hall” as a section chief working on the Soviet cables. He was arrested, but he never talked. He served a year in prison for contempt of court after he refused to testify before a federal grand jury. He worked in and around Washington selling cars and tending apartments for sixteen years before he died. The penetration paralyzed the progress of Venona. For the next three decades, the United States could not read the Soviets’ most secret messages. It could only look backwards, trying to decipher old cables from the 1940s. The FBI never found out what Weisband told the Soviets. The National Security Agency history concludes: “His case instilled a certain paranoia within the profession.” That paranoia afflicted the FBI. Hoover insisted that the FBI would create and control its own system for secret communications.

Philby moved freely through the corridors of the Pentagon, an institution still in a state of upheaval six months after the suicide of Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, who had suffered a psychotic breakdown and jumped from his high window at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Forrestal had been Hoover’s strongest ally in the government of the United States. His death contributed to Hoover’s deepening despair over American intelligence and its ability to meet the growing Soviet threat.

While Philby started ransacking American secrets, Hoover was fighting a rearguard action against the future director of Central Intelligence, Allen Dulles.

Still a lawyer in private practice, Dulles had been commissioned by the Pentagon to conduct a top-secret study of the shoddy state of American spying. He intended to use his report to the president as a fulcrum to elevate himself to the command of the CIA. Dulles had not consulted Hoover or the FBI during his yearlong investigation, a deliberate snub. When Hoover wrangled a draft copy of the report from the Pentagon, he saw that Dulles did not recognize Hoover’s presidentially mandated authority in matters of national security. “It is outrageous that FBI should be excluded,” Hoover wrote. Dulles did not respond.

On July 24, 1950, just a month after the Korean War began, Hoover won a formal statement from President Truman expanding the FBI’s authority to investigate “espionage, sabotage, subversive activities and related matters” affecting American national security, a mandate even broader than FDR’s wartime directives to the FBI. Hoover sought to justify his enhanced powers with a truly frightening top secret report to the president on August 24.

On September 23, Congress passed the Internal Security Act of 1950. It contained provisions Hoover had been demanding for a decade. The laws defining espionage and sabotage were expanded and strengthened. Subversive citizens now were subject to political imprisonment.

The year 1950 brought many bleak days for President Truman. None was darker than November 1. In the morning, the new director of Central Intelligence, General Walter Bedell Smith, delivered a bulletin: Communist Chinese soldiers had entered the Korean War. The CIA’s reporting gravely underestimated the size of the attack. Three hundred thousand Chinese soldiers struck in a human avalanche that killed thousands upon thousands of American soldiers. They came close to driving the Americans from the mountains into the sea. Behind them stood the new dictator of China, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung.

In the afternoon, a freakish heat wave engulfed Washington; the mercury hit eighty-five degrees. Truman lay down for a nap at Blair House, across the street from the White House; the executive mansion was in a state of collapse and undergoing renovation. On the sidewalk, at the Blair House door, stood two Puerto Rican nationalists, one armed with a German Luger, the other with a German Walther, carrying sixty-nine rounds of ammunition between them. They tried to shoot their way into Blair House and kill the president in the name of Puerto Rican independence. One of them died, as did a Secret Service agent. The second assassin was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death. Truman commuted the sentence to life.

“It looks like World War III is here,” Truman wrote in his diary on December 9. “I hope not—but we must meet whatever comes—and we will.”

His flight to Moscow brought the chief of British foreign intelligence, Sir Percy Sillitoe, to Washington. Sir Percy carried an attaché case bulging with dossiers on Philby, Maclean, and Burgess, and he shared the contents with Hoover and the FBI. The three Britons were friends of twenty years’ standing, going back to their days at Trinity College, Cambridge. In the 1930s, all three had been Communists or socialists. The dossiers held more open secrets: Burgess was famous for his promiscuous homosexuality, Maclean was a closet case, and Philby had married an Austrian Communist and Soviet agent. All three were alcoholics. All this was known by their superiors, yet they were protected and promoted. Maclean and Burgess were in Moscow now; Philby had been recalled to London. Hoover argued that Philby clearly was a Soviet agent, and that he had enabled Moscow to penetrate the CIA and the Pentagon at the highest levels. Sir Percy politely disagreed, unwilling to accept that a man of Philby’s rank and breeding could be a traitor.

Communists and homosexuals both had clandestine and compartmented lives. They inhabited secret underground communities. They used coded language. Hoover believed, as did his peers, that both were uniquely susceptible to sexual entrapment and blackmail by foreign intelligence services.

The Responsibilities Program began feeding governors, mayors, and other state and local leaders ammunition to attack subversives at home. The local special agent in charge of FBI regional offices served as the go-between for Hoover and the nation’s political officials. For the next four years, the Responsibilities Program served as a tool for purging the faculties of state universities, colleges, and public schools of hundreds of suspect leftists, until its secrecy was breached by a publicity-hunting state education commissioner.

Eisenhower’s chief of staff throughout World War II. General Smith had earned a reputation as Ike’s hatchet man, the sharp teeth behind Ike’s warm grin. He had served as Truman’s ambassador to the Soviet Union; he had gone eyeball-to-eyeball with Stalin. He was a man of great force and short temper, intolerant of imperfection. He and Edgar Hoover hit it off. They had a lot in common.

The election of Eisenhower and Nixon in November 1952, along with a Republican sweep of the House and the Senate, ended two decades of Democratic dominance in Washington—the era that Senator Joseph McCarthy called “twenty years of treason.” At the start of those twenty years, Hoover had led a small, weak organization with 353 special agents and a budget well under $3 million. He now led an anti-Communist army of 6,451 men with 8,206 support staff and $90 million to spend.

As Hoover reported to the newly inaugurated president on January 26, 1953, FBI agents now worked “day-to-day and person-to-person” at the White House, the Pentagon, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Agency, the CIA, the State Department, Congress, six American embassies, army intelligence bases in Germany and Austria, and a dozen more centers of America’s global power.

American anticommunism came to full power under Eisenhower. Hoover’s men investigated nominees for posts ranging from foreign ambassador to congressional aide. They oversaw internal security purges throughout the government, destroying lives and careers over suspicions of disloyalty or homosexuality.

The White House read Hoover’s reports on the Soviets as the most authoritative in the government. Attorney General Brownell said: “ The FBI reported to me one of the results of their counterintelligence work against the communist conspiracy. They had learned that Stalin was ill and Malenkov was acting for him and would succeed him if Stalin died. Stalin did die on March 3, 1953, and it is now history that Malenkov succeeded him.”

By contrast, the United States had no ambassador in Moscow when Stalin died, and the CIA had no spies inside the Soviet Union. The first CIA officer dispatched to Moscow was seduced by his Russian housekeeper—she was a KGB colonel —photographed in the physical act of love, blackmailed, and fired by the Agency for his indiscretions in 1953. His replacement was caught in the act of espionage, arrested, and deported shortly after he arrived.

A cop confronting an evildoer wants to string him up. A spy wants to string him along. Waiting and watching required a terrible patience. Hoover had it. After twenty years of attack and a decade of counterattack, the FBI was starting to understand the scope of the KGB’s operations in America.

Like his colleagues in Congress, the senator regularly paid fealty to Hoover in public and in private. “No one need erect a monument to you,” McCarthy wrote to the director in one typical tribute. “You have built your own monument in the form of the FBI—for the FBI is J. Edgar Hoover and I think we can rest assured that it always will be.”

On June 19, 1953, came the execution day. Even Hoover had doubts about the political wisdom of putting Ethel Rosenberg to death. But the FBI had made the case.

Hoover understood McCarthy. He told a newspaper reporter: “McCarthy is a former Marine. He was an amateur boxer. He’s Irish. Combine these, and you’re going to have a vigorous individual who’s not going to be pushed around.… I never knew Senator McCarthy before he came to the Senate. I’ve come to know him well, officially and personally. I view him as a friend, and I believe he so views me. Certainly, he is a controversial man. He is earnest and honest. He has enemies. Whenever you attack subversives of any kind, Communists, Fascists, even the Ku Klux Klan, you are going to be the victim of the most extremely vicious criticism that can be made. I know.”

Many of McCarthy’s charges were drawn directly from the FBI’s raw and uncorroborated reporting, including third-hand hearsay. Wary about the wholesale disclosure of the FBI files, Hoover sent word to the senator to slow down. Instead, McCarthy reloaded and took fresh aim. On October 12, 1953, the senator began a week of closed-door hearings into suspicions of Soviet espionage at the Army Signal Corps center at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where Julius Rosenberg had worked. Rosenberg had been an electrical engineer at the Signal Corps when the FBI first learned that he was a secret Communist. Seven engineers who worked on Signal Corps radars and radios were suspected members of the atomic spy ring—and four of them were still at large the day the Rosenbergs died.

On June 9, 1954, McCarthy fell. The subject of the day was his futile search for spies at Fort Monmouth. McCarthy’s counsel, Roy Cohn, confronted the army’s lawyer at the hearing, Joe Welch. Welch was making mincemeat of him. Cohn looked like a toad in the talons of an eagle. McCarthy, burned out and hungover, came to Cohn’s defense. He had cut a deal with Welch: if the army did not ask how Cohn had avoided military service in World War II and Korea, a question without a good answer, McCarthy would not bring up the issue of Fred Fisher. Welch had kept his word. McCarthy now broke it.

McCarthy, censured by the Senate, descended into self-destruction. He drank himself to death three years later. Hoover went to his funeral. So did the young Democrat who had served as the committee’s minority counsel, Robert F. Kennedy. It was a fitting moment for the two to meet.

The threat of a nuclear attack haunted Eisenhower every day. He asked Hoover what the FBI was doing to guard against the danger.

The threat of a nuclear attack haunted Eisenhower every day. He asked Hoover what the FBI was doing to guard against the danger. “Sometimes it is necessary to make a surreptitious entry where on occasion we have photographed secret communist records,” Hoover told the president. Everyone in the room understood that “surreptitious entry” was against the law.

The threat of a nuclear attack haunted Eisenhower every day. He asked Hoover what the FBI was doing to guard against the danger. “Sometimes it is necessary to make a surreptitious entry where on occasion we have photographed secret communist records,” Hoover told the president. Everyone in the room understood that “surreptitious entry” was against the law. Hoover explained that the FBI’s reports based on illegally gathered intelligence would be sanitized to guard their secrecy, and to protect the president and the attorney general. The reports would be scrubbed of any references to break-ins and bugs; the intelligence would be attributed to “confidential sources.” The president commended Hoover. The minutes of the meeting record no more questions about the FBI’s methods.

These men tacitly understood the code of silence Hoover required. Eisenhower had run the D-day invasion, the biggest secret operation of World War II. Nixon had been steeped in raw FBI reports from his first days in Washington. Brownell knew more about secret intelligence than any of his predecessors: he had chaired the committee that created the electronic-eavesdropping, code-making, and code-breaking behemoth of the National Security Agency in 1952.

The FBI’s budget had doubled since the end of World War II. The Intelligence Division was now the most powerful force within the Bureau, commanding the most money, the most manpower, and the most attention from the director. The division conducted uncounted break-ins and buggings in the Eisenhower years; the routine destruction of FBI files ensured that no accurate count existed.

“The clothing that we wore fit the scene,” he said. “We were dressed in old clothes. Some of the guys let their hair grow a little bit. Didn’t shave all the time. We fit in with the neighborhoods that we were following these people through … We knew what they were doing before some of them knew what they were doing. The placing of informants and the related techniques gave us an inside view of the whole Communist Party underground apparatus.”

In Cleveland, the eighth-largest city in America in the mid-1950s, the FBI found six leading Communist figures to arrest and prosecute under the Smith Act, which had effectively outlawed membership in the Communist Party. All were found guilty. But each of those convictions was overturned. The courts were starting to question the legal basis for the FBI’s national security investigations. The Supreme Court, in a series of decisions starting in 1955 and 1956, voided dozens of Smith Act convictions, undercut the FBI’s use of paid informers as witnesses against the Communist Party, and upheld the right of defense lawyers to see evidence gathered through FBI surveillance. Each decision was a blow to Hoover.

On May 18, 1956, the new plan of attack began taking shape, the brainchild of the FBI Intelligence Division chief Al Belmont and his trusted aide, William C. Sullivan. They called the plan COINTELPRO, short for counterintelligence program. Counterintelligence, formally defined, is the work of preventing spies from stealing your secrets. COINTELPRO was more than that. Hoover and his men aimed to subvert America’s subversives. Their stratagems were sharpened at the suggestion of agents in the field, toughened by Sullivan, and ultimately approved by Hoover.

The idea was to instill hate, fear, doubt, and self-destruction within the American Left. The FBI used Communist techniques of propaganda and subversion. The goal was to destroy the public lives and private reputations of the members of the Communist Party and everyone connected with them.

Hoover’s talented political hatchet man and trusted deputy, Cartha “Deke” DeLoach, painted a matching portrait of Sullivan: “Brash, brilliant, brimming over with self-esteem, something of a bantam rooster, Sullivan had more ambition than was good for a man, combined with a slight deficiency in principle. For years COINTELPRO was his special domain. He ruled it with skill and daring most of the time, but occasionally with reckless abandon.”

Sullivan’s quicksilver talents for palace intrigue and his political cunning were primal forces that shaped the Bureau, the national security of the United States, and the American presidency for two decades. He came within a hair’s breadth of succeeding Hoover after the director’s death—a very close call made by President Nixon, whose downfall Sullivan then secretly helped ensure. At the end of his era, Sullivan talked in a closed Senate chamber about the thinking that drove the FBI and COINTELPRO onward.

“This is a rough, tough, dirty business, and dangerous. It was dangerous at times. No holds were barred,” Sullivan said. And the law was not at issue: “Never once did I hear anybody, including myself, raise the question: ‘Is this course of action which we have agreed upon lawful? Is it legal? Is it ethical or moral?’ We never gave any thought to this realm of reasoning, because we were just naturally pragmatists. The one thing we were concerned about was this: will this course of action work, will it get us what we want?”

Hoover spent his career convinced that communism was behind the civil rights movement in the United States from the start.

Three years before, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court had cracked the façade of the American way of life by ordering the integration of public schools. Hoover advised Eisenhower that Communists at home and abroad saw the Brown decision as a victory, and that they aimed to “exploit the enforcement of desegregation in every way.”

On July 6, he had an audience with Chairman Mao Tse-tung. Was the United States planning to go to war in Southeast Asia? Mao asked. If so, China intended to fight, as it had during the Korean War. “There may be many Koreas in Asia,” Mao predicted.

In January and February 1959, at the Party’s Moscow convention, Morris Childs met Communist leaders from around the world and intelligence officers who oversaw espionage against the United States. Though the trips exhausted him, leaving him a physically broken man, he went abroad two or three times a year over the course of the next two decades. He undertook fifty-two international missions, befriending the world’s most powerful Communists. He controlled the income of the American Communist Party’s treasury and contributed the insights for its foreign policy. His work was undetected by the KGB and kept secret from all but the most powerful American leaders.

Hoover briefed the cabinet about the Solo mission on November 6, 1958. For the next two years, he sent summaries of his reporting directly to the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, and the director of Central Intelligence. He took pleasure in concealing the source of his intelligence from Allen Dulles and the CIA: “I flatly refuse to disclose the disclosure of the informant irrespective of any ‘fits’ Allen Dulles or anyone else throws. H.”

Hoover said Moscow had decided that “the main task of the Communist Party, USA, is to fight for Negro equality and integration.” The FBI noted that the Kremlin had asked Solo to send a copy of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first book, the newly published Stride Toward Freedom, written with the help of Stanley Levison, King’s close adviser and a former member of the Communist underground. This evidence of ties between international communism and the American civil rights movement was electrifying to Hoover. The idea that they were connected through covert operations was an elemental part of his thinking and his conduct for the rest of his life.

Hoover told the White House that Solo had met with Anibal Escalante, a political leader of the newly victorious revolution in Cuba, a confidant to Fidel Castro, and the most highly regarded Cuban Communist in Moscow. Escalante said that the Cubans knew the United States was planning a paramilitary attack to overthrow Castro. This reporting gave Eisenhower pause as he weighed the CIA’s proposal to invade the island with a force of anti-Castro Cubans undergoing training in Guatemala. He never approved the plan.

Hoover reported directly to Nixon as the vice president prepared to go to Moscow in July 1959, where he would engage Khrushchev in a public discussion on the political and cultural merits of communism and capitalism. Solo had met with the top Communist Party officials responsible for American affairs. Hoover distilled their thinking about the leaders of the United States and the qualifications of the leading candidates in the 1960 presidential election. Moscow liked Ike: he understood the meaning of war and he was willing to risk the chances of peace. The Democrats were less appealing: Senator John F. Kennedy was judged as “inexperienced” and Senator Lyndon B. Johnson was “a reactionary.” As for Nixon himself, the Communists thought he would be a capable president, though he was “cunning” and “ambitious.”

The counsel of the world’s top Communist—“Don’t trust anybody”—sounded like wisdom to Hoover as he prepared for the end of the Eisenhower years and the election of the next president of the United States.

Hoover had wanted nothing to do with the Mafia, whose existence as a force in American economic and political life was by now an open secret. In 1959, more than four hundred FBI agents based in New York covered the Communist threat; only four covered the mob. Hoover had argued that crimes like racketeering and extortion were matters for state and local law enforcement. He thought that investigating the Mob would create the risk that agents would be bribed and bought off, recalled the FBI’s Graham Desvernine: “ The ensuing problems and publicity—that would overcome any of the benefits.” Hoover had shied from infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan for fear his agents would be seen as aiding and abetting cross-burning racists. He balked at undercover work against the Mafia on the chance his men would be corrupted. Different reasons, same rationale: Don’t embarrass the Bureau.

On July 13, 1960, the day that JFK won the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention, the FBI produced a biographical sketch on the candidate for Hoover. It reported that the senator and Frank Sinatra had socialized in New York, Las Vegas, and Palm Springs during the campaign. The FBI had a long-standing file on Sinatra. The Bureau surmised that the singer was trying to use his influence with the Kennedy clan on behalf of mobsters. Sinatra’s FBI file included his association with Sam Giancana, who was later overheard on an FBI bug boasting that he had influence with the Kennedys. The FBI would soon learn that Sinatra had introduced JFK and Giancana to a woman of easy virtue named Judith Campbell, who had sexually serviced the senator during the Democratic convention and maintained intimate relations with both men.

On October 18, 1960, Hoover wrote a terse memorandum to Richard Bissell, the CIA’s covert operations chief, with copies to the top men at Justice, State, the Pentagon, and the FBI’s chain of command. It concerned Sam Giancana and Fidel Castro. Hoover had read FBI reports that Giancana, while enjoying a meal at La Scala, the best Italian restaurant in New York, had boasted that “Castro was to be done away with very shortly”—by November. The mobster said he had met with the hired assassin three times in Miami. The instrument of death was to be a poison pill. And, as Hoover soon discovered, the CIA was behind the plot.

The FBI learned that Giancana was one among ten members of “the commission,” which oversaw the work of Mafia families in the United States and the Caribbean. Mafia dons aimed to revive Mob-owned casinos in Havana from which they had been expelled by Castro, who had come to power in Cuba on January 1, 1959, by overthrowing the dictator Fulgencio Batista. Failing that, they would move their gambling and graft operations to the Dominican Republic.

The Mob liked Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo, an American ally who had held power in the Dominican Republic since 1930. He ruled by fear and fraud. His wealth, wrung from the soil of the island and the sweat of his subjects, was measured in hundreds of millions of dollars. His crimes included murder and kidnapping on American soil, the bribery and corruption of members of the United States Senate and House, and the subversion of rival Latin American leaders.

Hoover learned through secret intelligence that some of his strongest allies in the Senate had been pocketing bribes from Batista and Trujillo. Hoover had received a report from Angleton, based on a tip from the Cuban consul general in New York, that “Senator Homer E. Capehart has received the sum of $20,000 as a ‘fee’ to effect the entrance and asylum in the United States of Batista.” Capehart, an Indiana Republican, had been one of Hoover’s most vocal supporters in the war on communism in the Senate since 1945.

Hoover never pursued Eastland on charges of corruption; it would have been awkward in the extreme to investigate his favorite senator, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee and its Internal Security Subcommittee. But Hoover had told President Eisenhower that other members of Congress were in Trujillo’s pocket.

On May 13, 1960, the president summoned Farland and two of his State Department superiors to the White House. The president, according to notes taken by his military aide, told Farland that “he was being bombarded by people who are opposed to Castro and Trujillo”—and that “he would like to see them both sawed off.” President Eisenhower did not get the job done. The Kennedy administration inherited the conspiracies to commit murder in the Caribbean.

HE WAR BETWEEN J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was a scorched-earth campaign that burned throughout the 1960s. It threatened to consume the FBI, the Justice Department, and the White House.

He had not asked to be the attorney general, nor was he his brother’s first choice. But there was logic to it. JFK was the third president in a row to appoint his campaign manager as attorney general; the office had become a political post, requiring loyalty above all.

The FBI wiretapped the congressional office of House Agriculture Committee chairman Harold Cooley, the home of the committee’s clerk, the Dominican Republic’s embassy and consulates, and the law offices of Trujillo’s lobbyists. As far as can be determined by existing records, it was the first time since the Harding administration that an attorney general had ordered a member of Congress wiretapped.

On January 8, 1962, Hoover advised the attorney general in writing that Levison was a secret agent of international communism. RFK remembered the moment he learned about Levison: “When I heard that he was tied up, perhaps, with some Communists, I asked the FBI to make an intensive investigation of him.” Kennedy and Hoover had a telephone conversation the next day about the techniques of wiretapping and bugging. The substance of their conversation remains classified fifty years later.

The FBI had two hundred agents keeping an eye on the United Nations. Telephone taps on UN offices were easy; planting bugs in Soviet and Soviet-bloc offices was hard; black-bag jobs inside the UN were risky and rare. But the Bureau did all three, while keeping a weather eye out for disaffected diplomats who might defect to the United States. The FBI had the UN wired: When the Soviet deputy premier Anastas Mikoyan met with the Soviet delegation at the UN in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis later that year, Hoover sent President Kennedy real-time reports on the closed-door conversations.

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Hoover never fully explained to the Kennedys why he maintained that Levison was a Communist agent. Protecting Solo was more important, the director wrote to his aides: “Under no circumstances should our informant be endangered.”

The evidence suggests that Hoover let the president know what he knew about the interplay among the CIA, the attorney general, the continuing plots to kill Castro, the participation of the Mafia boss Sam Giancana, and the president’s dalliance with Giancana’s mistress, Judith Campbell.

On May 9, Hoover recorded, with evident satisfaction, his face-to-face meeting on the Castro assassination plots with Robert Kennedy. They discussed “the ‘gutter gossip’ ” surrounding the CIA and Giancana. “I expressed astonishment at … the horrible judgment in using a man of Giancana’s background,” Hoover wrote. RFK scribbled a note to his FBI liaison: “Courtney I hope this will be followed up vigorously.”

Hoover followed up. It was evident to him that the mobster’s girlfriend had been having sex with the president (as were, by the FBI’s count, five other women not his wife). Hoover also knew that Robert Kennedy was overseeing new plots to eliminate Castro. Hoover’s knowledge of JFK’s private conduct and RFK’s political conspiracies were potentially lethal political weapons. He brandished them now. He let the president and the attorney general know that he knew they had committed mortal sins.

The FBI relentlessly recorded Martin Luther King planning the August 1963 March on Washington, which brought 250,000 demonstrators to the capital in the largest public protest in American history. And in the months before the march, RFK and his aides personally warned King against his associations with Communists. So did the president of the United States. King became more circumspect about his relationship with Levison, but he kept him close.

Sullivan kowtowed, the day after the “I Have a Dream” oration: “In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech.… We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security.”

The FBI placed a total of eight wiretaps and sixteen bugs on King. The transcripts are sealed under judicial order until 2027. But their essence is an open secret.

The Warren Commission’s official investigation was a wearisome sideshow for Hoover. He distrusted its leader, Chief Justice Earl Warren, and he kept close tabs on its work through a confidential informant who served as a member of the commission: Congressman Gerald R. Ford, the future president of the United States.

Both Hoover and Allen Dulles, the CIA’s director from 1953 to 1961 and a member of the Warren Commission, made sure that no one breathed a word about American plans to kill Fidel Castro. If there had been a Communist plot to assassinate the president in revenge, if the Soviets or the Cubans had ordered President Kennedy killed, and if the United States had a shred of evidence to prove the case, it would have been the opening shot of a new world war.

The new president pledged his allegiance to Hoover. “You’re my brother,” Johnson told Hoover a week after John Kennedy was killed. “You have been for twenty-five, thirty years.… I’ve got more confidence in you than in anybody in town.”

“One of the troubles with dealing with the President was that he had that goddamned sewer J. Edgar Hoover flowing across his desk,” said the national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, a Kennedy man who served and suffered under LBJ. “Like many extremely skillful politicians, he had a weakness for under-the-rug information.”

LBJ’s newly declassified diaries and telephone logs show he was in constant contact with Hoover during 1964 and 1965, sometimes two and three times a day, seeking political intelligence on many matters, most of them far from the field of law enforcement.

LBJ had joined RFK on the campaign trail five days before the election as Kennedy campaigned for the U.S. Senate. The president began a guarded conversation about the political bombshells that had been kept in Jenkins’s office safe. He told Kennedy that the safe held FBI reports detailing the sexual debauchery of members of the Senate and House who consorted with prostitutes. The president wondered aloud whether they should be leaked selectively, against Republicans, before election day. “He told me he had spent all night sitting up and reading the files of the FBI on all these people,” Kennedy recounted. “And Lyndon talks about that information and material so freely. Lyndon talks about everybody, you see, with everybody. And of course that’s dangerous.” Kennedy had seen some of those files as attorney general. He felt their disclosure could “destroy the confidence that people in the United States had in their government and really make us a laughingstock around the world.” Nor were these the only sex files the FBI shared with the president.

The FBI intelligence chief, Bill Sullivan, had run his own COINTELPRO against Martin Luther King. He had a package of the King sex tapes prepared by the FBI’s lab technicians, wrote an accompanying poison-pen letter, and sent both to King’s home. His wife opened the package. “King, look into your heart,” the letter read. The American people soon would “know you for what you are—an evil, abnormal beast.… There is only one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.” The president knew Hoover had taped King’s sexual assignations. Hoover was using the information in an attempt to disgrace King at the White House, in Congress, and in his own home. DeLoach himself had offered newspaper reporters and editors a chance to hear the sex tapes. When Nicholas Katzenbach, now the acting attorney general of the United States, got wind of these offers to the press, he called DeLoach into his office and confronted him.

LBJ’s estimation of Hoover hit an all-time high on March 25, 1965, after the murder of Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights activist driving from Selma, Alabama, with a black passenger. A car pulled alongside her on a dark highway and a gunman shot her to death. The FBI broke the case immediately. An undercover informer named Gary Thomas Rowe was riding in the car with three fellow Klansmen.

“We will not be intimidated by the terrorists of the Ku Klux Klan any more than we will be intimidated by the terrorists in North Vietnam,” Johnson said, surely the first time a president had denounced the cross burners and the Vietcong in the same breath. Hoover stood at LBJ’s right, silent and stony.

Hoover and Johnson laughed heartily together, a rare sound in the annals of American history. That moment of mirth ended one of the last free-and-easy conversations the two men ever had. In eleven days Lyndon Johnson would face a crisis that he could not handle. He would have to turn to Hoover to save him.

Within those ranks, Wallace F. Estill was unique. He was the special agent in charge of Puerto Rico. Not many men in Hoover’s FBI were as worldly. Born in 1917, Estill had joined the Bureau in 1941. He had investigated Nazi platinum smugglers in Uruguay, gathered intelligence on Russia from Eskimos in Alaska, served as Hoover’s official liaison with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and somehow managed through it all to keep his cool, a rare quality after twenty-four years under Hoover.

That night, a sleepless president, talking to the duty officer in the White House Situation Room at 3:30 A.M., monitored United States Air Force bombing runs over Vietnam.

The following day, April 28, the president swore in a new CIA director, Admiral William F. “Red” Raborn, another fellow Texan, in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Every ranking member of the CIA was present. But when the six-minute ceremony was over, the first thing LBJ did was to retreat to the Oval Office for an eight-minute one-on-one conversation with Hoover. “Mr. Hoover expressed his deep concern for the communistic activities in this hemisphere as well as affecting the Vietnamese war,” according to the president’s daily diary records.

As night fell, Johnson ordered four hundred United States Marines to the Dominican Republic, the first landing of American troops in the Western Hemisphere since 1928. At dawn on April 29, the marine guards at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo came under fire from snipers. LBJ ordered one thousand more marines to hit the shores. That afternoon, Hoover came to the White House for a twenty-minute briefing, alone with the president. Hoover saw a global threat: as the Communists were moving in the Caribbean, and the Kremlin was driving the Vietcong, American Marxists and their masters in Moscow were mobilizing the antiwar movement in the United States. What was happening in the Dominican Republic was part of a worldwide pattern, he said.

On May 5, LBJ talked to George Mahon, a thirty-year Democratic congressman from Texas. “With all these terroristic techniques that are developing in the world, I’m afraid that the time is coming, just like this thing in Santo Domingo, that they are refining the instruments of terror,” the congressman said. “They could even blow up the Capitol someday.” “No question about it,” LBJ replied. “And we’ve got to meet it head on.”

The FBI’s Paul Brana was in the first wave of ten agents. “They fly us down in this C-130,” a military transport with master bedrooms in the main compartment, Brana said. “We land the C-130 in the Dominican Republic, and they have helicopters to fly us over. I said, ‘How come they’re flying us over in helicopters? How come we don’t drive over?’ ” A military officer responded: “Well, the enemy has the roads.” “I said, ‘The enemy has the roads?’ Nobody had told us that there was a combat operation going on. So we’re going up in this goddamned helicopter and I see this machine gun fire. I say, ‘Christ, nobody told us we were coming into combat.’ ”

On the afternoon of May 17, the top State Department officer for the Dominican Republic, Kennedy Crockett, flew to New York for a hastily scheduled meeting with Balaguer. The White House wanted Balaguer on a 5:00 P.M. flight to Puerto Rico for a meeting with his rival Bosch; the plan was being improvised by LBJ’s lawyer, Abe Fortas. LBJ and Hoover spoke about the anticipated meeting with Balaguer at 3:02 P.M. “I arrived at the Regency Hotel at 3:40 P.M.,” Crockett wrote in a secret memo to the White House. “Balaguer was not there. At 3:50 P.M. he had still not appeared on the scene.” Fortas and Crockett cooled their heels in the plush hotel lobby. “Balaguer turned up at about 3:55 P.M,” Crockett wrote. “I told him time was short—I had a cab standing by—I would brief him on developments since our last meeting as we drove to Kennedy Airport. Balaguer said we would have to wait until 4:00 P.M., as his suitcase was in the car which had dropped him off at the hotel and it would not be back until 4:00 P.M. He suggested we ride out to Kennedy Airport in ‘his car.’ I objected, pointing out that I did not want to have anyone else listening in on our conversation. He said this would not be a problem as ‘his car’ had been provided by the FBI.”

“ ‘Balaguer’s car’ turned up at 4:00 P.M. sharp,” Crockett wrote. “The senior Special Agent accompanying him was Heinrich Von Eckardt.” Balaguer was now a recruited source for the FBI; Von Eckardt was his handler.

Fortas anxiously assured the president he almost had finished the master list of potential Dominican leaders, military and political, making sure they were free of the faintest taint of the left. Then the president cut Fortas off: “I’ve got Hoover waiting on the other line.” Not knowing whom to trust, he wanted Hoover’s help. “Now, Edgar, here’s the play,” he said. “Our State Department, far as I can tell, and I wouldn’t say this to anybody but you, is not worth a damn, they’re a bunch of sissy fellows and they never come up with a solution … “Now, Fortas, I called him in,” said LBJ, ever more intense. “He’s as close to me as you are. He wants to do what I want done if it can be honorably done … “Now!” the president barked. “We want a democracy. We want the will of the people. We want to help influence that will, and help direct it.… But let’s get an anti-communist government.… Most people are anti-American, ’cause we’ve acted such damn fools, throwing our weight around.” “Yes, we have, we have …,” said Hoover. “Now! I’ve got to decide today, I’ve got to decide,” LBJ said. “But I’m not going to decide on anybody that either you or Raborn or somebody responsible doesn’t tell me they’re not a communist.” “Yes, I understand,” said Hoover. “I don’t know, I’m not infallible,” said the president. “Hell, I’ve made mistakes in my life.” “We all do,” said Hoover. “So you get the best men you got to check these names,” LBJ said. “We’re getting on it and checking it now,” Hoover said. “We’ll have that information for you if possible by this evening.” “Check out everybody you can …,” LBJ said. “I don’t want to work a month and make a deal and send in 30,000 soldiers and then piss it off to the communists!” “That’s right,” Hoover said. “And you the man I’m depending on to keep me from pissing it off! Now that’s ugly language, but it’s expressive, and you know what I want.” “We won’t let you down,” Hoover said.

four or five candidates could “provide excellent fodder for the Communists.” Hoover warned that perhaps two or three hundred “hard-core, skilled, trained Communists” remained at large on the island, and the provisional government “must identify these Communists and take them out of circulation right away; they have no guts if you pick them up and lock them up.” Hoover noted that the military were “too heavy-handed and ill-trained” for this type of work; a strong national police would better serve the cause. So the FBI would provide training and facilities to help create a new Dominican national intelligence force, a Department of Special Operations, a secret police to combat subversives.

The United States proclaimed that a free election between Balaguer and Bosch would take place. But Richard Helms explained the facts of life to Desmond FitzGerald, his covert operations chief at the CIA: “The President,” Helms said, “expected the Agency to devote the necessary personnel and material resources in the Dominican Republic required to win the presidential election for the candidate favored by the United States Government. The President’s statements were unequivocal. He wants to win the election, and he expects the Agency to arrange for this to happen.” The United States provided as much cash as could be safely smuggled into Balaguer’s hands.

Balaguer won the vote by a margin of 57 percent to Bosch’s 39 percent—a landslide built on American money, intelligence, and power. The American press universally reported that the vote was free and fair.

Hoover had helped install a government led by an FBI informant and run by three dozen FBI-approved ministers, military chiefs, and judges. Joaquín Balaguer, the FBI’s man in Santo Domingo, was one of the last of the old-time Latin American strongmen. He ruled with a heavy hand for twenty-two years.

B Y THE SPRING OF 1966, LBJ had sent almost a quarter of a million American soldiers to Vietnam. Thousands of American citizens protested. Hoover watched the marches with growing alarm. He saw long shadows hovering behind the antiwar movement, reaching from Hanoi to Harvard, Beijing to Berkeley.

“Most holidays and weekends were taken up with the New Left demonstrating on one side of the road and the Klan and the Nazi Party on the other side of the road.” Like the road to the LBJ Ranch, America was cleft in two.

Hoover and his inner circle saw the protests through the old prism of the international Communist conspiracy. “The demonstrations have been marked by a growing militancy,” Hoover wrote in a letter to all FBI special agents. “With summer approaching, the potentialities for violent outbreaks will increase immeasurably, whether demonstrations are directed at opposition toward United States foreign policy in Vietnam or protests involving racial issues. We must not only intensify and expand our coverage … but also insure that advance signs of such outbreaks are detected.” Hoover told his men: “We are an intelligence agency and as such are expected to know what is going to or is likely to happen.”

Hoover was becoming cautious about the Bureau’s time-honored techniques of black-bag jobs, break-ins, bugging, wiretapping, and mail openings. He had not lost his will for political warfare. Nor had the president lost his appetite for political intelligence. But the Supreme Court and members of Congress were becoming increasingly suspicious of the power and ubiquity of secret government surveillance. And neither LBJ nor Hoover wanted to be caught spying on Americans.

He told Katzenbach that this power had been granted him in perpetuity by Franklin Delano Roosevelt a quarter of a century ago. “I was, frankly, astounded to hear this,” Katzenbach recounted. “I had no illusions that I was going to bring the FBI under my control. But I did think it was possible to institute a more orderly procedure.” He began to demand facts and figures from the FBI; the Bureau slowly disclosed them. Hoover had installed 738 bugs on his own authority since 1960; the Justice Department’s attorneys had been informed about only 158 of them, roughly one in five. Installing bugs in homes, offices, apartments, and hotel rooms generally required breaking and entering, which was illegal. The Bureau had conducted uncounted break-ins and black-bag jobs on Hoover’s say-so.

A purely American protest against authority was inconceivable to him.

Senator William Fulbright, Democrat of Arkansas and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was threatening to create a new committee to oversee the FBI’s intelligence work; President Johnson warned Hoover to keep a very close eye on Fulbright, whom he suspected was holding secret meetings with Soviet diplomats. A far less prominent Democratic senator, Edward Long of Missouri, had started a scattershot series of hearings on government wiretapping. “He cannot be trusted,” an FBI intelligence supervisor warned.

Hoover used Justice Abe Fortas, newly appointed to the Court by LBJ, as a confidential informant in the case. Deke DeLoach, the FBI’s liaison to the White House, served as the go-between. Over breakfast at his home, Justice Fortas laid out a political strategy to blame the bug on Bobby Kennedy. “He was always willing to help the FBI,” DeLoach wrote, while noting that the justice’s conduct in discussing a case before the Court was “blatantly unethical.” Despite Hoover’s best efforts, the solicitor general of the United States, Thurgood Marshall, revealed the FBI’s conduct to the Court. (Marshall had been a target of FBI surveillance for many years, as the leading lawyer for the NAACP.) The Court overturned the conviction. In months to come, the justices would rule that the FBI’s electronic surveillance of a public telephone booth was unconstitutional, and it would compare government eavesdropping to the “general warrants” used by the British colonialists to suppress the American Revolution.

Hoover had always controlled the force of secret information. Now that secrecy was starting to erode, and with it went a measure of his power.

Opening mail was so patently illegal that Hoover had never thought to ask any attorney general or any president for that power. Was it worth the risk to the FBI? Hoover thought not.

Hoover’s edicts created a furor inside the American intelligence community. The National Security Agency and the CIA had worked with the FBI since 1952 on a worldwide effort to steal the communications codes of foreign nations, friends and foes alike. A crucial element in that program was a gang of FBI and CIA safecrackers and burglars who could steal codebooks from foreign embassies and consulates. The ban on bag jobs threatened to bring breakthroughs in code cracking to a standstill.

Hoover’s restrictions on illegal intelligence-gathering methods hobbled the FBI’s spy hunters. The Bureau’s increasingly relentless focus on American political protests drained time and energy away from foreign counterintelligence. The results were evident. For the next decade, from 1966 to 1976, the FBI did not make a single major case of espionage against a Soviet spy.

The nation’s cities became war zones in the long hot summer of 1967. Black Americans fought the army and the National Guard as well as the police across the country; the forces of law and order suppressed seventy-five separate riots, sometimes with live ammunition and orders to shoot to kill. Forty-three people died in Detroit, where the army was deployed for eight days of combat and patrols; twenty-six in Newark, where the army was alerted for riot duty. In all, the nation suffered eighty-eight deaths and 1,397 injuries; the police arrested 16,389 people; economic damage was estimated at $664.5 million.

As Detroit smoldered on the morning of July 25, 1967, Hoover called the president with some real-time intelligence: the transcript of a wiretapped conversation between Martin Luther King and Stanley Levison, who remained under FBI surveillance.

Hoover publicly labeled King along with his more radical counterparts as the leading “rabble-rousers” and “firebrands” inciting black riots. BLACK HATE went hand in hand with the newly created “Ghetto Informant Program.” Within the year three thousand people had been enlisted as FBI sources—many of them respectable businessmen, military veterans, and senior citizens—to keep watch over the black communities of urban America. BLACK HATE and the Ghetto Informant ranks soon doubled in size and scope. In the fall of 1967, the urban riots ebbed but the peace marches grew. The protesters in Washington chanted: “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” The president ordered the FBI, the CIA, and the army to root out the conspiracy to overthrow his government.

“I’m not going to let the Communists take this government and they’re doing it right now,” LBJ shouted at Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms during a ninety-five-minute Saturday morning meeting on November 4, 1967.

On his orders, liberal-minded men—like the new attorney general, Ramsey Clark, and his deputy Warren Christopher, later President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state—commanded the FBI to spy on Americans in concert with the United States Army and the National Security Agency. Some 1,500 army intelligence officers in civilian clothing undertook the surveillance of some 100,000 American citizens. Army intelligence shared all their reports with the FBI over the next three years. The CIA tracked antiwar leaders and black militants who traveled overseas, and it reported back to the FBI. The FBI, in turn, shared thousands of selected files on Americans with army intelligence and the CIA. All three intelligence services sent the names of Americans to the National Security Agency for inclusion on a global watch list; the NSA relayed back to the FBI hundreds of transcripts of intercepted telephone calls to and from suspect Americans. The president had created a concerted effort to organize a secret police. He was trying to synchronize the gears of the FBI, the CIA, and the army to create an all-pervasive intelligence machine that would watch citizens as if they were foreign spies.

But the political forces at work in the world in 1968 were too powerful to control. None of the intelligence the president received calmed his troubled mind. By the time of the Tet offensive at the end of January 1968—with 400,000 Communist troops striking almost every major city and military garrison in South Vietnam—LBJ believed that his enemies had encircled him in Washington. He was a haunted man when he spoke to Hoover on February 14, 1968. “I don’t want anybody to know I called you,” LBJ said in a hoarse whisper, breathing heavily, sounding exhausted. “I want you personally to do one big job before you go out,” the president said. What he wanted was an intensified search for spies in Washington. He suspected that American politicians and political aides were serving the Communist cause.

“Say to those committee chairmen, ‘The President has ordered us to check everybody.’ “Because when McNamara goes up and testifies before Fulbright that we are breaking the North Vietnamese code and a goddamn Commie sympathizer goes and tells it, they just change their codes.… Chase down every damn lead and see who they saw and who they talked to and when and how … You the only guy in the government that’s watching it. I just want to order you now to be more diligent than you’ve ever been in your life.” “I’ll give it my personal attention, Mr. President,” Hoover said.

Four days after LBJ stood down from the presidential election, Hoover wrote to his field agents to be on guard against the forces he had labeled BLACK HATE: “The Negro youth and moderates must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead revolutionaries.” The next evening, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. The killing unleashed unfettered rage across the country; the flames burned close to the White House. Returning from King’s funeral in Memphis, Attorney General Ramsey Clark looked down upon Washington, D.C., from his airplane. The burning city, aglow as night fell, was in the grip of the most dangerous insurrection since the war of 1812. King’s killer, James Earl Ray, eluded the biggest manhunt in FBI history by taking a bus to Toronto and an airplane to London. A Scotland Yard detective arrested him sixty-six days later as he tried to board a flight for Brussels.

More than one hundred campuses across the country had already been hit by student protests. The marches were breaking barricades, and at their fringes were militants willing to toss Molotov cocktails and more. Hoover sent out a fierce call to arms for his special agents in charge across America. “I have been appalled by the reaction of some of our field offices to some of the acts of violence and terrorism which have occurred … on college campuses,” he wrote. “I expect an immediate and aggressive response.”

Hoover saw a gathering storm unlike anything since the great police, coal, and steel strikes that swept the nation as the American Left rose up after World War I. But the FBI had no answer to the violence and rage that shook America that spring. Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles on June 6. Millions of Americans had put their hopes in him. Hoover was more cold-eyed. “He became a kind of Messiah for the generation gap and individuals who were pro-King and still are,” Hoover wrote in a memo to his top aides after RFK’s death. Kennedy’s election would have been the end of Hoover’s power.

The murder left the path to the White House open for a man who vowed to restore the rule of law and order. Hoover now had reason to hope for a restoration, a return to Republican verities, and a renaissance for the FBI. His old friend Richard Nixon might be elected president in November.

The FBI had detected evidence of a plot to sabotage LBJ’s plans for a cease-fire in Vietnam. The plot appeared to the president to be the work of the Nixon campaign.

Three days before the election, LBJ said he was “personally watching the traffic”—telephone calls and telegrams being intercepted at the embassy of South Vietnam by the FBI and the National Security Agency—and that he had detected Nixon’s scheme to torpedo the peace talks. He ordered the FBI to place Anna Chennault, the most famous representative of Chinese anti-communism, under surveillance. LBJ suspected that she was Nixon’s go-between. FBI headquarters sent a top secret message to the president on Monday, November 4, the day before the election: “Anna Chennault traveled in her Lincoln Continental from her residence to the Vietnamese Embassy where she remained for approximately thirty minutes.” After that, the FBI reported, she went to 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue and entered room 205—an unmarked Nixon campaign office.

Nixon won the presidency by a very narrow margin: fewer than half a million votes, roughly one-seventh of one percent of the electorate. A peace accord would surely have worked to Humphrey’s advantage. LBJ was convinced that Nixon had cut a secret bargain with the government of South Vietnam to win his victory. The essence was this: Don’t make a peace agreement with Johnson and Humphrey. Wait until I’m elected. I will get you a better deal.

Nixon denied it to his dying day. But the conversation left him with the indelible impression that the president of the United States had used the FBI to spy on him.

Nixon remembered the president saying: “If it hadn’t been for Edgar Hoover, I couldn’t carry out my responsibilities as Commander in Chief—period. Dick, you will come to depend on Edgar. He is a pillar of strength in a city of weak men.”

Part 2

Hoover told Nixon that he should be cautious about what he said on the telephone to LBJ during the days of the transition, and careful what he said on the telephone once he took office. He could be taped. Hoover explained that the Army Signal Corps controlled the presidential communications system and monitored all calls patched through the White House switchboard; the way Nixon understood it, a corporal could listen in on the president. The director then pointedly reminded Nixon about the powers of surveillance that were at a president’s command. Years later, Nixon was compelled by an order from Congress to give a formal statement about what Hoover had told him that day.

Hoover emphasized that the FBI had “ conducted, without a search warrant,” black-bag jobs, break-ins, and bugging for every president since FDR, Nixon said. Its skills included “surreptitious entries and intercepts of voice and non-voice communications.” The Bureau was especially adept at hunting down leakers, Hoover confided. Wiretapping was “the most effective means” it had. Nixon also learned from Hoover how to lie to Congress about wiretapping without being caught. “That was Mr. Hoover’s common practice,” Nixon said in a secret sworn deposition to Watergate prosecutors, unsealed in November 2011. “He told me about it. He said, ‘You know, about a month or so before I ever go up to testify before the Appropriations Committee I discontinue all taps … so that when they ask me the question as to whether we are tapping anybody, I can say no.’ ” Once Hoover was done with his annual appearances in Congress, the FBI would turn the taps back on.

students were the ones who worried Nixon the most. Nixon feared that they were a subversive threat as powerful as the Soviets, the Chinese, and the Vietcong. He spoke of the campus uprisings at American universities in one of his first major addresses. “This is the way civilizations begin to die,” he said. He quoted Yeats: “Things fall apart. The center cannot hold. None of us has the right to suppose it cannot happen here.” The correlation of forces was changing in America. Nixon would remake the Supreme Court by appointing right-wing justices. He vowed repeatedly to reestablish respect for the law and the power of the presidency. He had named the deeply conservative John N. Mitchell as attorney general to restore order to the United States, continuing the political tradition of hiring his campaign manager to run the Justice Department.

Hoover said that the reporter was suspected of spying for the British and Czech intelligence services—and that the FBI had been wiretapping Brandon for years in search of the proof. This planted the seed of an idea in Nixon’s mind: wiretapping reporters was the way to find the leakers and their sources within the White House.

“I told Mr. Hoover we would go forward with this program,” Nixon remembered. “I called Dr. Kissinger in and indicated to him that he should take the responsibility of checking his own staff.” Kissinger, of course, complied. “Here he was in this room with J. Edgar Hoover, John Mitchell, Richard Nixon,” said Kissinger’s aide, Peter Rodman. “They’re saying: ‘Let’s do some taps.’ And J. Edgar Hoover and John Mitchell say: ‘Yeah, we can do that. Bobby Kennedy did this all the time.’ ”

Front-page stories on their strategies for dealing with the Soviet Union and Southeast Asia, seemingly taken directly from the minutes of the National Security Council, appeared almost every week. By Kissinger’s account, twenty-one newspaper articles based on leaks about the president’s secret foreign policies were published in the first hundred days of the administration.

In 1968, Congress had passed a law saying the president could authorize wiretaps to protect the United States from foreign spies and subversives. But the targets of these taps were not KGB agents. They were thirteen American government officials and four newspaper reporters. Over the next two years, though the leaks went on, the taps never revealed a shred of incriminating evidence against anyone. But they were the first step down the road to Watergate.

They put him on the four-to-midnight shift listening to members of the Students for a Democratic Society. The SDS formally convened in Chicago three weeks later. One faction declared it would begin an armed struggle against the government of the United States. Over the summer, and into the fall, Dyson listened as the members of the group argued, debated, and plotted. He was witnessing the violent birth of a terrorist gang. “I watched them become the Weathermen! I was with them when they became the Weathermen!” he said. “It was exciting. I was watching history.” Almost exactly fifty years before, in Chicago, in September 1919, J. Edgar Hoover’s agents had spied on the birth of the Communist Party of the United States. Dyson was following in their tradition.

it managed to take credit for a fresh outrage every few months during the Nixon years, taunting the FBI and the White House with wild-eyed communiqués, planting bombs at will in seemingly impenetrable places. A group barely one hundred strong—with a core of a dozen decision takers and bomb makers—began to drive the government of the United States half-mad with fear as the sixties became the seventies.

“They were able to get into the U.S. Capitol, build a bomb into a wall, and blow it up at will,” Dyson said. “They got into the Pentagon.… They were able to call up and say it’s going to go off in exactly five minutes and it would go off in five minutes. They were as good as any terrorist group in the world in terms of their sophistication.”

They carried out thirty-eight bombings. The FBI solved none. “We didn’t know how to investigate terrorism,” Dyson said. “We did not have enough intelligence on these people.”

“This was going to come and destroy us,” he said. “We were going to end up with FBI agents arrested. Not because what they did was wrong. But because nobody knew what was right or wrong.” Not knowing that difference is a legal definition of insanity. Dyson’s premonitions of disaster would prove prophetic. In time, the top commanders of the FBI in Washington and New York would face the prospect of prison time for their work against the threat from the left. So would the president’s closest confidants.

On Friday, June 5, 1970, Nixon called Hoover and Helms to the White House. They sat alongside Admiral Noel Gayler, director of the National Security Agency, and Lieutenant General Donald Bennett, chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency. “The President chewed our butts,” General Bennett remembered. Nixon was on the warpath abroad and at home. Campuses across the country had exploded after Nixon invaded Cambodia and escalated the war in Vietnam. National Guardsmen had shot and killed four students at Kent State University in Ohio. More than a hundred bombings, arson attacks, and shootings had followed in May. The Weathermen and the Panthers, whose leaders had been to Cuba and Algeria for indoctrination, had shown that they could hit draft boards, police stations, and banks at will.

The president said that “revolutionary terrorism” was now the gravest threat to the United States. Thousands of Americans under the age of thirty were “determined to destroy our society”; their home-grown ideology was “as dangerous as anything they could import” from Cuba, China, or Russia. “Good intelligence,” he said, was “the best way to stop terrorism.”

Nixon demanded “a plan which will enable us to curtail the illegal activities of those who are determined to destroy our society.”

The plan conformed to the president’s philosophy on national security: Do anything it takes. He knew that opening mail was a federal crime and that black-bag jobs were burglary. But they were the best means of gathering intelligence. And Nixon believed that if a president did it, it was not illegal.

While a growing cohort of his enemies inside the Nixon administration plotted to supplant him, Hoover’s foes on the left mounted a devastating and demoralizing attack on the secrecy and power of the Bureau itself. They pulled a black-bag job on the FBI. On the night of March 8, 1971, a band of thieves broke into the Bureau’s two-man office in Media, Pennsylvania, a placid suburb outside Philadelphia, jimmying the glass-paneled door in an office across the street from the county courthouse. The job was easy; the FBI had no security system to seal the secrets inside of room 204. They stole at least eight hundred documents out of the files. The group, which called itself the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI,

On June 17, Haldeman told the president that he thought the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, might have files that could serve as evidence against Ellsberg. Nixon leaped at the idea of stealing them. “Do you remember Huston’s plan? Implement it,” said the president. “Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.” Nixon wanted political intelligence so badly that he created his own secret squad of burglars and wiretappers. He authorized the creation of a secret White House unit that had the capability to conduct those kinds of missions. The group was nicknamed the Plumbers, because in the beginning they sought to plug the leaks that plagued the president. They would carry out black-bag jobs, wiretaps, and disinformation campaigns on his behalf.

Their mastermind was a strange kind of genius named G. Gordon Liddy. He had spent five years in Hoover’s FBI, from 1957 to 1962, rising to the rank of a supervisor at headquarters, where he had learned the dark arts of COINTELPRO. Liddy was installed in a cover job as general counsel for the Committee to Re-elect the President, whose chairman was John Mitchell. He drew up plans, which he presented in person in the office of the attorney general, to spend $1 million on secret agents who would kidnap antiwar leaders and spirit them off to Mexico, entrap liberal politicians with prostitutes working out of bugged houseboats, plant informants inside the campaigns of Nixon’s opponents, and wiretap the Democratic Party apparatus for the 1972 presidential campaign. Mitchell disapproved of kidnapping and blackmail—in retrospect, he said, he should have thrown Liddy out the window—but the espionage elements of the plan survived.

Many of the elements of the bill of impeachment drawn up against Nixon three years later grew out of his frustrations with the FBI, his thirst for the secrets Hoover no longer supplied, and the bugging and burglary that followed.

On July 6, he gave a speech to newspaper and television executives at the great columned building housing the National Archives and the original copy of the Constitution of the United States. “When I see those columns,” he said, “I think of what happened to Greece and Rome.” “They lost their will to live,” he said. “They became subject to the decadence that destroys civilization. The United States is reaching that period.”

Dreading the conversation, Nixon invited Hoover to breakfast at the White House at 8:30 on Monday, September 20. The director played it perfectly. “He was trying to demonstrate that despite his age he was still physically, mentally, and emotionally equipped to carry on,” Nixon recounted in his memoirs. “I tried to point out as gently and subtly as I could that as an astute politician he must recognize that the attacks were going to mount.” He was too subtle by half. Hoover replied: “More than anything else, I want to see you re-elected in 1972. If you feel that my staying on as head of the Bureau hurts your chances for re-election, just let me know.”

On the day he was forced out, Sullivan was struggling in vain to secure his files, including a copy of the poison-pen letter he had sent to Martin Luther King, among other potentially incriminating documents. In the corridor, he ran into the man Hoover had chosen to supplant him: a tall, suave thirty-year veteran of the FBI named Mark Felt, who was searching without success for the copies of the wiretap summaries that Sullivan had stolen. He was convinced that Sullivan had become a renegade, trying to claw his way to power by “playing on the paranoia and political obsessions of the Nixon administration.”

Felt called Sullivan a Judas. They came close to a fistfight. In a rage, Sullivan left the Bureau for the last time.

Nixon had come to the most perilous point of his presidency. He could ill afford to lose Hoover’s loyalty. What might the director do to hold on to his power? The hint of blackmail lingered.

Nixon would return time and again to the thought of making Sullivan the director of the FBI. “We got to get a professional in that goddamn place,” he once muttered. “Sullivan’s our guy.”

The president slowly pushed Hoover away from the White House. One last hurrah came at the end of 1971: an invitation to Nixon’s compound at Key Biscayne, Florida, over Christmas week, and a cake to celebrate Hoover’s seventy-seventh birthday aboard Air Force One during the return to Washington on New Year’s Eve. But after that, over the next four months the White House logs record only three telephone calls, lasting a total of eight minutes, between Nixon and Hoover. Silence descended. The last conversation with Hoover that anyone at the FBI recorded for posterity took place on April 6, 1972. Ray Wannall, who had spent thirty years hunting Communists for Hoover, went to the director’s office to receive a promotion. Hoover began a jeremiad, a wail of pain. “That son of a bitch Sullivan pulled the wool over my eyes,” he said. “He completely fooled me. I treated him like a son and he betrayed me.” His lamentation went on for half an hour. Then he said good-bye.

A few minutes after Hoover’s casket left the Capitol, the acting attorney general, Richard Kleindienst, telephoned his most loyal assistant at the Justice Department, L. Patrick Gray. “Pat, I am going to appoint you acting director of the FBI,” he said. “You have to be joking,” Gray replied. Gray was fifty-five years old, and he had never held an authority greater than the command of a submarine. He still had his navy crew cut. He was a bull-headed man with a jutting jaw, a straight-arrow Nixon acolyte. He had known the president for a quarter of a century, and he revered him. He had one qualification: he would do anything Nixon asked. Now the president was entrusting Hoover’s legacy to him.

In a state of awe, Gray came to the White House after Hoover’s burial on May 4. Nixon gave him some sound advice. “Never, never figure that anyone’s your friend,” the president said. “Never, never, never … You’ve got to be a conspirator. You’ve got to be totally ruthless. You’ve got to appear to be a nice guy. But underneath you need to be steely tough. That, believe me, is the way to run the Bureau.” Gray lacked steel. He was a malleable man. He was deeply unsure of how to take control of the FBI.

Thus began the dark ages of the FBI. In a matter of months, the joint conduct of Pat Gray; his new number-two man at the Bureau, Mark Felt; and his intelligence chief, Ed Miller, would come close to destroying the house that Hoover built. “Once Hoover died,” Miller remembered mournfully, “we were absolutely deluged.”

Felt was in charge at headquarters for far longer than he had anticipated. Gray had set out across America to visit all of the FBI’s fifty-nine field offices and meet every special agent in charge. The acting director was on the road so often that agents at headquarters started calling him “Three-Day Gray.” On Friday, June 17, he checked into the fashionable Newporter Inn south of Los Angeles—as did John Mitchell, now chief of CREEP, the nickname for the Committee to Re-elect the President, and Mitchell’s trusted aide Robert Mardian, the former internal security chief at Justice. All hell broke loose in Washington that weekend. The District of Columbia police arrested five men inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex. Among them was James McCord, a former FBI agent and CIA officer now working as chief of security for CREEP. The men had burglary tools, electronic devices, and a gadget that the police thought was a bomb disguised as a smoke detector. It was a sophisticated electronic-eavesdropping device. The suspects had crisp hundred-dollar bills and Watergate Hotel keys in their pockets. Their ringleaders were the gung-ho Gordon Liddy, the former FBI agent counseling CREEP; and E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA officer who, the FBI quickly determined, worked for the president of the United States.

“This is Agent Supervisor Dan Bledsoe,” he said. “Who am I speaking with?” “You are speaking with John Ehrlichman. Do you know who I am?” “Yes. You are the chief of staff there at the White House.” “That’s right. I have a mandate from the President of the United States,” Ehrlichman said. “The FBI is to terminate the investigation of the break-in.” Bledsoe was silent. “Did you hear what I said?” Ehrlichman thundered. “Are you going to terminate the investigation?” “No,” Bledsoe replied. “Under the Constitution, the FBI is obligated to initiate an investigation to determine whether there has been a violation of the illegal interception of communications statute.” “Do you know that you are saying ‘no’ to the President of the United States?” “Yes,” the FBI agent replied. “Bledsoe, your career is doomed,” Ehrlichman said, and hung up. Bledsoe called Mark Felt at home and recounted the conversation. “He laughed because he knew these people. In his high position, he knew what was occurring in the White House. He just laughed.”

Gray instructed his men that the president’s counsel, John Dean, would sit in on all the FBI’s interviews. Gray secretly planned to keep Dean posted about the Bureau’s every move by feeding him daily summaries of the FBI’s investigations and interrogations.

Shortly after 10:00 A.M. on June 23, President Nixon settled on a plan to scuttle the FBI investigation. “The FBI is not under control, because Gray doesn’t exactly know how to control them,” Haldeman told the president. They agreed that the newly appointed deputy director of Central Intelligence, Lieutenant General Vernon Walters, a Nixon crony of long standing, would tell Gray to back off. He would raise the flag of national security and secrecy. Gray and Felt would do as they were told, Haldeman predicted confidently. “Felt wants to cooperate because he’s ambitious,” he said. “And that will fit rather well because the FBI agents who are working the case, at this point, feel that’s what it is. This is CIA.”

Walters was in Gray’s office by 2:30 P.M. The investigation, he told Gray, could trespass into the CIA’s domain. Gray called Charles Bates the moment that Walters left his office. He made the case for standing down. Bates objected. “I again told him I felt the FBI had no choice but to continue our full investigation and obtain all the details.” Gray agonized until he answered an urgent summons from the White House at 6:30 P.M. on June 28. Inside John Ehrlichman’s office, John Dean handed Gray two white manila envelopes—the documents he had taken from Hunt’s safe. “These should never see the light of day,” he told Gray. “Then why give them to me?” “Because they are such political dynamite their existence can’t even be acknowledged,” Dean said. “I need to be able to say that I gave all Hunt’s files to the FBI. That’s what I’m doing.” Gray had a red wastebasket in his office, holding a burn bag for destroying secret documents. But he did not know what a burn bag was. Six months later, he set fire to the files in a trash bin in his backyard. “There is little doubt,” an internal FBI report later concluded, “that Mr. Gray made deplorable decisions of historic proportions.”

The world had been transfixed ten days before by the Black September killings at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Eleven Israeli athletes (and eight Palestinian attackers) had died, most of them after a bungled rescue by the West German police. President Nixon had conferred on the counterterrorism problem with his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, and his United Nations ambassador, George H. W. Bush.

The FBI veterans Liddy and McCord had been indicted on September 15, 1972, along with the five other Watergate burglars, for the bugging of the Democratic Party headquarters. But the charges ended there. The Watergate case had hit a stone wall. Felt and his inner circle at the FBI made a decision to fight the obstruction of justice. They had personal as well as professional motives. They acted on their instincts to dismantle the roadblocks in the path of the FBI’s investigation. They knew that the conspiracy and the cover-up had been orchestrated at the White House. They deeply resented the fact that the president had placed Pat Gray, a man they considered a political stooge, in charge of the FBI. “It hurt all of us deeply,” said Charles Bolz, the chief of the FBI’s accounting and fraud division. Felt was Hoover’s rightful heir. “Felt was the one that would have been the Director’s first pick. But the Director died. And Mark Felt should have moved up right there and then. And that’s what got him into the act. He was going to find out what was going on in there. And, boy, he really did.”

Felt and his allies began leaking the secrets of Watergate a few weeks before the November 1972 election. Felt became famous thirty-three years later when he confessed that he was the man known as “Deep Throat,” the FBI source who helped The Washington Post confirm the facts for its ground-breaking reports on the Watergate investigation. But he was not the only one.

So street-level FBI agents turned secrets into information, and senior FBI leaders brought that information to reporters, to prosecutors, to federal grand juries, and into the public realm. That was the beginning of the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Without the FBI, the reporters would have been lost. The Washington Post and Time magazine were the first to suggest that there were wheels within wheels in the Watergate case. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times soon joined in. Not all of their stories were accurate. But the facts within them, taken together, sketched out a series of White House conspiracies to subvert the president’s political enemies with espionage and sabotage.

“We know what’s leaked and we know who leaked it,” Haldeman told the president on October 19. PRESIDENT NIXON: Is it somebody in the FBI? HALDEMAN: Yes, sir … And it’s very high up. PRESIDENT NIXON: Somebody next to Gray? HALDEMAN: Mark Felt. PRESIDENT NIXON: Now why the hell would he do that? HALDEMAN: It’s hard to figure. Then again, you can’t say anything about this, because we’ll screw up our source … Mitchell is the only one that knows this. And he feels very strongly that we should—we’d better not do anything because— PRESIDENT NIXON: Do anything? Never! HALDEMAN: If we move on him, then he’ll go out and unload everything. He knows everything that’s to be known in the FBI. PRESIDENT NIXON: Sure. HALDEMAN: He has access to absolutely everything … Gray’s scared to death. We’ve got to give him a warning … PRESIDENT NIXON: What would you do with Felt? … Christ! You know what I’d do with him? Bastard!

Gray fell seriously ill shortly after Nixon was re-elected in a landslide on November 7, 1972. He went into the hospital near his home in Stonington, Connecticut, for abdominal surgery. His doctor released him on December 3 but ordered him to rest at home until the New Year. Mark Felt ran the FBI during Gray’s two-month absence from headquarters.

You’ve got to be brutal, tough and respected … I understand leaking out of the CIA, those goddamned cookie-pushers. But if it leaks out of the Bureau, then the whole damn place ought to be fired.”

Nixon was now sputtering and fuming. “You’ve got to do it like they did in the war,” the president said. “In World War II, the Germans, if they went through these towns and then one of their soldiers, a sniper hit one of them, they’d line up the whole goddamned town and say until you talk you’re all getting shot. I really think that’s what has to be done. I mean, I don’t think you can be Mr. Nice Guy over there.” “I haven’t been,” Gray protested. “These guys know they can’t lie to me like they used to lie to Hoover.”

Nixon became imperious. “Frankly, I am referring to discipline of the highest sensitivity involving what may be political matters. Partisan political matters,” he said. “Let us suppose there’s a leak to a certain member of the press. I’ve got to have a relationship here where you go out and do something and deny on a stack of Bibles.” “Right,” said Gray. “I understand.” “I don’t have anybody else,” Nixon said. “I can’t hire some asshole from the outside.”

“As you know, I would never ask the Director of the Bureau to do anything that was wrong,” the president said. “But I am certainly going to have to ask the Director of the Bureau at times to do things that are going to protect the security of this country.” “No problem,” Gray said.

On March 5, linguists at the National Security Agency, which had just created a branch to handle the issue of international terrorism, began to translate a newly intercepted message from the Iraqi mission at the United Nations. The message had been sent to Baghdad and relayed to the PLO. It contained the outlines of a murderous plan. As the NSA started to read the message, a tow truck operator impounded a 1973 Dodge Dart from the corner of 43rd Street and Fifth Avenue. The next morning, a 1972 Plymouth Duster at 47th Street and Fifth was towed away. Both had been ticketed for standing in a no-standing zone. An Olin rent-a-car supervisor came to the impound lot at a pier on the Hudson River to claim the Dart. He opened the trunk and stared in wonder.

The police had stumbled upon the first bomb plot in the war between Arab terrorists and the United States. At 6:15 P.M. on March 6, the FBI joined the case. In Washington, the NSA told the Bureau about the coded message to Baghdad and warned that a third car bomb lay waiting outside the El Al terminal at JFK. Later that night, the FBI and the NYPD bomb squad found the Fury and opened the trunk.

The FBI lifted a fingerprint off the propane tank in the Fury. Eighteen years would pass before the Bureau matched the print with the bomb maker.

“The Bureau cannot survive, John,” President Nixon said to his White House counsel, John Dean, on March 1, 1973. “It cannot survive.” To Nixon’s horror, L. Patrick Gray had offered to let members of the Senate read the FBI’s raw files on the Watergate investigation during his confirmation hearings. Nixon had believed that Gray wanted the job so badly he would do anything the White House commanded—including covering up the crimes of Watergate. “For Christ’s sake,” the president growled, “he must be out of his mind.”

The White House would feed these stories to the Senate Judiciary Committee; the senators would use them to interrogate Gray. He could not answer them in candor. He would, in John Ehrlichman’s immortal phrase, twist slowly, slowly in the wind. His nomination would fail, and a more loyal man would be chosen to run the FBI.

The only member of the Judiciary Committee who had taken the time to read the raw Watergate files was Senator Roman Hruska, a law-and-order Republican from Nebraska. FBI agents delivered him twenty-six thick books, along with summaries and analyses, and he had spent six hours leafing through them, from four in the afternoon until ten at night. The senator had reached a conclusion, as FBI agent Angelo Lano reported to his superiors. “Dean had lied to us” by concealing the contents of the office safe of the Watergate burglar Howard Hunt. Lying to the FBI was a crime punishable by five years in prison.

The president’s men convened in the Oval Office, filled with false bravado, after Gray’s devastating statement against Dean. Ehrlichman reported that the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the FBI’s best friend in Congress, Senator James Eastland of Mississippi, had suspended the nomination hearings. “Gray is dead on the floor,” Ehrlichman told the president. “He accused your counsel of being a liar,” Haldeman chimed in. “He may be dead,” said Dean, “ ’cause I may shoot him.” Laughter all around—the last laugh captured on the White House tapes. Late on the evening of Sunday, April 15, Ehrlichman telephoned Gray at home with bad news. Facing indictment, John Dean had determined to save himself by revealing his darkest secrets to a federal grand jury. “Dean has apparently decided to make a clean breast of things,” Ehrlichman told Gray. “One of the questions that apparently they’ve been asking him is about the envelopes that he turned over to you.” Gray was horrified. “What the hell am I going to do about that?” he said. “The only thing I can do with this is to deny it.” Two days later, the FBI’s Watergate investigators, at Mark Felt’s command, knocked at the gates of the White House. “I’m worried,” Ehrlichman told the president. “The FBI has just served a subpoena on our White House police.” It sought the names of the people who had been cleared to enter the White House on June 18, 1972.

Gray had served 361 days as the acting director of the FBI. His future was bleak. He faced years of criminal investigation. He contemplated killing himself. He suffered in the deepest shame for the rest of his life. Mark Felt was certain he would be chosen to lead the FBI. He was fooling himself. He served as the acting director for three hours. Nixon instead chose a Republican factotum named William D. Ruckelshaus, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the newly created agency in charge of America’s natural resources. His decision seemed inexplicable to all concerned, including the nominee. But Nixon urged the job on him with an increasing ferocity over the course of an hour.

Backed by federal grand juries and the prosecutors who led them, the FBI’s investigators preserved the rule of law against the obstruction of justice. And under law, the agents were accomplishing an act of creative destruction that the radicals of the Left could only dream of achieving. They were bringing down the president of the United States.

Part 3

Six years later, the same man was stopped and questioned by the border police in Bavaria as he drove out of Germany. He was carrying a phony French passport. In the trunk of the car, police found nine more passports—along with eighty-eight pounds of explosives, eight sets of electronic timers and detonators, and $12,500 in United States currency. The wrapping on the explosives came from a pastry shop in Beirut that was a known front for terrorists. The suspect was jailed for seven months, and questioned by German and Israeli intelligence officers. He never broke. The Germans deported him to Syria. The FBI never knew.

Felt’s fate was sealed a few days later. Nixon had determined beyond doubt that Felt was the source of a devastating story, printed on page 18 of The New York Times on the morning of Friday, May 11, detailing the Kissinger wiretaps that Nixon had ordered placed on presidential aides and prominent newsmen starting in 1969. “Felt—everybody’s to know that he’s a goddamn traitor, and just watch him damn carefully,” Nixon said to his new chief of staff, General Al Haig, the next day. “He has to go, of course … the son-of-a-bitch.”

Ruckelshaus, at the president’s command, ordered Felt to leave the FBI. His resignation imminent, Felt donned the cloak of Deep Throat for a clandestine meeting with Bob Woodward of The Washington Post. He said the president himself was the key conspirator in the Watergate case.

The FBI set off on a frantic hunt to find the summaries and the transcripts of the Kissinger wiretaps, which Bill Sullivan had smuggled out of headquarters.

Nixon flew out to Kansas City to swear Kelley into office. It was his first public appearance in a month. “I was shocked by the wounds of Watergate that were visible on the president’s face,” Kelley wrote later. Nixon was a haunted man. He had just proclaimed that he would not cooperate with the Senate investigation. His impeachment was the subject of serious discussion in the Congress. He was under investigation by a newly appointed special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was demanding that Nixon turn over his presidential documents and files. The revelation of the existence of the secret White House tapes was a week away. Cox instantly subpoenaed the tapes. Nixon defied him and fired him in October. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy Bill Ruckelshaus fell under Nixon’s fusillade in the upheaval that instantly became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

On December 5, 1973, he sent a written warning to every one of the Bureau’s 8,767 agents. He ordered them to refrain from “investigative activity that could abridge in any way the rights guaranteed citizens by the Constitution.” He began to dismantle the architecture of national security that Hoover had created. By the time he was done, the FBI had eliminated 94 percent of its domestic intelligence investigations, erased more than nine thousand open cases from its books, transferred the roles and functions of national security cases to the Criminal Investigative Division, and reassigned at least 645 agents from chasing radicals to tracking common criminals.

The FBI fought in federal court to keep its COINTELPRO files sealed from the public. But when a single sheaf fell into the hands of an old enemy, and the secrets started seeping out, “the house of cards came crashing down,” said Homer Boynton, who served as the FBI liaison to the White House, Congress, and the CIA.

The foe was the Socialist Workers Party, a leftist coalition with barely two thousand members. The party had worked within the American political system,

The Bureau said its actions had been entirely lawful. It denied any part in black-bag jobs and break-ins. The files in the Bureau’s New York office were filled with evidence to the contrary. The FBI was lying to a federal judge and to its superiors in the Justice Department. It wasn’t the crime, as Nixon had said, it was the cover-up.

The facts were secured in the office safe of the special agent in charge in New York, John Malone, who been burglarizing Communists since the Truman administration. Malone ran the New York office for thirteen years, from 1962 until his retirement in 1975.

His underlings called him Cement Head.

The first attacks came shortly after 3:00 A.M. on October 26, 1974, when five powerful explosions ripped through Wall Street and Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, causing upwards of a million dollars’ damage to banks and businesses. The second came at 11:03 P.M. on December 11, a booby-trap bomb in East Harlem that gravely wounded a rookie NYPD officer who happened to be Puerto Rican. The third came at 1:22 P.M. on January 24, 1975, in the heart of the financial district.

Four people died; sixty-three were injured, some of them grievously. The FALN communiqué taking credit for the bombing was signed in the name of Griselio Torresola, who had been shot dead trying to assassinate Harry Truman. No one was ever arrested in the killings in New York. “It was just a continuing drumbeat of bombings and an inability to solve them,” Hahn said. The FBI had no clue about the FALN.

Years later, a fellow agent asked Dyson what FBI headquarters thought about this endeavor. “We never told headquarters,” he replied.

“Why not add the FBI?” the former director of central intelligence, Richard Helms, asked President Ford pointedly, face-to-face in the Oval Office. “You may as well get to the bottom of it.” Deputy Attorney General Laurence Silberman agreed. “The FBI may be the sexiest part of this,” he told the president’s national security team on February 20, 1975. “Hoover did things which won’t stand scrutiny, especially under Johnson.”

The Bureau had started moving out of the Justice Department, across Pennsylvania Avenue. The new J. Edgar Hoover Building, officially dedicated on September 30, 1975, cost $126 million. It was the ugliest building in Washington: it looked like a parking garage built by the Soviet Politburo.

The congressman demanded to see what else the Bureau had on him. He became one of the first Americans granted the request to see his own FBI file. It included a letter that a suspicious nun had sent to Hoover four years before, calling Father Drinan a Communist plant inside the Catholic Church. Such was the prevailing spirit when the Senate opened its first public hearings on the FBI on November 18, 1975.

Clarence Kelley had assured the press, the public, and the president time and again that the FBI had ceased committing black-bag jobs a decade before. His top aides had told him so; they said the same to Congress and the courts in sworn testimony. On August 8, 1976, four months after he had the facts in hand, he had been forced to admit he had been fooled by experts—“ knowledgeably, knowingly, intentionally deceived” by men at the top of the FBI’s chain of command.

“very little bad news was passed along to J. Edgar Hoover.” As Kelley recalled it, almost everyone at the Bureau was “afraid to tell Hoover the truth”; the boss had been “so domineering and his power over his people so intimidating” that agents concealed harsh facts from him.

The tensions at headquarters had been building ever since the FBI opened a criminal investigation of Mark Felt, the dismissed deputy director, during the denouement of the Watergate investigation. In the final days of the Nixon administration, Felt stood accused within the Bureau of smuggling documents out of the FBI and feeding them to The New York Times. The charge of stealing the Bureau’s records was punishable by up to ten years in prison. Felt was confronted by FBI agents and advised of his constitutional rights. He had lied about his role in the leaks, skillfully, first to the agents, then in a personal letter to the director. “Dear Clarence,” he had written. “To be treated as a prime suspect in a sordid example of crass disloyalty to the FBI is a humiliating and degrading experience.” He added: “Incidentally, I am not ‘Deep Throat.’ ”

Kelley ensured that the leak investigation was closed, and he eventually fired the man who had opened it for unspecified abuses of power. But by then, Felt’s troubles had multiplied tenfold. His wife was becoming ill, physically and mentally; she later committed suicide. His daughter had disappeared into a hippie commune in California. He became the subject of a second criminal investigation by the FBI. This one could not be quashed. On August 19, 1976, the FBI raided its own headquarters. Two teams of FBI agents, led by criminal investigators from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, executed the searches in Washington. A separate FBI squad went through the New York office of the Bureau. They discovered a cache of documents no outsider had ever seen. Hoover’s “Do Not File” filing system, first created before World War II, was designed to keep evidence of FBI burglaries and bugging concealed forever. It required FBI agents to destroy the original records of their secret intelligence investigations. But even Hoover occasionally erred in matters of national security. He had kept a folder in his office, labeled “Black Bag Jobs,” containing a detailed description of the “Do Not File” regulations. It had somehow survived the bonfire of his personal files after his death. It led the investigators in New York to discover twenty-five volumes of original records that had, inexplicably, been preserved.

I had heard directly that a number of the agents had gone to testify in a grand jury, and then I had a call, an unidentified caller, who said, ‘I had to give you up, John.’ ” Kearney was about to be indicted for conspiracy. He was the first ranking agent in the FBI to be charged with committing crimes against the United States.

On August 26, a week after the initial raids, Mark Felt and Ed Miller, the FBI’s retired intelligence chief, were summoned to testify in secret before a federal grand jury. The two men decided on a dangerous legal strategy. They swore that they had authorized the black-bag jobs carried out by Squad 47. They said they had had the approval of the acting director of the FBI, Pat Gray.

Felt and Miller believed that, if they went to trial, they could convince a jury that the FBI had the power to bend the law in pursuit of national security, a power that flowed directly from the president of the United States. They thought they could prove that the president’s sworn duty to protect and defend the Constitution gave him to power to break and enter a citizen’s door. They would assert that a president could violate the rights of an individual to preserve the interests of the nation.

Ed Miller put it more elegantly years later. He took his argument from the common law of centuries gone by. A man’s home is his castle, he conceded. But no man can maintain a castle against the king.

The argument went back to the beginnings of the United States. “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct,” Alexander Hamilton had written in 1787. “Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual 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.”

Pinochet and his allies—the right-wing leaders of five South American nations—had undertaken a global effort to exterminate their left-wing enemies. It was code-named Operation Condor. DINA employed murderous anti-Castro Cubans and an American soldier of fortune named Michael Townley as members of an international death squad. Before the assassination of Orlando Letelier, Henry Kissinger’s State Department and George H. W. Bush’s CIA were both well aware that Operation Condor contemplated political assassinations. But both expressed deep doubts that General Pinochet would risk the consequences of carrying out a terrorist act in Washington. Most American intelligence officers seemed to agree. One took exception.

Carter had an unusual take on the enemies of the United States. “Peace is not the mere absence of war,” Carter said when he received his nomination. “Peace is action to stamp out international terrorism.”

His first day at the Bureau, Webster made it clear that he wanted to be called “Judge.” His appointment began a presidential practice of placing judges in charge of the FBI, a tradition that endured for the rest of the twentieth century.

Webster was astonished to find that the FBI had no legal framework for its operations. The Bureau had no charter—a legal birth certificate from Congress spelling out its role. It had never had one. It still does not. Webster said from the outset that he wanted a law that defined “what people expected of us—not what we couldn’t do, but what they expected us to do.” He spent two years drafting it in consultation with Congress. Neither President Carter nor President Reagan acted upon it; the work was stillborn.

On April 10, the United States brought a thirty-two-count indictment against Ed Miller, once the FBI’s chief of intelligence; Mark Felt, once the deputy director; and Pat Gray, once the leader of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The charge—based on a sixty-year-old statute used principally to prosecute members of the Ku Klux Klan—was “conspiracy to injure and oppress citizens” with the weapon of warrantless searches.

The Intelligence Division, once the strongest branch of Hoover’s FBI, had been under siege by the Justice Department, and it dwindled in strength and expertise toward the end of the 1970s. Those who still served the cause wanted to revive the counterespionage effort against Soviet and Chinese spies in the United States, to hire and train FBI agents who could speak those languages, to make intelligence a career instead of a two-year tour. They wanted to hunt down the remaining fugitives of the Weather Underground and the furtive leaders of the FALN. Though the Ku Klux Klan had been defeated, a new wave of neo-Nazi groups was rising in the United States. So were armed partisans aiming to settle scores from epic battles in the Old World—the Serbs and the Croats, the Turks and the Armenians, the Irish Republican Army. Taken together, they added up to a hundred new cases a year of terrorism in America.

Robert Hanssen was a third-generation Chicago cop who joined the FBI in 1976. He spent twenty-five years in its service. He became a spy for Moscow, stealing an astonishing array of American secrets, and he went undetected by the FBI until after the turn of the century. Hanssen had learned at a very young age that a badge could be a shield of secrecy. His father had worked on the Red squad of the Chicago police department, hunting and harassing left-wingers, abusing his authority and power, as had his father before him. Hanssen knew some of that sordid history.

Hanssen’s supervisors had discovered his one outstanding talent a few weeks after he arrived on duty: he was one of the very few people in the FBI who understood how computers worked. They assigned him to create an automated database about the Soviet contingent of diplomats and suspected spies in New York. He had a knack for the technologies that would revolutionize the world in years to come—especially the ways in which networks were connected and information was transmitted. The Bureau was building a new security shield for its computers. Hanssen quickly found its flaws and chinks.

Hanssen’s responsibilities grew. He was given the task of preparing the budget requests for the Bureau’s intelligence operations in New York. The flow of money showed the FBI’s targets for the next five years—and its plans for projects in collaboration with the CIA and the National Security Agency. His third delivery to the Soviets detailed those plans. And then he decided to lie low. If Hanssen had stopped spying then and there, the damage he wrought still would have been unequaled in the history of the FBI. William Webster himself would conduct a postmortem after the case came to light in 2001. He called it “an incredible assault,” an epochal disaster, “a five-hundred-year flood” that destroyed everything in its path.

Joe Helmich in the summer of 1980. He was arrested a year later and sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of selling the Soviets the codes and operating manual to the KL-7 system, the basic tool of encrypting communications developed by the NSA. He was a lowly army warrant officer with a top secret clearance; his treason had taken place in covert meetings with Soviet intelligence officers in Paris and Mexico City from 1963 to 1966; he was paid $131,000. He had sold the Soviets the equivalent of a skeleton key that let them decode the most highly classified messages of American military and intelligence officers during the Vietnam War.

“My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever,” Reagan once said with a smile during a sound check for his weekly presidential radio address. “We begin bombing in five minutes.”

The president underscored that principle in his pardon. “America was at war in 1972,” it said. “Felt and Miller followed procedures they believed essential to keep the Director of the FBI, the Attorney General, and the President of the United States advised of the activities of hostile foreign powers and their collaborators in this country.” The facts did not support that phrase: the FBI’s targets were not agents of foreign powers. But the pardon was a political decision. Reagan and his most powerful advisers wanted to reinstate the power of the government to spy at will within the United States, to abolish the rules instituted under Presidents Ford and Carter, and let the FBI write its own guidelines for wiretapping and bugging.

El Salvador’s right-wing military regime, backed by the United States, was fighting a small armed leftist guerrilla force. The military and its death squads killed roughly 65,000 civilians, including priests, nuns, church workers, union leaders, students, and peasants. Three American nuns and a lay worker were among the dead. They were “four innocent church women who were trying to do their job of helping the poor,” Pimentel said. They had been hauled out of a van, kidnapped, raped, shot at close range, and dumped on the side of a dirt road in December 1980. It was a clear case of premeditated murder, an atrocious act in a dirty war.

But once the FBI began to investigate Walker, it took only three months before he was caught trying to deliver 129 highly classified navy documents to the KGB. He had been giving the Soviets the keys to unlock the encrypted messages of American naval forces since 1967. “There is little or no doubt he caused the death of an untold number of our troops in Vietnam,” said the FBI’s Robert W. Hunter, who arrested Walker.

Revell had created a small army inside the FBI in anticipation of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The Black September attacks at the Munich games twelve years before were still fresh in the memories of the organizers. No one wanted a recurrence. The FBI formed a hostage rescue team of fifty agents—many of them Vietnam veterans trained in military commando tactics. The force grew, fed by fawning publicity. Its arsenal soon included helicopters, armored personnel carriers, and tanks. The Olympics went off with barely a hitch; the biggest scare was the discovery of two hang gliders, which the FBI suspected could be used in a kamikaze operation by Palestinian terrorists. Only one thing went wrong in Los Angeles that fall.

Revell sent the hostage rescue team to the island. On December 4, 1984, all hell broke loose. The team knocked heads with the FBI special agent in charge from Seattle. As they argued, Mathews opened fire. The FBI responded fiercely. Their tear gas canisters started a conflagration and the chalet burned to ashes. No rescue, much less an arrest, was possible. Mathews was incinerated. His death fed the angry fantasies of a generation of like-minded fanatics. One among them was Timothy McVeigh, the man who ignited the bomb that killed 168 Americans in Oklahoma City a decade later. The operation was considered a calamity.

Hanssen was true to his word. He sent the Soviets a complete compendium of double-agent operations being run by the FBI, a warning that the FBI was tunneling into the basement of the new Soviet Embassy, a rundown of the Bureau’s new efforts to recruit Soviet intelligence officers, a description of the National Security Agency’s decoding of Moscow’s communications satellite transmissions, the details of the CIA’s budget requests for the next five years, and much more. It was the biggest breach of American secrets in the history of the Cold War—with one exception. Aldrich Ames, the chief of the Soviet counterintelligence branch of the CIA’s clandestine service, had become a spy for Moscow that spring.

The hunt for the source of the leaks began with great energy and intensity. In two years’ time, it sputtered, stalled, and stopped. The FBI remained mystified. The CIA seemed indifferent. Their counterintelligence chiefs were furious at one another. They would not work together. They could not imagine what had gone wrong. Their investigation concluded that the problem had to be a bug, or a wiretap, or a computer. It could not conceivably be an American spy. Traitors like Hanssen and Ames could work undetected for years on end because American counterintelligence had become a shambles. The FBI and the CIA had not been on speaking terms for most of the past forty years. The sniping and the silences between them did more harm to American national security than the Soviets.

“ Reagan was preoccupied with the fate of the hostages,” remembered Bob Gates, then chief of the CIA’s intelligence directorate. “No loud words or harsh indictments—none of the style of Johnson or Nixon. Just a quizzical look, a suggestion of pain, and then the request—‘We just have to get those people out’—repeated nearly daily, week after week, month after month. Implicit was the accusation: What the hell kind of intelligence service are you running if you can’t find and rescue these Americans?”

Colonel North soon came up with another concept. The FBI would remove $2 million in cash from the Federal Reserve, treat it with a chemical solution, and deliver it over to the kidnappers in Lebanon. The ransom would self-destruct in two hours. Revell marveled at the Mission: Impossible concept. But he did not buy it. And Peter Kilburn was murdered on the orders of Libya’s Colonel Muammar Qaddafi before the plan could be carried out.

On July 30, 1986, North told Revell that Attorney General Ed Meese had signed off on a plan, approved by the president, to sell American missiles to the government of Iran in exchange for the release of the hostages. The Reagan administration was going to broker lethal weapons for American lives.

Revell kept a poker face. But he was thinking: is this legal? He wondered why North had shared this explosive information. He surmised it was to keep the FBI from stumbling on something even more secret. His instincts were sound. He took his doubts to Webster; the Judge consulted Meese. “The Attorney General doesn’t seem to have a problem with it—which was amazing,” Revell recounted. Meese had told them—falsely—that all the weapons shipments had been approved in writing by the president. If the president did it, the FBI director concluded, that meant it was not illegal.

On the afternoon of November 13, 1986, the White House asked Revell to review a speech that President Reagan would deliver to the American people that evening. As he pored over the draft of the speech in North’s office, he pointed out five evident falsehoods. “We did not—repeat, did not—trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we,” the president’s draft said. The United States would never “strengthen those who support terrorism”; it had only sold “defensive armaments and spare parts” to Iran. It had not violated its stance of neutrality in the scorched-earth war between Iran and Iraq; it had never chartered arms shipments out of Miami. Revell knew none of this was true. He warned Judge Webster, who alerted Attorney General Meese. He was ignored. “I was sort of odd man out,” Revell said.

Colonel North and his superior, the president’s national security adviser, Admiral John Poindexter, began shredding their records and deleting their computer files as fast as they could. But within the White House, one crucial fact emerged: they had skimmed millions of dollars in profits from the weapons sales to Iran and siphoned off the money to support the contras. “A real bombshell,” Vice President George H. W. Bush recorded in his new diary on November 22, after talking to Attorney General Meese. “It’s going to be a major flap … The president has asked us to shut up, and that is exactly what’s happening.”

Within hours, FBI agents were searching Oliver North’s office. They retrieved a document from North’s burn bag—an elaborately falsified statement about support for the contras, delivered in secret testimony to Congress. They dusted it and found the fingerprints of the chief of the CIA’s clandestine service, Clair George. It was the beginning of a six-year investigation that reached the highest levels of the American military and intelligence establishments, the most politically perilous case the Bureau had confronted since Watergate.

“For the past three months, I’ve been silent on the revelations about Iran,” Reagan said in a televised address to the nation on March 4, 1987. “And you must have been thinking: ‘Well, why doesn’t he tell us what’s happening? Why doesn’t he just speak to us as he has in the past when we’ve faced troubles or tragedies?’ Others of you, I guess, were thinking: ‘What’s he doing hiding out in the White House?’ “Well, the reason I haven’t spoken to you before now is this: You deserve the truth,” the president said. “I’ve paid a price for my silence,” he said. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true. But the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”

The independent counsel would conclude that President Reagan, the secretary of defense, the director of Central Intelligence, and their aides had skirted or broken the law. But President George H. W. Bush eventually granted pardons to all who faced criminal charges—including the CIA’s covert operations chief, Clair George, and its counterterrorism director, Duane Clarridge. He did as Ronald Reagan had done in absolving Mark Felt and Ed Miller. He let national security trump the rule of law. The arrival of Judge Webster nonetheless was the end of an era at the CIA.

“We probably could have overcome Webster’s ego, his lack of experience with foreign affairs, his small-town America world perspective,” Clarridge reflected. “What we couldn’t overcome was that he was a lawyer. All of his training as a lawyer and a judge was that you didn’t do illegal things. He could never accept that this is exactly what the CIA does when it operates abroad. We break the laws of their countries. It’s how we collect information. It’s why we’re in business.”

Pan Am 103 took off from London’s Heathrow Airport, bound for New York, at 6:25 P.M. on Wednesday, December 21, 1988. Half its passengers had made a tight connection from Frankfurt. Twenty-eight minutes later, an explosion tore the 747 apart. A rain of fire started falling over Lockerbie.

One hundred eighty-nine Americans were among the two hundred fifty-nine passengers and crew. Eleven people were killed on the ground.

“The FBI was not set up to deal with a major investigation like this,” said Richard Marquise. “I blame the institution.” Marquise was given command of the FBI’s task force on Lockerbie—four agents and three analysts—on January 3, 1989.

He scanned the passenger list for weeks, looking for clues. The list was the stuff of conspiracy theories. It included a CIA officer, Matt Gannon, and an army intelligence major, Chuck McKee, who had been working ninety-hour weeks together in Beirut, trying to free the nine American hostages still being held in Lebanon.

Six State Department officers and the chief Nazi-hunter at the Department of Justice died over Lockerbie. Another passenger, an American businessman, had the same name as a terrorist who had hijacked a Kuwaiti airliner years before.

The FBI’s Buck Revell assumed the Iranians had done it: almost six months before, in July 1988, the USS Vincennes had shot down Iran Air 655 over the Persian Gulf, an unprovoked attack by an errant American admiral, killing 290 passengers.

Then, in June 1990, came small favors that paid big returns. Stuart Henderson, the new senior investigator in Scotland, shared one piece of evidence with Marquise: a photograph of a tiny piece of circuit board blasted into a ragged strip of the Maltese clothing. The Scots had been to fifty-five companies in seventeen countries without identifying the fragment. “They had no idea. No clue,” Marquise said. “So they said, probably tongue-in-cheek, ‘You guys try. Give it a shot.’ ”

The FBI crime laboratory gave the photo to the CIA. An Agency analyst had an image of a nearly identical circuit board, seized four years earlier from two Libyans in transit at the airport in Dakar, Senegal. On the back were four letters: MEBO. Nobody knew what MEBO meant. Eighteen months had passed since the bombing of Pan Am 103.

Robert Swan Mueller III was named chief of the Criminal Division at the Justice Department at the end of July 1990. Agents instinctively liked him, despite his aristocratic demeanor. They called him Bobby Three Sticks.

An official report from a December 11, 1968, battle in Quang Tri province praised his courage during a search-and-destroy mission. Confronting a force of two hundred North Vietnam Army troops, Second Lieutenant Mueller “fearlessly moved from one position to another, directing the accurate counter-fire of his men and shouting words of encouragement to them. With complete disregard for his own safety, he … personally led a team across the fire-swept terrain to recover a mortally wounded Marine who had fallen in a position forward of the friendly lines.” He was awarded, among other citations, the Bronze Star for valor.

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he found out that an owner of the firm, Edwin Bollier, had hand-delivered a detailed letter to the U.S. Embassy in Vienna days after the Lockerbie bombing. The FBI never would have looked for it without the tip from the Scots. It said, in essence: Pan Am 103 was a Libyan operation. Bollier knew what he was talking about: Mebo had built twenty sophisticated timers for the Libyans. Bollier’s letter—vital evidence in an international terrorism investigation—had been sitting unread for almost two years. Marquise knew from bitter experience how often the FBI had no idea what was in its own files. The Bureau was a pyramid of paper, and it stayed that way well into the twenty-first century.

The United States could try to kidnap Megrahi; it had nabbed terrorists overseas before. But snatching him in Libya was beyond the capabilities of the CIA or the military. It could try to kill him. That was beyond conscience at the time: shortly before the Lockerbie bombing, when Israel had sent a hit team to Tunis to kill Abu Jihad, the second in command of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the United States had openly condemned the act as a political assassination.

President George H. W. Bush believed that terrorists were criminals, not enemy combatants. He chose to go to court. Mueller strongly concurred. They would follow the law where it led.

The diary went unread for three years. At the time, the FBI had only one translator capable of reading and understanding Arabic. “If it had been properly translated, processed, authenticated and analyzed,” Buck Revell later testified, the FBI would have seen “a direct association between the assassin of Meir Kahane and the group that conspired and eventually did bomb the World Trade Center.”

Salem visited Nosair at the notorious Attica state prison, making the long drive upstate and back with members of the sheikh’s circle. Soon he was listening in as they plotted to bomb the symbols of American power. Salem met the sheikh, the intellectual author of the plot, and he heard firsthand about the plans to bring the jihad to America. “Salem’s penetration had been so thoroughly successful that he’d had intimate access to Abdel Rahman himself, almost from the start,” marveled Andrew McCarthy, a gung-ho federal prosecutor in Manhattan. Salem gave the FBI the names and identities of almost every one of the men who were plotting to blow up the World Trade Center. He did not know their target. But his new friends told him it would be something big, something the world had never seen before. This was something new in the annals of the FBI: firsthand intelligence on a terrorist plot as it took shape.

The sheikh had been on the State Department’s terrorist watch list, with good reason, yet he had won a visa to the United States in 1990. A CIA officer working undercover as a State Department consular official had issued it—an inexplicable snafu, since the CIA’s own files described him as “Egypt’s most militant Sunni cleric and a close associate of the Egyptian Jihad movement.”

Nonetheless, the report was read as a political and personal indictment of the director’s integrity and character. “I must ask you to do the right thing for your Bureau and your country,” Revell wrote to Sessions. “Resign while you still have some semblance of dignity and before you do further harm to an agency that you have professed to honor and respect.”

Every director of the FBI since Hoover had been confirmed by the Senate to serve a ten-year term, at the pleasure of the president. Bush could act upon the recommendation of his attorney general and remove Sessions from office before the next president was inaugurated on January 20. Or he could do nothing, and let Bill Clinton solve the problem. He decided to leave the problem to the new president, a malevolent parting gift. Proudly defiant, Sessions refused to acknowledge the accusations.

By the time the FBI installed new information technology, it was already obsolete. Reno was shocked to discover that the FBI could not do basic database searches. The Bureau could not put its case files into a computerized system to store and retrieve information. Field offices worked in isolation from one another and from headquarters. Agents had no way to connect with one another. Even at the elite terrorist task forces, paper files stacked up on floors, potentially devastating wiretaps went unread for lack of translators, patterns went unseen. “Sometimes I thought we had made progress, but then we’d find something else that we didn’t know we didn’t have,” Reno said. “It was very difficult for the FBI to get that problem solved.”

On Friday, February 26, 1993, a 1,500-pound bomb loaded into a rented truck detonated in the six-story basement parking garage underneath Tower One of the World Trade Center. It was the biggest terrorist explosion in the United States since the Black Tom blast shattered Manhattan and scarred the Statue of Liberty from across New York Harbor in 1916.

It was the great good fortune of the FBI that one of the conspirators was foolish enough to return to the Ryder rent-a-truck company, report the van stolen, and demand the return of his $400 deposit.

The arrests were swift—with one exception. The Blind Sheikh took refuge at a Brooklyn mosque. The argument over how to handle him caused great consternation at the FBI. No one in command authority wanted to make the case against him. From Sessions on down, to a man they demurred. They thought it best to ask President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to extradite him. It would be so much easier to deport the sheikh—to make him disappear back into the Egyptian prison where he once belonged. The assistant director in charge of the FBI in New York, James Fox, was most adamantly against prosecuting the case in court.

The FBI’s leaders knew an indictment would raise some harsh questions. Street agents and their superiors in New York had known about the World Trade Center bombers for many months. The terrorist task force had held the Nosair diary in its hands—and never read it. The FBI had placed Salem as an informer among the jihadis fourteen months before the bombing—and let him go.

S HORTLY AFTER Louis Freeh was sworn in as the fifth director of the FBI on September 1, 1993, he turned in his White House pass. He refused to enter the Oval Office. His reasons were pure and simple. Freeh regarded President Clinton not as commander in chief but as the subject of a criminal case. The FBI had opened the first of a never-ending series of investigations into Clinton’s personal and political conduct. As a consequence, Freeh found it extraordinarily difficult to talk to Clinton on any matter.

Freeh infuriated the White House almost every day for more than seven years. One case among many was the FBI’s immense investigation into allegations that China’s intelligence services had bought political influence at the White House through illegal campaign contributions. When President Clinton expressed disbelief at the allegations, Freeh responded that the White House was lying. The Bureau spent far more time and energy on the case than it did on any terrorism investigation during the Clinton years.

On April 19, a rented Ryder truck loaded with 4,800 pounds of fuel oil and ammonium nitrate blew up the nine-story federal government headquarters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Terrorism experts on television immediately blamed the attack on Islamic fundamentalists. But the perpetrator was a patriotic American. A right-wing militant named Timothy McVeigh had chosen the second anniversary of the Branch Davidian disaster in Texas to attack an outpost of the government of the United States.

On April 24, the president of the California Forestry Association, the timber industry lobbying group, was killed by a bomb inside a package mailed to his office. It was the latest of sixteen deadly attacks attributed by the FBI to an unknown suspect. The investigation—called UNABOM because the first targets were universities and airlines—had been going on for seventeen years. This eleven-week barrage of bombs and plots seemed disconnected—a madman in the Midwest, a millennial cult in Japan, a jihad cell in Manila. But there were patterns in it. Bomb throwers once wanted to create political theater. Now they wanted to burn the theater down. Terrorism once had been a game of nations. Now it was starting to look like a global gang war.

After the Manila bomb plot was discovered, President Clinton sought a dramatic expansion of the FBI’s wiretapping and surveillance powers. The most conservative Congress in twenty years stopped him. Congress stripped the bill of its major statutes—and revived them all six years later in the Patriot Act.

Forging links with the FBI was one of the many seemingly impossible missions Tenet faced. He thought he could make it happen. He started by making friends with Freeh. Tenet’s parents ran a Greek diner in Queens. Freeh’s father had been a trucking company dispatcher in Brooklyn. The two men got along; they trusted each other. Maybe the FBI and the CIA could get along as well. They decided to trade counterterrorism chiefs. Four senior FBI agents were seconded to the Agency; four CIA officers were deputized at the Bureau. The swap became known as the hostage exchange program. Almost no one volunteered.

While Freeh haggled with Saudi princes, the FBI opened a criminal case against the Saudi pariah Osama bin Laden in September 1996. He had been described in the CIA’s files up until then as a wealthy financier who bankrolled terrorism. But days before, bin Laden had issued his first declaration of war against the United States. In a message from Afghanistan, published by an Arabic-language newspaper in London, he had praised the Khobar bombing and warned America to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia. “Nothing between us needs to be explained,” bin Laden wrote. “There is only killing.”