What is the book about?
“The Secrets of the FBI” is written by Ronald Kessler, journalist and author of many books on American (USA) security agencies including the Secret Service, CIA and FBI.
Ronald Kessler takes us into the inner workings of the FBI to reveal details about its operations and specific cases. Along the way, the book shows us the influences that various directors have had upon it. In addition, the book also touches upon some of the Bureau’s shortcomings as well as some of its successes.
What does this book cover?
“The Secrets of the FBI” starts off with a description of the FBI’s TacOps team, which is what we see most often in movies and books. This team is responsible for covert entry and surveillance. The book then takes us on a journey of the history of the FBI starting from its focus on gangsters, the mafia, the counter-intelligence wars with the KGB and GRU, Watergate, 9/11, post 9/11 structures, the financial bubbles and the FBI’s current priorities and challenges.
Most of the chapters are mixed with the lives of its five directors starting with Hoover and ending with Richard Mueller. We are given an in-depth perspective of how these directors saw the priorities of the FBI, their influences and how the FBI evolved during their tenure.
What did I like?
“The Secrets of the FBI” is vast in scope. So, it gives the readers a broad perspective on this unique organization. Specifically, most of the information on the directors and its cases is quite interesting.
There were many surprises in this book. For example, we are used to special agents in movies asking for information and getting it immediately. The reality is that the FBI has manual processes in place and their information structure was broken. This is considered to be one of the reasons for 9/11. It is only after 9/11 that the FBI got the sexy systems in place, that we see in popular media.
The chapters dealing with the specific operational processes of the FBI (surveillance, etc.) are great. Since they are interspersed with historical facts and anecdotes, we can also see the evolution of these processes.
What did I not like?
There were a couple of items that I did not like in ‘The Secrets of the FBI’. The first one is the constant seedy focus on sex. I felt that this was unnecessary since it did not add to the case files or to the operating of the FBI.
The second and bigger issues is the lack of depth. While the book covers a wide variety of topics, it does not get into too much detail on the specifics. This book could have used more analysis and interpretation rather than relying on the ‘he said, she said’ approach taken by Ronald Kessler.
This is a mildly interesting book for the general public. It serves as an introduction to the FBI but I would not use it as a reference or a guide of any sort.
‘The Secrets of the FBI’ is good as a throwaway read while traveling or to pass the time
Also published on Medium.