Sunday, March 23, 2008

Finishing My FBI

--by Abby

I know the posts on this are few and far between. I will now attempt to make up for that by a topical summary. (For the record, I'm posting from a lovely condo in Clearwater, Florida while Kerry watches baseball. Life is goooood.)

Ch. 1 Khobar Towers

Before this reading I didn't know much about the terrorist attack on Khobar Towers that killed 19 American soldiers. Probably because it happened when I was 12 and I wasn't really up on foreign affairs at that point in my life. Another contributing factor in my ignorance was the way it was handled by the Clinton administration. This chapter is very telling about the political climate in DC under Prez Bill and the U.S.'s general policy on terror before 9/11. While the facts surrounding the lengthy investigation were interesting, I was more moved by the legal and personal nuances. Based on this, I would consider reading other accounts of events during the Clinton administration or about the inner workings of Washington, including Bill's auto- My Life. I own it and have read some of it, but his style is sort of broad and wandering and it lasts like 800 pgs.

Ch. 2 "Only If I Yell 'Duck!'"

I enjoy the naming conventions on the chapters. This chapter covers Freeh's appointment as FBI Director including his first meeting with Pres. Clinton and his decision-making process. It's really a long chapter about how the appointment happened and the prelude to the disintegration of his relationship with the president. It seems in large part due to the falsely positive start. It seemed at first that things would be great, that the position was defined the same way for both men, but that turned out to be untrue. This is a less interesting chapter in that it deals only with Freeh's personal decisions and hopes and disappointments, though it does lay the groundwork for a lot of the future conflict.

Ch. 3 "You're Not Really College Material"

Haha, New Jersey sucks as does Catholic School. This chapter is all about Freeh's family history and growing up in Jersey. It's as charming as any story of an immigrant family in the big city. Freeh's mom is a quality character.

Ch. 4 "The FBI? You're Crazy!"

From undergrad to joining the FBI as an agent, this is a particularly amusing chapter. It talks about Freeh's days as a sort of sheltered college kid in one aspect, while covering his history on the docks in a union run by the mob. Fun for the whole family. There are also some funny anecdotes about being a rookie in the New York/New Jersey FBI and his first few assignments as such.

Ch. 5 "The Kid's Got Nothing to Do with It"

This starts getting into the good stuff, it talks a lot about how the FBI broke the Cosa Nostra as a combined effort at home and in Sicily. There are a lot of funny stories (what isn't funny about the mafia?) and its really interesting how the powers that be changed the standard attack protocol to make a real difference under extremely dangerous conditions. This bit of work really made Freeh's career in a lot of ways.

He talks about leaving the FBI to be an attorney in the Southern District of New York in this chapter and that landed him an awesome job prosecuting the Donnie Brasco case (a la the movie "Donnie Brasco" starring Johnny Depp.) The whole thing is so fascinating it's no wonder it was made into a movie. I long to reread The Godfather.

Ch. 6 "That's Moody's Bomb"

So the whole mob thing got Freeh assigned to a serial bomber case in the south that eventually led to the arrest of Walter Moody. The case itself is interesting, but more than that is the confusion in a case like this. The bombs were sent to different states, different jurisdictions, judges were targeted, it was a mess. It all worked out, but even Freeh seems to feel there is a bit of luck in tearing apart the bureaucracy so that people can do their jobs.

It was during the whole Moody debacle that Freeh was appointed a U.S. District judge. The second half of the chapter talks about the challenges of that, one of which is the government salary. It also talks about a pivotal moment when a witness for the prosecution, a federal agent lied on the stand and how that impacted the case. That tailspins into a lot of stories jumping forward on the topic of ethics. Somehow Elie Wiesel gets involved.

Ch. 7 "If Anything Happens, You Drive. I'll Shoot."

Finally, Freeh is director of the FBI. We hear about the transition and the differences between him and his predecessor. The whole Washington machine is sort of unbelievable, like the FBI not getting enough funding for bullets so that agents had to cut their training time to save bullets. Its all outrageous. There is a lot more about the turf wars and the antiquated laws and policies that just don't move with changing technology that make it difficult for the FBI to operate. As it turns out, FBI agents on TV have a lot more freedom and resources than in real life. Probably there was at one time more sophisticated technology on the set than in FBI headquarters.

Freeh talks some more about his home life and the difficulties of the job, but he really doesn't complain. I have a lot of respect for that. Awesometown.

Ch. 8 "…and the Guy's Bob Hanssen"

Ooooh a Russian spy in the FBI. How fantastic!

The chapter kicks off with the Oklahoma City Bombing and the pursuit and capture of Timothy McVeigh. All very compelling and stuff present in my memory.

Next he talks about mistakes made at the FBI, lost evidence and facts wielding to public pressure and political correctness and the like. Next, the bomb at the Atlanta Olympics, more fun with explosions. Not to let the theme go we next get a detailed dossier on the Unabomber.

Finally, finally we get to the spy bit which is not quite as glamorous as I'd hoped, but it is a true story and the basis for the movie Breach starring Ryan Phillippe and Chris Cooper.

Ch. 9 Bill and Me

All about the many investigations of then-president Bill Clinton. Hillary's involvement in some of that nonsense kind of makes me want a little more information on some of these illegal activities. There were lots of problems, mistakes made by Clinton and Freeh both. What is interesting is the excess on Clinton's side, his inability to turn back once he got going the wrong direction. Still, there isn't anything dull about the Clinton circus.

Ch. 10 9/11

There is a lot of hindsight and sadness here. The actual attack took place after Freeh left the FBI, but all the warnings and missed prevention were on his watch and you can tell he took it very hard. He makes a lot of (not accusations but) charges that spread the blame all over Washington. It's hard to say (based on this account) if anything could have been done to stop it. I mean, obviously it could have been stopped, but the political climate, the public attitude, was such that no body was going to pull all the strings that would have gotten the FBI, CIA or NSA in a place to stop it. Technology and funding were a big factor, as well as Congress' attitude about terrorism and security vs. public opinion.

Freeh adds an epilogue but it is more on this same theme about the differences in the post-9/11 world. His afterword is all about his private sector job after he left the FBI and is pretty boring.

Anyway, I loved this book and highly recommend it as some compelling, interesting, relevant non-fiction.

1 comment:

miranda. said...

Did I tell you that I was this close to buying this book on the bargain rack at B&N? I decided not to because I knew you had it and if it was any good I could just borrow it from you.