Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Career of J. Edgar Hoover


When Hoover was gone, the Bureau never recovered its power and esprit. Acting Director L. Patrick Gray was forced to resign after being caught up in the Watergate scandal. Betwee 1973 and 1976, the Bureau took more direct hits when reporter Carl Stern's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit resulted in the exposure of the COINTEL operations.

After Wategate, government excesses of any kind were condemned. Not surprisingly, the FBI, with its excesses, was the agency most roundly condemned. Several former FBI officials were indicted for approving burglaries in conjunction with the investigation of the radical Weather Underground group.

Clearly Hoover had let things get out of hand in the COINTELPRO period. However, the condemnation that swelled up posthumously against Hoover was a reaction to his later years. His very tangible contributions were being.forgotten in the muckraking of the post-Watergate era.

Like many men in are in a formidible position of power for long periods of time, Hoover strengths and weaknesses became magnified by that power.

He was an autocrat who created the Bureau in his own image and imbued it with his own standards and ideas. He did not tolerate dissent nor did he change his ideas with the times. On the other hand, his vision of an elite, incorruptible, corps of law enforcement models was effected early in his tenure and remained essentially in tact until his death. In the early 1920's, he took a corrupt, inefficient, dysfunctional organization and whipped it into shape in record time, building the basis of the world's most celebrated law enforcement and forensic professionals.

Powers summarizes some of the Bureau's greatest contributions: "... reorganizing the Bureau along progressive and scientific lines in the 1920's, spearheading a dramatic and convincing display of government power during the gangster days of the early New Deal, demonstrating to the public during World War II that it was adequately protected against Nazi espionage and sabotage, reassuring a tense and nervous nation that it was safe from Communist subversion during the great surges of international Communist expansion that followed the two world wars, and finally, during the mid-sixties, signaling the end of the nation's patience with white terror against blacks."