The FBI and American Democracy: A Brief Critical History (Hardback)
  • The FBI and American Democracy: A Brief Critical History (Hardback)
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The FBI and American Democracy: A Brief Critical History (Hardback)

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£31.95
Hardback 224 Pages / Published: 31/10/2004
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For nearly a century, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been famous for tracking and apprehending gangsters, kidnappers, spies, and, much more recently, international terrorists. The agency itself has done much to promote its successes, helping to embellish its legendary aura. Athan Theoharis, however, contends that a closer look at the historical record reveals a much less idealized and much more disturbing vision of the FBI. Created in 1908 with a staff of three dozen, the FBI has grown to more than 27,000 agents and support personnel, while its role has shifted dramatically from law enforcement to intelligence operations. Theoharis, America's leading authority on the FBI, assesses the consequences of this shift for democratic politics, showing how the agency's obsession with absolute secrecy has undermined both civil liberties and agency accountability. As Theoharis reveals, FBI history has been marked by operational failures, overrated abilities, and the frequent use of highly suspect means - wiretaps, buggings, break-ins - that challenge the Constitution's guarantee against illegal searches. The agency has also gathered and disseminated derogatory (and often untrue) information in an effort to discredit citizens whose views are seen as ""dangerous."" Most disturbing, it has drifted toward equating political dissent with genuine subversion, an approach with potentially grave consequences for free and open public discourse. Theoharis also shows that the FBI's vaunted spy-catching prowess has been vastly overrated, from the early days of the ""Communist conspiracy"" to the more recent Wen Ho Lee and Robert Hanssen fiascos. And he criticizes Hoover's longstanding refusal to admit that organized crime actually existed, perhaps due to his preoccupation with the sex lives of public figures like JFK, Martin Luther King, and Rock Hudson, whose amorous escapades he recorded in his ""Do Not File"" files. More recently, the notorious incidents at Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Oklahoma City, as well as the 9/11 attacks, have further eroded public confidence in the FBI and tarnished its reputation. Throughout, Theoharis raises serious questions about the extralegal nature of the FBI's activities and its troubling implications for the rule of law in America.

Publisher: University Press of Kansas
ISBN: 9780700613458
Number of pages: 224
Weight: 485 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 x 23 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
"Theoharis, a recognized expert in FBI research, is neither a muckraker or a whitewasher. [He argues] that the bureau has never lived up to its grandiose reputation; believes that its fame in tracking and apprehending gangsters, kidnappers and international terrorists has been grossly fictionalized; [and] condemns as threats to our civil liberties the FBI's use of wiretaps, buggings and break-ins. . . . His book relates in grim detail, when, where and how the FBI went wrong."--Washington Post Book World

"The FBI has had a substantial impact on U.S. society from its inception in 1908 through the advent of the war on terror. Theoharis inquires into its myths and realities. He criticizes the bureau for frequent abuses of power and its failure to meet its stated law enforcement or intelligence goals. This clear, thoughtful presentation is strongly recommended."

--Library Journal

"Theoharis is unquestionably the dean of FBI history. {An] authoritative volume."--Choice

"Theoharis has spent the last quarter-century using the Freedom of Information Act to ferret out Hoover-era memos and files that the secretive director never imagined anyone outside the bureau would ever see."--Chicago Tribune

Theoharis masterfully documents the FBI's history of suppressing political activity but does not demonstrate that a different approach would have improved the mishmash of intelligence that led to September 11 . . . Overall, this is an excellent piece of scholarshiip with important implications for currently policy debates."--Law and Politics Book Review

"Unquestionably the first book that either a novice or an FBI specialist should turn to."--History: Reviews of New Books

"A valuable, balanced study of how a federal law enforcement agency relying on informants and secret investigations coexists with an open, democratic society, a topic that has become even more relevant in a post-September 11 world."--American Historical Review


"Athan Theoharis has owed us this book for some time. He has had a career battling and pursuing the FBI and forcing it to open files that meticulously document the FBI's imperial aggrandizement and constant intrusion into the political sphere. . . . All of us are in his debt."--Stanley I. Kutler, author of The Wars of Watergate

"Brings to light missing or previously hidden parts of the FBI's storied history to help us more clearly see its potential for both good and harm as we try to balance national security and civil liberties in a post-9/11 world."--Steven Aftergood, Federation of American Scientists

"A short but amazingly comprehensive and up-to-date account."--John Prados, author of Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby

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