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"Ma'am, what you need is a new, improved Hoover." (J. Edgar Hoover, management of FBI)

Instead of wasting time catching Soviet spies, William Webster's FBI went after the real threat to our national security-peace groups and black and Hispanic agents

It's a Friday in September, and FBI Director William S. Sessions is playing damage control again. This time he's responding to a federal court ruling in a discrimination suit brought by more than 300 of the bureau's 439 Hispanic agents. Sessions's highly rated predecessor, William Webster, swore in a pre-trial statement that he never noticed "any bias against giving. . .advancement opportunities to Hispanics." But Lucius D. Bunton, a U.S. district judge in Texas, sees it differently. The federal agency that is supposed to enforce the nation's civil rights laws, he says, is itself guilty of "systematic discrimination" and has a "bankrupt" grievance process to boot. Still, Sessions tries to be upbeat. Citing his new audits and analyses, he concludes, "It is time to move forward."

It's not hard to imagine why he'd like to. For much of his first year on the job, Sessions and his deputies have dashed from committee hearings to press conferences to courtrooms, trying to explain away a pattern of scandalous FBI conduct that was thought to have died with J. Edgar Hoover. William Webster's nine years as director earned him a Mr. Clean reputation (not to mention a job at the CIA, recently renewed). But a look at the record shows plenty of dirt under the nails. While the bureau as a whole was systematically harassing Hispanics, several agents undertook their own grotesque mission of abusing a black colleague. The bureau responded with taps on the tormentors' wrists, and that case too is now in the courts. Meanwhile, in a clear abuse of its surveillance authority, the FBI spent two years spying on groups opposed to the Reagan administration's Central American policy without finding a single misdeed. And even the nation's librarians are up in arms because the bureau wants them to tattle on foreign-looking researchers, arguing that they could be Soviet agents in disguise.

It's not as though the bureau had nothing better to do. The mid-eighties march of FBI folly coincides with the unprecedented Soviet theft of state secrets. Edward Lee Howard, the CIA turncoat, escaped to Moscow when a crack FBI surveillance squad didn't see him drive away. FBI agent Richard Miller, who had "wacky" written on him in neon, continued to enjoy access to classified information, which he passed along to his KGB lover. And navy man John Walker got away with 15 years of entrepreneurship that left the Soviets holding some of the nation's most cherished defense secrets. This included an improved capacity to track American submarines-potentially compromising the most important leg of our nuclear deterrent, And when Walker's wife finally squealed, it took the FBI another three months to decide to do something about it. As Michael Dukakis might say, the issue here isn't ideology, it's competence.

To be sure, Webster, and his predecessor, Clarence Kelley, did move the bureau forward. Under their leadership, the FBI seemed to get past Hoover's longtime fixation with pimply faced car thieves and bank robbers to make major inroads against tougher targets: organized crime, drug trafficking, and public corruption. Hoover had shied away from the mob and other tough cases (to the point of even denying that the Mafia existed) because they weren't as likely to produce the statistics he loved to trot before Congress. But the recent patterns of racial harassment and groundless spying make some critics think that, for all Webster's good press, Hoover's fingerprints linger.

"You start to feel," says Patricia Motto, attorney for a black agent now suing the bureau for discrimination"like you're fencing with Hoover's ghost."

It's a tempting conclusion, but it's wrong. The days when liberals could conveniently trace all the FBI's bigotry and paranoia to the malevolent mind of "The Boss" are gone. And in a way that's too bad. At least then, you knew where to point the finger. These days, instead of swift action we get promises of new studies and future improvements. Ironically, it might take a dose of one of Hoover's best qualities, his dominating leadership, to rid the bureau of his worst ones.

For Mat Perez, the turning point came in 1984, at a meeting with top FBI officials in Washington. Perez, a special agent since 1963, had been one of the FBI's prominent minority success stories. He'd risen through the ranks to become special-agent-in-charge (SAC, in bureau lingo) of the San Juan office, before moving to the assistant special-agent-in-charge (ASAC) post in the much larger Los Angeles division in 1982.

Then the trouble started. Perez says his boss, Richard Bretzing, the Los Angeles SAC, treated him with contempt and denounced him to his face as a "special representative" of minorities. Perez was convinced that Bretzing was shutting him out of important management matters primarily because he was Hispanic. The Equal Employment Opportunity complaint he filed in late 1983, plus a subsequent one in 1984 charging that Bretzing had retaliated, led to a Washington meeting in the office of Edwin Sharp, the FBI's assistant director of administration. Perez says he offered suggestions for reforming the EEO process, but Sharp and others dismissed them out of hand. "They laughed at me," he says.

By the time Perez had wound his way through the administrative process without satisfaction, his campaign became a rallying point for virtually the entire Hispanic force. His discrimination suit was accompanied by dozens of sworn statements from Hispanic agents urging the court to let a class action go forward. When even more came forward in the next few months to buck the bureau's fierce fraternal code, Judge Bunton was persuaded.

The Hispanics' chief complaint is that they're invariably pulled off their regular cases and dispatched to monitor Spanish conversation wiretaps in drug cases-whiletheir white colleagues who speak Spanish aren't. In bureau parlance, it's known as the "Taco Circuit." Forget that this means working 12-hour shifts in a cramped van for much of your career. Since this duty often takes agents out of town for up to three months at a time, their regular cases get reassigned. The result is that Hispanic agents don't get to "hold the ticket" on enough cases to rack up the arrests and develop the informants needed for promotion.

Part of the problem is that the FBI didn't begin to integrate until relatively recently. Hoover made no bones about wanting an All-American white force; until Robert Kennedy pressured Hoover to hire minorities, the only blacks were Hoover's personal servants, whom he christened "honorary" agents. Real progress took place under Webster, who made expanded recruitment a priority; more than 16 percent of the agents hired between 1978 and 1987 were minorities. This is a particularly admirable feat since the FBI, unlike local law enforcement agencies, requires a college degree, which minorities acquire at lower rates than whites. Still, Hispanics and blacks account today for just over 4 percent each of the bureau's 9,600 agents, well below their representation in the population and in other federal police groups, like the Drug Enforcement Administration, that also require college degrees.

Trying to change this culture means bumping up against an EEO process rife with built-in conflicts of interest, The first place to turn is to one of the agents in your office designated as an EEO counselor. These counselors usually have been selected by their SAC, who is, of course, their boss. When you then note that the SAC is likely to be fingered in any complaint, you begin to get a sense of why minorities view this procedure as something less than a pinnacle of due process.

There's more. Complaints, allegedly confidential, have a way of slipping out among chummy officers, leaving the aggrieved agents vulnerable to retaliation. And the procedure tends to amble along at the brisk clip of Bleak House's Jarndyce v. Jamdyce. "They shelve it until you go away," says Mat Perez, whose own vindication has taken five years, "and meanwhile you've been labeled a malcontent and a troublemaker." When I asked Milt Ahlerich, the FBI's chief spokesman, for a single case in which the bureau's internal review found that discrimination had in fact occurred, he couldn't think of one. (This despite the preponderance of evidence that led Judge Bunton to his "systematic discrimination" ruling.) Ahlerich called back the next day to say he'd found a case after all, but, citing privacy concerns, he declined to give details.

A private business charged with discrimination by so many of its employees might think about making some changes. But the bureau's powers-that-be just dug in. In Miami, after an April luncheon to raise money for Hispanic legal fees produced some negative press for the bureau, William C. Wells, the SAC, called his Hispanic agents into a special meeting. According to agents present, Wells said, "When you carry these," holding aloft his bureau credentials, "you lose your First Amendment rights'" Last February, Reps. Don Edwards, William Gray, and Esteban Torres met with Sessions and John Glover, an executive assistant director and the bureau's highest-ranking black. The legislators told Sessions that FBI office heads had screened the questions of minority agents during a recent field trip by Sessions. The director's high command, the congressmen insisted, was insulating him from the bureau's racial problems.

It's no wonder, then, that Bunton's ruling in late September caught the bureau so off guard. Bunton agreed with most of the Hispanics' complaints: that they were shunted to unwanted job assignments, discriminated against in promotion, and subjected to an unfair grievance procedure. Bunton will hold a separate hearing to determine penalties and remedies. The bureau hasn't announced if it will appeal. In December, Bunton ruled that agents had retaliatedagainst Perez by misusing a federal grand jury to investigate him.

Donald Rochon, a black agent who joined the bureau in 1981, knows what racial harassment can mean. From 1983 to 1985, he endured nightmarish ordeals in the Omaha and Chicago field offices. A hearing by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that fellow agents in Omaha had jammed Rochon's mail slot with pictures of a black man's bruised face, an African in native dress, and invitations to office parties with "don't come" scrawled over them, Knowing that Rochon was taking up scuba diving, Rochon's colleagues left a scuba-diver doll--its face and hands blackened by a marking pen-drowning in a container of water on his desk. Someone taped a cut-out photo of an ape's head over Rochon's son's face in a photo on his desk.

You'd think that such behavior might provoke a supervisor's ire, particularly in an agency charged with the enforcement of civil rights laws. But not at the FBI. Rochon spoke to the office EEO counselor and to the SAC but got no help. He then filed a formal EEO complaint with the bureau, but the FBI's investigation found no cause for action. Finally, Rochon went to the EEOC, which ruled in his favor four years after he first began protesting the torment. Rochon, now an agent in Philadelphia, has filed a follow-up civil rights suit, charging both the FBI and individual agents with harassment.

At the EEOC hearing in 1986, Herbert H. Hawkins, the Omaha SAC, actually defended the racial harassment as "healthy," a sign of "camaraderie" and "esprit de corps." The hearing even found that Rochon's superiors had punished him when he began to complain. Have you ever encountered other racial discrimination? his boss asked. When Rochon said, yes, an Omaha real estate agent had declined to show him a house when the dealer learned he was black, his superiors wrote him up for failing to report a civil rights violation. An official censure was placed in his personnel file. The bureau's "demonstrated philosophy," concluded the administrative judge who ruled in Rochon's favor, is to "deny the problem and punish the complainer'"

But Omaha was just a warm-up. Rochon urged the Omaha chief not to transfer him to Chicago, since his main antagonist in Omaha, agent Thomas Dillon, had been sent there not long before. But off to Chicago he went. Also waiting there was Dillon's buddy, agent Gary Miller, who later confessed to leading a campaign of "revenge" against Rochon for the charges he filed in Omaha. Miller told FBI investigators that he forged Rochon's signature on a death and dismemberment insurance policy and had it mailed to Rochon's home. A federal grand jury is now investigating Miller in connection with other aspects of Rochon's torment, including a series of obscene phone calls. An unsigned letter threatened a sexual assault on Rochon's wife, who is white. "You made yourself a nigger and shall pay the price," the letter concluded"You are always in our sights and cannot escape."

As if the abuse of Rochon weren't bad enough, the FBI has compounded the scandal-or created a new one-by letting the culprits off the hook. The FBI punished Miller with what amounted to a "twoweek paid vacation," says Rochon, referring to a suspension without pay that fellow agents made up through a collection. Meanwhile, the administrative judge ordered Dillon and the others who orchestrated the Omaha pranks to undergo "racial sensitivity training," as though it takes Leo Buscaglia to learn not to tape ape faces on photos of your col league's son. None of the supervisors who knew what went on have been called to account.

One minority agent can think of someone who'd have handied it all differently. "Hoover," he says, even if prompted only by the need to protect the bureau's image, "would have fired them."

Not content simply to harass its own agents, the FBI has branched out in recent years to harass other innocents as well. The surveillance of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) will grace FBI textbooks as a case study in the use of bogus informants to justify an investigation of unwarranted scope (see page 19). Frank Varelli, a Salvadoran expatriate, told the FBI that CISPES was illegally funneling money to the FDR and the FMLN, guerrilla groups seeking to oust the Duarte government. Varelli said that CISPES might even be plotting violent acts in the United States itself. As it turned out, almost everything he told the FBI besides his name proved to be wrong. But it took the bureau a few years to catch on to that fact.

It's not that questions shouldn't have been asked. The FBI knew that CISPES endorsed the guerrillas' objectives. Even Angela Sanbrano, CISPES's executive director, says the charges were worth pursuing, "Sure, they should have looked into it," she says. "Their job is to investigate leads."

So the FBI should have made a few phone calls to see if the charges seemed credible. Instead, the bureau was quickly applying Efrem Zimbalist Jn techniques. Focusing on CISPES's Washington office and about a dozen key chapters, agents tailed CISPES members, took photos, and attended meetings undercover. They checked telephone, financial, and utility records, and picked through office trash. Then, having uncovered nothing even modestly suspicious, the FBI decided to balloon the investigation, inviting all 59 field offices to join the snooping. For the next 20 months, the probe subjected dozens of religious, labor, and community groups to surveillance, questioning, and infiltration. Since the suspected foreign connection meant the bureau could proceed under classified counterintelligence guidelines, the full extent of the FBI's permissible activity isn't known.

In the end, the investigation amounted to only five man-years of time (as opposed to 830 man-years in 1987 for fighting the mob). But if the scope wasn't quite Big Brother, there still seemed to be plenty of room to maneuver, as the spinoff investigations of nuns, union members, and college students suggest-none of which produced evidence of a single crime.

The bureau itself wasn't clear on what was considered out-of-bounds. An August 1984 memo from the Denver office to headquarters, for example, said that agents were "still not sure how much seemingly legitimate political activity can be monitored'" No edification was forthcoming. Clarence Kelley, the FBI director from 1973-78, argues that the FBI likes to err on the side of thoroughness in such cases. "Maybe there's something there lurking that you haven't found," he says, "so you're careful and look into it a little longer." That's fine when the reason to suspect criminal activity is grounded in something solid. But the FBI's investigation was predicated on Varelli's baseless charges (as well as such things as John Birch reports and the writings of suspected death-squad leader Roberto D'Aubisson-scarcely credible sources). It wasn't until 1985, when a Justice Department review questioned the need for the investigation, that FBI officials called it to a halt.

The case finally blew up last winter when a New York lawyers' group obtained documents showing just how broad the investigation really had been. Sessions ordered an internal review and then laid low until it was done. In September, he called the CISPES probe "unnecessarily broad" and mismanaged, and issued a detailed admission of FBI fault, announcing reforms to ensure more control. "Splendid," was Rep. Edwards's view of the director's performance, and the major editorial pages agreed.

But legislators may have been so smitten by his candor that the magnitude of the problems slipped right by. One of the most disturbing (and largely ignored) parts of Sessions's report was the news that supervisors responsible for CISPES didn't know enough "to provide meaningful supervision" of the handling of informants. Sessions announced he's setting up a new unit in the intelligence division to make sure this is done right. A new unit? Handling informants in investigations is a central part of a crimefighter's job. What are those 9,000 FBI agents doing in the field if they can't handle informants?

In fact, though no one picked up on it, Sessions was on to something. Many FBI supervisors do get promoted without mastering what the rest of us might think of as the basics. Even while Hispanics get blocked off from one avenue of FBI promotion, a back channel has given a leg up to those whom street agents have dubbed "the clerks." Twenty percent of today's FBI agents began their careers as "support personnel," such as office aides and bookkeepers, mostly in the D.C. headquaners. Once they get their college degrees, the bureau frequently promotes them to agent and sends them out for a few years' field experience. With contacts back in headquarters (contacts the Hispanics don't seem to enjoy), a large percentage find their way into the bureau's Career Development Program and secure spots as superv"A lot of people who've never been tested on the street go up the ladder," says Joe Yablonsky, a 31-year veteran who ran the Las Vegas and Cincinnati offices before retiring in 1983.

Sessions whistled on by telling Congress that top FBI officials "had no reasonable way to know" of any problems. (After all, we're only a bureau of investigation.) Can these "who me?" noises be coming from the same agency Hoover built? One thing's for certain: it's unlikely that th"discipline" Sessions imposed-which exonerated everyone but the lowest supervisors, and then gave them only a written reprimand plus a two-week suspension at best-can create any real appetite for change.

No tour of today's FBI is complete without a little gem called the "Library Awareness Program ."

Here's the problem. The FBI has found that the Soviets and other Eastern-bloc intelligence agents sometimes use technical libraries, especially in New York, as recruiting sites for undercover agents, whom they may be able to place in jobs with access to classified information. In the meantime, these coopted Americans, by doing even nonclassified research for their Soviet sponsors, may prevent the FBI from learning what technical information the Soviets want-a knowledge that's an important part of the cat-and-mouse of modern counterintelligence. The bureau's legitimate interest doesn't stop there. When a Soviet officially listed as, say, a cultural attache spends his day off researching space shuttle technology, it's a signal that the fellow may be an intelligence agent who ought to be watched. This is why the natural urge to say, "but this stuff isn't classified, so what's the big deal?" doesn't necessarily end the discussion. This is a point that many liberals can't seem to grasp, including the folks at The Nation, which has run several lopsided pieces on the issue.

Since the bureau has limited resources and can't post an undercover agent in every reading room, it seems logical to educate the staffs at the relevant libraries about these problems. Thus edified, they may then be able to notify the bureau if they become aware of. . . umm-well, if they become aware of what?

Therein lies the problem. When the bureau revived a long-dormant program of library visits in 1986-87, no one bothered to figure out what librarians should do. Librarians rightly rebelled when it seemed they were being turned into deputy G-men. It didn't help when FBI agents told some librarians to be on the lookout for people with funny accents or foreign-sounding names. (Under that standard, Zbigniew Brzezinski could be busted any day in the Columbia stacks.) It also didn't help that some agents chose to approach easily cowed clerks, flashing their badges and asking for records of borrowers, whose confidentiality is protected by law in 38 states.

While the reason for the FBI's decision to revive the program remains unclear, the agency's bureaucratic incentives may shed some light. Congress has dramatically increased the bureau's classified foreign counterintelligence budget in the last decade, but the FBI hasn't been able to spend the money fast enough. Unspent funds are anathema, of course, since they can serve as an invitation for future budget cuts. "That's put us in an awkward position. . . ," says Ahlerich. "We're always about a year behind what we've been given. These pressures come to bear in the field."

Say it's the year the tampered Tylenol case breaks, and the bureau unexpectedly has to redirect a ton of manpower to solve it. That means agents normally working the counterintelligence squad can't put in the spy-busting time for which they've been funded. Agents' slang for this phenomenon is that they're "underburning" counterintelligence hours. (Like lawyers and cab drivers, FBI agents must log exactly what they've done during every working moment.) As the end of the year approaches, explains Tom Sheer, a former chief of the New York office, a field supervisor reviewing his manpower records might say, "It looks like we're coming in skewed--is there any way we can bring it into balance?"

One way to bring it into balance might be to open up a dubious project like "library awareness," which can burn up some of those counterintelligence dollars. "If you're trying to open a case in an area where we're desperately trying to spend money," says Jack Ryan, an agent who was fired in 1987 after resisting an investigation in one such area, "the criteria won't get checked closely."

Is that what happened? The FBI won't say. And what it does say isn't very enlightening, Milt Ahlerich's summation of the program is typically helpful: "I still think it's appropriate," he says, "when handled appropriately."

Not everyone has minded the FBI spending its time stalking the stacks or nagging the nuns. Take Edward Lee Howard. Or Richard Miller. Or John Walker. While the FBI was busy training librarians in counterespionage, they and other real-life spies were robbing the country blind.

Mention Edward Lee Howard's name to anyone in the FBI's press office and the wince is audible. In the summer of 1985, a high-ranking Russian defector fingered Howard, a former CIA officer in Moscow, as an important KGB informant. Though the CIA's final assessment remains classified, sources told David Wise, author of The Spy no Got Away, a study of the case, that Howard's betrayal was thorough. He blew the covers of CIA sources in Moscow and also divulged countless methods our spies use to get information. "He closed us down over there," one CIA insider told Wise. The blame for hiring Howard, and for ignoring plentiful warning signs once he was aboard, belongs to the CIA. But it fell to the FBI, which has authority over espionage cases, to move in and build the rest of the case. That's when things continued to go wrong.

The bureau needed more to go on than just the word of a defector for evidence that would stand up in court. They tapped Howard's phone and began a round-the-clock program of surveillance. After a month's watching turned up nothing, bureau officials decided to confront Howard directly, hoping to provoke a confession. They had nothing to lose-with the surveillance team in place, there was no way for a fearful Howard to flee.

Or so it seemed. After two days of interrogation, Howard told the FBI nothing it could use. But the intensity of the sessions convinced him to make a break. Late on the afternoon of September 21, 1985, Howard drove away from his home with his wife. They brought along a dummy in the back seat that would take Howard's place after he'd jumped from the moving car, Howard later told Wise. But this clever cover wasn't necessary. Incredibly, in broad daylight, the Howards drove away undetected. A rookie FBI lookout man simply didn't notice they'd left. Dozens of nearby agents waiting to be signaled never knew. Edward Lee Howard lives in Moscow today.

Will the FBI learn from its failures? Milt Ahlerich says that "disciplinary action" was taken against "more than one" agent, but he won't give details. Others, however, prefer to blame the gods. "Apparently he [the lookout man] was looking on a monitor," one FBI source told Wise, "[and] [t]here were problems with reflection and glare. The sun," he explained, "is very strong in the desert." The next time the FBI's straining to get rid of some of that counterintelligence cash, maybe it can invest in sunglasses.

Certainly someone must have been in the sun too long to have given agent Richard Miller access to classified information. After 20 years with the bureau, Miller had a personnel file filled with doubts about his job performance. His superiors had repeatedly admonished him to control his ballooning weight. And in 1982, a psychologist examined Miller and told the FBI that he was emotionally unstable and should be nurtured along in some harmless post until retirement.

After his arrest, a fuller portrait emerged it, various news accounts: Miller occasionally took three-hour "lunches" at the 7-Elevens near his Los Angeles office, gorging himself on stolen candy bars while reading comic books. He cheated his own uncle by selling a muscle-relaxant device he'd patented. He skimmed cash from bureau coffers meant for one of his informants. Ever the entrepreneur, Miller even ran auto-registration checks and searched FBI criminal indexes for a local private investigator at $500 a pop. In early 1984, the Mormon church excommunicated Miller for adultery. By that time, Miller, who has eight children, was also deeply in debt.

Clearly the man was a natural for handling state secrets.

So what did FBI officials do? They gave him counterintelligence duty. While on the assignment in 1984, Miller was approached by Svetlana Ogorodnikov, a sexy Russian emigree who moonlighted for the KGB by seducing Americans in sensitive positions. Before long they were having an affair. Miller gave Svetlana and her husband a classified FBI document describing what kinds of intelligence information the U.S. seeks. In return, Miller wanted $65,000. Svetlana asked him to join her for a trip to Europe to confer with KGB higher-ups.

Things then unraveled quickly. Miller went to his superiors-having discovered, agents say, that the bureau had begun watching his activities-and explained what had transpired, claiming he'd been trying to infiltrate the local Soviet intelligence network. Given Miller's resume, this ambition sounded a little far-fetched. His boss, Richard Bretzing (that's right-Mat Perez's foe from the Hispanic lawsuit), now led Miller's interrogation. Days later Miller confessed to being the first FBI agent to betray his country. Today he's serving two life sentences plus 50 years in a federal prison in Minnesota.

As usual, the FBI cracked down hard on those who had allowed the screw-up to occur. A review found nothing to be faulted.

At least Miller's treason gave away nothing vital. By contrast, John Walker's disclosure of information that helped the Soviets track American submarines had the potential to inch the world closer to nuclear disaster.

Walker had spent 15 years helping the Soviets understand how the U.S. locates Soviet submarines while keeping our own hidden from view. According to Pete Earley, author of Family of Spies, a study of the Walker affair, the damage went beyond the specific information the Walkers wrned over on military communications, battle plans, and submarine deployment. By giving the Russians the tools they needed to decode our cryptographed messages, the Soviets for nearly two decades virtually had "an ear in the Pentagon," says Earley. "If you could read someone's mail for 20 years," he you'd have a pretty good idea of how they operate."

By October 1984, Barbara Walker finally decided to squeal on her "-husband's activities. She went to Walter Price, an FBI agent in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and described in detail some of Walker's drop techniques. Walker and the Russians had mastered an elaborate communications scheme that involved, among other things, placing 7-Up cans in prearranged spots. An Uncola by a stop sign might mean the coast is clear; no pop, no drop. Barbara Walker's mastery of the fine points, as it turned out, was impressive.

But not to Walter Price. The Hyannis sleuth didn't believe her. Barbara Walker drank a lot. She seemed bitter and vengeful toward her "-husband, who now lived with a woman half her age. And besides, she hadn't lived with him for ten years. But what about that leave-no-rock-unwmed philosophy that had sent the CISPES investigation spinning out of control? Apparently the charges of selling America's nuclear secrets weren't sufficiently serious to hold the Hyannis agent's attention. He wrote a report recommending the matter be dropped.

And there things stood for another three months until a Boston agent stumbled across the file during a routine review and recognized Barbara Walker's charges as the real thing, He forwarded copies down to headquarters and to the office in Norfolk, Virginia, where John Walker now lived. The bureau tapped Walker's phones and got the tip they needed six weeks later when Walker gave several friends different details about an upcoming "business trip'" Tailing him that day to an affluent Maryland suburb, they busted Walker after he left military documents at a drop site. Within days, Walker's son, brother, and friend, Jerry Whitworth, had been nabbed.

The FBI's failures to bag even the easy spies ("My husband's a Sure, lady.") is especially troubling since our espionage threats have never been tougher to combat. The old-time ideological traitor is an all-but-vanished species; today's turncoat wants money, not martyrdom. That means almost anyone might be a potential traitor. More than two million federal employees have access to classified information, as do another million or so private contractors. That's an awful lot of potential greed to keep tabs on, particularly for an agency with the sun in its eyes. With computer advances, the kind of information John Walker spent 15 years compiling might be gathered in a week. It's a picture of spiraling vulnerability.

As a democratic society, we'll never be in a perfect position to detect all spies. And no one's suggesting that the FBI can do it alone. But what did the bureau do to the Hyannis agent who would have let the Walkers get away? In the old days, heads would have rolled. Or the bumblers at least would have been exiled to bureau "penal colonies" like Butte, Montana. But today's bureau saw no reason for even an inquiry, never mind disciplinary action. J. Edgar Hoover must have one pissed-off ghost.
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Author:Miller, Matthew
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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