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Enemies: A History of the FBI (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

Tim Weiner is a prize-winning investigative journalist who can write a history that reads like a fictional thriller. His Legacy of Ashes was a tour de force look at the monstrous stupidity of the Agency and how the personal political and social views of those in charge have caused the country no end of trouble. He proves the same to be the case with the Bureau.

His Enemies: A History of the FBI (Random House, now in trade paperback, $20) is perhaps misleading as a title. This is not a complete history of FBI over the decades, nor is it meant to be. It is a history of the FBI as a domestic intelligence agency. If you’re looking for a detailed history of how Hoover did or didn’t take on the Mob, this won’t tell you much.

What this will tell you is now the FBI was created without a written charter passed by the federal legislature, how it was focused from the start on political/economic enemies as perceived by those in power (what were once called anarchists, then communists, then Leftists, and now terrorists). It tells the story of one man’s maniacal focus on those he viewed as detrimental to the US, how that maniacal focus detoured the agency from being an effective crime-fighting force, how his focus on protecting the image he cultivated stopped the agency from dealing with it’s own faults and shortcomings, and how that one man, Hoover, of course, amassed so much power that there was no possible way to correct anything that was wrong with what the FBI was doing or trying to do.

Weiner takes you from the founding of the Bureau of Investigation up to the advent of drone-strike warfare. He writes about how, from the start, though those who created it were very afraid of any sort of ‘state police’, they recognized that the nation needed one agency to oversee the crimes of national scale. He also shows how, from the start, what we got was a rogue secret police.

But Weiner does not lay all of this off on Hoover’s shoulders. Though one has to wonder how the first five decades of the FBI’s work would have gone had someone other than Hoover been in power, he makes it clear that Hoover worked hand–in-glove with Senators and Presidents and Attorneys General and that there’s plenty of blame to go around.

What’s most disturbing about this book is the chronicle of wasted time and money – the pointless spy hunts, the traitors who sold secrets, the millions (if not billions) burned up in national computer systems that never worked (that the FBI has been unable to employ a usable computer system is one of the most horrifying aspects of the book), and the long-standing feuding between the various federal outfits that feeds the egos of those in charge but does nothing to make the taxpayers safer.

And though the book ends with the beginnings of the Obama administration, it couldn’t be more timely. Hoover’s long use of illegal wiretaps and ‘black bag’ jobs to gather intelligence and information, and the Bureau’s long-standing inability to use all of that info or to make sense of it, resonates with each day’s headlines; the NSA is snorting up vast quanties of information, legally or not, morally or not, but can it all be used in any way to benefit the ordinary taxpaying system? In anything, just the opposite is true – in the last 50 years, Weiner details time and again that the FBI was incapable of dealing effectively with all of the information it got. As the NSA readies a new server farm of massive proportions, how can twe believe they’ll find any crucial needle in all that hay?

If the past is prologue, not a chance. The more things change, the higher the technology gets, the more the problems stay the same – and the taxpayer is stuck with the bill and the empty assurances of security.


"Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free."

Alexander Hamilton

— JB


The Washington Post - New York Daily News - Slate

"Fast-paced, fair-minded, and fascinating, Tim Weiner's Enemies turns the long history of the FBI into a story that is as compelling, and important, as today's headlines."--Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Oath


Enemies is the first definitive history of the FBI's secret intelligence operations, from an author whose work on the Pentagon and the CIA won him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

We think of the FBI as America's police force. But secret intelligence is the Bureau's first and foremost mission. Enemies is the story of how presidents have used the FBI to conduct political warfare, and how the Bureau became the most powerful intelligence service the United States possesses.

Here is the hidden history of America's hundred-year war on terror. The FBI has fought against terrorists, spies, anyone it deemed subversive--and sometimes American presidents. The FBI's secret intelligence and surveillance techniques have created a tug-of-war between national security and civil liberties. It is a tension that strains the very fabric of a free republic.

Praise for Enemies

"Outstanding."--The New York Times

"Absorbing . . . a sweeping narrative that is all the more entertaining because it is so redolent with screw-ups and scandals."--Los Angeles Times

About the Author

Tim Weiner has won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting and writing on secret intelligence and national security. As a correspondent for The New York Times, he covered the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington and terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Sudan, and other nations. Enemies is his fourth book. His Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA won the National Book Award and was acclaimed as one of the year's best books by The New York Times, The Economist, The Washington Post, Time, and many other publications. The Wall Street Journal called Betrayal "the best book ever written on a case of espionage." He is now working on a history of the American military.

Praise For…

“Outstanding.”—The New York Times
“Fast-paced, fair-minded, and fascinating, Tim Weiner’s Enemies turns the long history of the FBI into a story that is as compelling, and important, as today’s headlines.”—Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Oath
“Absorbing . . . a sweeping narrative that is all the more entertaining because it is so redolent with screw-ups and scandals.”—Los Angeles Times
“Fascinating.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tim Weiner has written a riveting inside account of the FBI’s secret machinations that goes so deep into the Bureau’s skulduggery, readers will feel they are tapping the phones along with J. Edgar Hoover. This is a book that every American who cares about civil liberties should read.”—Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side
“Important and disturbing . . . with all the verve and coherence of a good spy thriller.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Exciting and fast-paced.”—The Daily Beast

Product Details
ISBN: 9780812979237
ISBN-10: 0812979230
Publisher: Random House Trade
Publication Date: February 26th, 2013
Pages: 537
Language: English