My apologies for being gone for a time from the blog – but I do have good news! My covert warfare book has been accepted by a publisher and should go into edit this coming month. The goal is to have it in print and available by Jan/Feb 2014. With that and preparations for the 50th Anniversary Lancer conference in Dallas, things have been and will be pretty hectic this year.
For the moment though, I wanted to offer some observations to those who spent a lot of time reading and dealing with FBI reports. I gained a lot of exposure to FBI reporting practices in JFK research but far more when Stu Wexler and I began to tackle the King assassination. Our pursuit of reports in that case has been exhaustive and it has also given us the opportunity to compare “practices” at several levels of the Bureau. Of course all that applies to the Hoover era so generalizing to current day would be risky, but it is truly amazing how “political” the Bureau was under Hoover. It’s also amazing how constantly senior officers buckled to Hoover’s comments, we encountered little sign there was ever any push-back once Hoover made notes on or sent a memo back to the field. His subordinates immediately abandoned all the facts they had presented and turned 180 degrees. An amazing example occurred early in Hoover’s relationship with Dr. King. A senior Bureau officer prepared an extensive report pointing out that there was no true Communist influence on King; Hoover challenged him, the officer flipped totally and later Hoover commended him in writing for coming to his senses.
The same sort of “structuring” of evidence in regard to senior Bureau positions and prosecutions can also be found with FBI Lab work and I remain puzzled as to why more researchers don’t discuss that in regard to the JFK case. Anyone interested in that subject should read the the work of the two authors mentioned in the link below…their books are major works on how the lab lines up evidence for cases being prosecuted rather than simply performs objective studies:
In my own reading of Bureau reports, a number of things stand out. First is the difference between reports prepared by field office SAIC’s and HQ officers as compared to actual working agent reports. Both types of higher level reports are very much summary reports and often obviously driven by the angles which HQ is pursuing, especially once Hoover has closed down an open ended investigation to focus on a suspect and building a case. And its pretty clear Hoover rushed to that stage as soon as possible, for Bureau image purposes.
Once a suspect has been named, little time was spent on leads not going in that direction and often very superficial inquiry was used to close off the lead. Virtually any excuse would do. In the King case Stu and I saw instances of the Bureau closing off an accessory lead simply because the individual in question was a “respected” local business person, in others they closed them down by stating the whereabouts of the suspects was known on the day of the crime…but after cutting a level lower in the reports we found that might simply mean that the suspects car was seen in their driveway, the light was on in their house, or that an Agent had simply seen them in town that day or even that week. An example of that is found in a SAIC level report that cleared Milteer from being in Dallas; much later the agent actually in charge of his surveillance stated they might check his whereabouts once a week or once every two weeks….certainly they did not know where he was on the dates around Nov. 22. I have to say that we have found little evidence of Agents literally or consciously reporting false information, but the extent to which a report can be managed by selective inclusion and selective wording is quite amazing. More frequently its what is left unsaid, unexplored or unchallenged that leaves you shaking your head.
It also becomes clear that the Bureau’s view of a crime was that if an suspect was not at the scene of the crime, they could be written off….the concept of accessories and conspiracy simply did not come into play. Beyond that, their questioning techniques were often, to say the least, blunt. In many cases they clearly warned other suspects by questioning them about informant remarks while the inquiry was in full play – and simply recorded the suspects denials, moving on to other tasks. You find very little speculation about such things, what you do find is a consistent pattern of HQ or SAIC’s stating that lines of inquiry must be followed and issues resolved – but in practice, they simply fade away over time at the field level if the lead cannot be connected to the primary target of the investigation/pending prosecution.
In a broader sense it also appears their were two sorts of leads in play, and the difference in the two has a major impact in both inquiry and reporting – if it was a lead pertaining to HQ direction or the focus of a declared “principal suspect”, they dug deeply, sometimes agonizingly deeply, in support of building a case. But if it was a lead from the public, from an informant or actually any source that brought in something tangential to where HQ was going, the practice was often to investigate very superficially.
One final remark, in regard to unsolicited information, you often find Bureau reports very literally stating information from newspaper articles, from other agencies, from informants for just “friends of the Bureau.” In those reports, Agents are simply writing down the information as stated to them, most reports of any sort contain much in the way of analysis or assessment. A very good way to get in trouble with superiors was to say too much; better to be very brief and as factual as possible – agents did get written up on their report writing. But what that means is that you often find some really far out stuff in Bureau reports – but just because its in a report doesn’t mean that the Bureau investigated it or in any way endorsed it, they were simply “reporting” it. You can bet what a field agent really thought about any particular source report might have been a good deal different than what was literally being described. And agents were not encouraged to give commentary on such reports, that was left for higher levels or more often simply for the Director’s comment or direction.