Melissa's Reviews > The Secrets of the FBI

The Secrets of the FBI by Ronald Kessler
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Apr 09, 12

bookshelves: 2011-2012
Read from December 22, 2011 to April 09, 2012

Although Ronald Kessler’s The Secrets of the FBI is a nonfiction account of the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, it reads like a spy novel. Action-packed and fast-paced, each chapter describes a different event in FBI history, including everything from how agents began using the phrase “More roast beef!” to how the Bureau caught Robert Hanssen – a surprisingly different account than offered by the movie Breach, which depicts the same story. While Breach makes it look like one agent single-handedly identified, located, and captured Hanssen, Kessler tells readers the whole story, crediting hundreds of agents and informants with Hanssen’s capture. Throughout the book, Kessler is not shy about highlighting the Bureau’s mistakes, allowing readers to get the whole story rather than the sugarcoated versions typically found in anything put out by the Bureau itself.
The intelligence community is filled with acronyms, abbreviations, and code names for just about everything, and learning to read these is like learning a new language. In his book, Kessler is able to immerse readers in the intelligence community but still allow readers to understand the text with relative ease. Although he uses all of the abbreviations and acronyms in order to stay true to the Bureau’s history, he is careful to frequently remind readers of how these abbreviations translate into plain English, often reminding readers that “SAC” is just FBI shorthand for “Special Agent in Charge,” and “DCI” is short for “Director of Central Intelligence.” By the end of the book, readers not only learn about the Bureau’s complex history, but also learn many of the intelligence community’s abbreviations and acronyms, a sort of icing-on-the-cake to reading Kessler’s book.
Since many of the topics in this book are very intense and serious, Kessler is careful to intersperse these with humor, a sort of comic relief. Partway through the book, just as Kessler wraps up his description of a CIA mole, he tells readers a story about an agent ordering a deli sandwich for lunch. In this chapter, entitled “More Roast Beef,” Kessler explains to readers that “according to a bureau legend,” a deli around the corner from an FBI field office supposedly gave agents more food. One day, an agent was horrified to see that his sandwich looked no different than anybody else’s and, “showing the deli man his credentials, the agent said, ‘FBI! More roast beef’” (Kessler). Although he goes on to relate this story back to the serious topic of the FBI, it is narratives like this that allow readers to stay interested throughout the entire book.
Throughout the book, Kessler gives readers the FBI’s version of many well-known events, such as the Waco showdown in 1993, and Ruby Ridge in 1992. Located in northern Idaho, the Ruby Ridge standoff started when four US Marshalls approached the house of Randall “Randy” Weaver on August 21, 1992. In the events that followed, several basic FBI policies were violated by an impatient HRT (Hostage Rescue Team). Kessler tells readers “agents are taught at Quantico to ‘isolate, contain, and negotiate’” (Kessler). When this policy is applied to Ruby Ridge, the result is to have the agents cool their heels outside Weaver’s cabin until he “eventually give[s] up peacefully,” as most suspects do if left alone long enough (Kessler). However, the HRT “came up with an assault plan that called for dismantling the house . . . within two days” (Kessler). Although no one can know for sure how the outcome would be different had the HRT waited for Weaver to surrender, Kessler makes sure to tell readers about the policy taught at Quantico in order to ensure that readers have all sides of the story, allowing them to formulate their own opinions.
Overall, I give The Secrets of the FBI five stars, and I think Kessler did a fantastic job turning a very complex topic into something understandable and interesting to read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the entire book, and there was never a dull moment or a pause in the action. I think it is important for people to see the truth behind many of the heavily-publicized fiascos in FBI history, and I think Kessler does a good job of explaining these events – including Ruby Ridge and Waco – in language that is understandable yet highly detailed and complex. This book was extremely well written, and I would recommend anybody who is interested in the intelligence community read this book.
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Reading Progress

01/12/2012 page 22 "This is a really good book so far... haven't read much yet, but so far it is good!"
02/16/2012 page 44 "This book is really good! It takes a little while to get through, since it is full of very detailed FBI stories and historical events, but it is really interesting, and I can't wait to read more!"
03/09/2012 page 100 "This book is fantastic so far! It is really interesting and fast-paced... Can't wait to finish it!"

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