Hoover’s Triumph

In response to:

How They Blew Up the L.A. Times from the November 20, 2008 issue

To the Editors:

J. Edgar Hoover must be kicking his (perhaps high) heels against his coffin lid over Russell Baker’s claim that William Burns was the first director of the FBI [“How They Blew Up the L.A. Times,” NYR, November 20, 2008]. Burns did run the FBI’s antecedent, the Bureau of Investigation, from 1921 to 1924, but he was not the first to do so. The inconsequential Stanley Finch was, from 1908 to 1912. It was Hoover, however, who turned the newt into a hydra. The bureau he took over in 1924 was a smallish squad of anodyne investigators. By 1935, when the BI got its “F” (Hoover having first experimented with “USBI” and “Division of Investigation”), he had remade it into the ominous, queer, tentacular corps—part Gestapo, part Pinkerton, part Keystone—that it would remain until he died, the most feared man in Washington, in 1972. In both the literal and totemic senses Hoover was the FBI’s first director.

Steve Hendricks
Knoxville, Tennessee