The FBI’s new image, says New York Times book reviewer Bryan Burrough, is “the earnest bumbler, the blinkered desk-slug unable to imagine, much less stop, 9/11.” At first glance, the new book “Broken,” by Richard Gid Powers, appears to be yet another diatribe. Burrough concludes that Powers has fashioned a brisk overview of the bureau’s history that is refreshingly balanced, if ultimately disappointing.
Powers draws a straight line from the anti-FBI hysteria of the 70’s to the gun-shy bureau that slept while Osama bin Laden crept inside our borders. For 30 years the FBI worried less about terrorists and threats to the nation’s security than about violating civil liberties. As a result, it all but halted domestic surveillance of potential terrorists, Powers says, blinding the country to real dangers. “Broken” gives the bureau a pass on 9/11. “If you beat a dog every time it barks, do not be surprised when it lets a thief into the house,” he writes. “The price we paid for beating the bureau for barking was a bureau that would not bark.” “Who was responsible for the intelligence failure of 9/11?” he asks. “Well, we all were. The FBI did not turn itself into a risk-aversive bureau because it wanted to. We told the F.B.I. what we wanted it to be.” He concludes: “In the end, we got the FBI we wanted — an FBI that didn’t violate anybody’s civil liberties and didn’t do much else.” Yet Powers says little about how to fix the bureau and asserts that it already has changed enough to “deserve a second chance.”