From TIME's Archives: The Truth About J. Edgar Hoover

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Hoover and Tolson's world, of course, embraced the FBI—and, from the inside looking out, it was a unique atmosphere. There is little doubt that Hoover built an organization of competent, efficient, incorruptible investigators. But he also created a byzantine bureaucracy in which agents lived in states of recurring terror.

Hoover had so many rules of personal behavior and so many specific procedures for conducting investigations that in the rough world of dealing with crime, no agent could adhere to all of them. This bred a deep cynicism throughout the FBI and encouraged agents to find ways of breaking rules without getting caught. At the same time, agents spied on other agents. Even stenographers were encouraged to report violations, anonymously if they wished. Supervisors tried to blame subordinates for violations. There was no appeal when Hoover decided that an agent should be demoted, exiled to an undesirable post, or summarily fired.

The Director's favorite punishment posts were Butte, Mont., Oklahoma City, and, surprisingly, New Orleans (Hoover thought the Louisiana climate was miserable, but many an agent gratefully accepted such punishment).

The result was an arcane world in which the Washington headquarters, where Hoover reigned so autocratically, was grandiosely referred to in internal FBI memos as the Seat of Government (SOG). Unofficially, the inspectors. whose nasty job was to check on procedural violations, were called "goons." What they were seeking were "subs," shorthand for "substantial violations" of either the three-volume Manual of Instructions, detailing how to pursue some 180 kinds of investigations, or of the thick Manual of Rules and Regulations, setting standards of personal conduct. Each lowly special agent in the field reported to an equally frightened Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) and to the regional bureau boss, the Special Agent in Charge (SAC).

ASAC dreaded the day when he would hear, in an echo of Mafia lingo, that there was "a contract out for him" from Hoover's office. Then he knew the goons would promptly arrive to pore over every record of his bureau's work. Inevitably, they would find cause for punishment—one of the mildest of which was to order the SAC to "hit the bricks" (a transfer from running a bureau to being an agent again). Some agents were convinced that Hoover had diabolically designed his rules to give him justification for firing almost anyone at any time.

Hoover was especially finicky about the appearance of agents (white shirts and dark ties, jackets on in the office, hair short). There were strict rules about the use of official cars (never drive them home overnight; no accidents, not even fender-benders). A late expense account could mean punishment. Unmarried agents were sometimes fired for sharing a hotel room with a woman. A SAC was once saved from demotion when aides to an inspector from Washington made passes at women in his office. The SAC, target of the investigation, reported the indiscretions to SOG—and the inspector was censured instead.

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