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Archive for November, 2011

Retired FBI Employee Who Helped Crew in “J. Edgar” Reflects on Movie and Power of Hollywood

Rex Tomb served in the FBI from 1968 until his retirement in 2006. For most of his career he served in the Office of Public Affairs, retiring as Chief of its Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit.
 

Rex Tomb

By Rex Tomb
for ticklethewire.com

About a year ago I received a telephone call from my former boss at the FBI. No biggie. Usually they call to tell me that a former colleague is retiring or that maybe someone I know is ill or transferring. This call however, was different. He told me that some people were coming to town and that they were producing a feature film about the life of J. Edgar Hoover. Would I give them a tour of Mr. Hoover’s old office? I immediately agreed to do so.

I am not a historian, nor can I claim to have known Mr. Hoover, though in a couple of those “my brushes with fame” moments, I did catch glimpses of him and even exchanged a few words with the man (very few). To say however, that I knew him? When he was alive, I worked in the mail room and conducted FBI tours. We weren’t on a first name basis. I served under him for the first four years of my FBI career which, by the way, stretched from 1968 until my retirement in 2006.

In the early 1970s, I was given an assignment that enabled me to obtain a very good knowledge of how Mr. Hoover’s office had been laid out: Who sat where, where the entrances were, where some of the furniture stood, etc. Mr. Hoover’s office was in the Department of Justice Building which is located in Washington, D.C. Several years ago the building underwent an extensive renovation. Much of the building’s interior was gutted and rebuilt, making it much harder for newer people to know exactly where things were. Since I live only a few miles away and was available, I was called.

While some parts of Mr. Hoover’s office suite no longer exist, I was still able to show them Mr. Hoover’s old conference room, his working office as well as his secretary’s office. The movie production people that I met with could not have been nicer. I liked them then, and I still do. They were intelligent, courteous and very kind. I also tried to recommend that they telephone some people who actually knew Mr. Hoover. Believe it or not, there are still a few around. They were appreciative, but it was obvious that they had already been in touch with some of them. Researchers who work on major film productions are notoriously efficient.

After the tour, I eagerly anticipated the film’s release, and several weeks ago, “J. Edgar” which was directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer, came to Washington area movie theaters. The night I went to see it the theater was packed.

 

I was impressed with the production’s attention to detail. The cars, clothes, and sets were spot-on. Even the office scenes, which were filmed in a Hollywood studio, looked very realistic. An acquaintance of mine, who worked in that office after Mr. Hoover died, asked me if scenes were actually filmed there. I also thought that DiCaprio’s and Hammer’s performances were very good. The movie follows a timeline starting when Mr. Hoover and Mr. Tolson were very young and takes them well into old age. The actors had to convince us that 50 years had passed and I think that they succeeded. They certainly took me along with them. That was no small feat either. DiCaprio and Hammer had to do their work wearing a ton of makeup. They also had to change the way they walked, talked, etc. Hoover and Tolson looked, moved and sounded quite a bit different in 1972 than they did in 1932.

In the movie, DiCaprio probably pulled off the aging scenes a little better than Hammer did, but that might be because, in real life, Hoover aged better than Tolson. While watching Hammer’s performance I was reminded of the time that a colleague showed me a picture a young Clyde Tolson. He looked nothing like the shuffling, stooped figure I had just seen in the hall. Age and ill health had really taken a toll on him. In keeping with that progression, Hammer’s Tolson, looked nothing like the younger man he portrayed earlier in the movie. That took considerable skill.

The film also documents Hoover’s rise in the Department of Justice as well as the political turmoil faced by the nation in the early twentieth century. The film credits Hoover for his meticulous attention to detail as well as some of the innovations that he introduced to American law enforcement.

What I found less satisfying was the portrayal of Hoover and Tolson’s personal relationship. Mr. Hoover and Mr. Tolson were certainly close. When I first started at the Bureau, from time to time I would hear colleagues make snide remarks about them. It didn’t happen as much as one might expect though. Perhaps it’s because until relatively recently, women were largely excluded from clubs, schools and other organizations. Also, remember that up until 1973, only guys were drafted into an almost exclusively, all male U.S. military. Over the years, millions and millions of men were compelled to go through this male rite of passage.

Additionally, almost all professional work environments were male dominated. You could visit factories, churches, corporate offices, laboratories, newsrooms and even movie studios and see only a handful of professional women. Seeing two men regularly lunching together? So what? Restaurants back then looked like men’s clubs with plenty of lunchtime alcohol and dangerous amounts of cigar and cigarette smoke. Hoover and Tolson seen together back then would have looked like just about everyone else.

Since the release of the movie, I’ve read stories that Hoover and Tolson dressed alike, lived together and apparently went to great lengths to ensure that their private lives remained that way. My own observation was that they certainly dressed better than most. They also seemed to favor dark suits. That they dressed alike, though? I never saw or heard of it, and I don’t think something like that would have gone unnoticed in an organization like the FBI. Of course, back then conformity was considered a virtue, and tons of people including many of Mr. Hoover’s assistant directors, Agents and yes, even some of his super loyal, self-serving clerks (like me), wore dark suits too. Take a look at photographs of other government executives from that period. Hoover and Tolson fit right in, sartorially speaking, anyway.

As for their living arrangements, Mr. Tolson lived in an apartment near American University. Mr. Hoover owned a house several miles away. The only time that I am aware of Mr. Tolson ever staying with Mr. Hoover was the time just after he had had open heart surgery. Mr. Hoover had a live-in domestic who could look after Mr. Tolson during his convalescence. Under these circumstances, not allowing Mr. Tolson to stay at his house would have been pretty uncharitable. By the way, Mr. Hoover’s secretary, Miss Gandy, also lived within easy walking distance. There was plenty of help if Mr. Tolson needed it.

Were they more than just good friends? We’ll never know, but of the numerous people I’ve talked to over the years, who really knew them, all have told me that there was nothing more to their relationship than friendship. This, I guess, is why I’m so skeptical of all of this talk about them being secret lovers. I mean why should I accept the notions of those who never knew them, never saw them, never met them, never talked to them and in some cases weren’t even born yet?

In recent conversations I have had with some of my former colleagues, I don’t think that most of us really care about the nature of Mr. Hoover and Mr. Tolson’s relationship. I know I don’t. Many of us believe, however, that both Mr. Hoover and Mr. Tolson would care.

If this were a film about a ”fictional” FBI director, in the same way that “Citizen Kane” was a movie about a “fictional” press baron, I wouldn’t be too concerned. This movie, however, deals with real flesh and blood people and just to make sure we know that, they even used the main character’s name for the film’s title. Millions of people will see this movie and will draw conclusions from it. For the record, there is absolutely no credible evidence that J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde A. Tolson were either closeted or openly homosexual. Likewise, while there is a popular notion that Mr. Hoover blackmailed the Kennedys and others over the span of his very long career, I have never seen solid evidence that it actually happened. Indeed, I find it dubious that anyone could intimidate 535 members of Congress and every President from Calvin Coolidge to Richard Nixon for nearly 50 years. This is America and not the Soviet Union. While the film does not come out and say it, it certainly does infer these things about Mr. Hoover. Is it accurate? Is it fair? What impressions will viewers take away with them, not only of Mr. Hoover, but of the thousands of men and women who over the years worked for him, and in some cases sacrificed their lives while serving under his leadership?

Hollywood rightly calls attention to the unchecked power of elected and career government officials. What I sometimes fear they miss, however, is the power of their own industry. They can re-write the entire life of an individual in several languages, and it will be believed, sometimes unquestionably, by a vast worldwide audience. With nothing but the box office or advertisers to serve as a check and balance, the entertainment industry has the ability to demonize or beatify almost anyone they choose. Now that’s power! I wouldn’t want it any other way. Censorship has no place in America. But still, we really place a lot of faith in the entertainment industry, and that puts a very heavy responsibility on their shoulders. What does the Bible tell us? “. . . unto whomsoever much is given, unto him shall be much required.”

So true, so true.

Blago Fundraiser Gets 10 1/2 Years for Extorting Millions

By Danny Fenster
ticklethwire.com

A top fundraiser and advisor to ex-Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich got handed a stiff sentence Tuesday in Chicago federal court for extorting millions of dollars in exchange for regulatory approval or business.

Fundraiser  Antoin “Tony” Rezko was sentenced to 10 1/2 years in prison — a sentence that prompted Rezko’s daughter to burst into tears, reports the Chicago Tribune. Judge Amy St. Eve told Rezko his “selfish and corrupt actions” have threatened people’s trust in government.

The tough sentence could be the preview as to what’s to come next month when none other than Blagojevich himself is sentenced.

Rezko has been in prison since his 2008 conviction, but the sentencing was delayed because federal prosecutors thought he may have needed to be called a witness at other key trials related to the probe of the Blagojevich administration, the Tribune reported.

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called the sentence “a wake-up call.”

“I don’t know how many times we’ve had sentences of 10 1/2 years” in public corruption cases, Fitzgerald said, according to the Tribune.

Which raises a question. As ticklethewire.com reported previously, some see the upcoming Blagojevich sentencing as a chance for Illinois to send a very strong, very pubic message against widespread corruption in local and state government. Could this be the stern warning, the “wake up call” that was needed? Would that mean a lighter sentence for Blagojevich? Or is this only the beginning of an overdue crackdown?

Blagojevich conducted an extensive media campaign covered by the national press before his guilty conviction. While most Chicagoans know the name Tony Rezko, he does not have the national profile that Rod Blagojevich does. A stiff Blago sentencing would surely send a stronger, or at least louder, message.

Only time will tell. Balgojevich’s sentencing is set for December.

To read more click here.

Civic, Corporate Leader Arrested for Financial Fraud

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com
 

A corporate leader and former member of the executive committee of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors was arrested by the FBI agents, the Berkeley Daily Planet reported on Tuesday.

Todd Hansen, former president of global advertising firm Posterscope and of Clear Channel Outdoors San Francisco division, has been charged with orchestrating a financial fraud  to enrich himself by inflating company earnings.

Hansen and a former colleague at Posterscope, “are accused of engaging in a five-year, $19.75 million accounting fraud scheme to make it appear that the Company was meeting certain performance targets when it was not, so that they could receive higher salary increases, bonuses, and stock options,” according to the FBI. Hansen boosted his income by $1.1 million a year for his five years at the company. He is also accused of mishandling company funds for personal purchases.

To read more click here.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST:

 

DEA, New York Police Shootout Leaves Suspect with Stomach Shot

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

A shootout involving undercover DEA, NYPD and the State Police task force left one suspect wounded in upper Manhattan, reports the New York Post.

At 10 p.m., the officers spotted a group of armed men about to rob a known drug dealer when they tried to bust the thieves, the Post reported. The thieves drew weapons and a shootout ensued, leaving one suspect with a shot in the stomach, who is in stable condition. Another received a graze wound and three others were taken into custody.

No officer was hurt.

 

Brit Official Denies Report FBI is Sending Armed Agents to 2012 London Olympics

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
Reports that the FBI is sending an army of armed agents to the 2012 Olympics just ain’t true, at least according to the a Brit official.

The website News24 reported that Chris Allison, the national security co-ordinator for the games, “sharply rejected reports that armed FBI agents would be taking part in securing the games, insisting on Tuesday that Britain did not need outside help to keep the event safe.”

Specifically, he rejected reports in the Guardian newspaper that said the U.S. would send armed FBI agents to protect U.S. interests.

“There will be no foreign armed personnel here,” Allison said, according to the site.

 

TSA Employee Charged in Sexual Assault Incident

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

A Transportation Security Administration employee in uniform flashed his badge and apparently more at a woman near his Manassas, Va., home.

Harold Glenn Rodman, a 52-year-old airport screener, has been charged with abduction with intent to defile, aggravated sexual assault, forcible sodomy and object sexual penetration, reports CNN.

According to police, a 37-year-old woman was walking with a friend in the neighborhood when Rodman approached and displayed a badge, then sexually assaulted the woman before she fled on foot. Rodman matched a description police had recorded on a patrol call while canvassing the neighborhood.

The Dulles International Airport employee has been removed from work pending the investigation.

“TSA holds its personnel to the highest professional and ethical standards, and investigates all allegations of misconduct,” TSA spokesman Greg Soule told CNN. “The disturbing allegations against this individual in no way reflect the work of the more than 50,000 security officers who every day ensure the security of the traveling public.”

To read more click here.

Mumbia Attack Planner Who was American Focus of PBS Special Tuesday Night

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

David Coleman Headley,  a lead planner of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, who looked Western and had a U.S. passport,  is the focus of  a special on Tuesday at 9 p.m. on PBS’s Frontline called “A Perfect Terrorist.”

The son of a Pakistani father and an American mother, Headley was chosen for his non-Muslim, Western look and fluency in English, reports NPR.

Headley was a walking “mix of cultures,” born in Pakistan and raised by his father after his parent’s divorce in elite military training schools, then sent to Philadelphia to live with his mother above a pub when he got into trouble in Pakistan, NPR reported. At the pub in Philly alcohol and music clashed with his conservative upbringing, leading him into more trouble.

“It’s kind of this collision with the West after this upbringing in Pakistan,” says ProPublic reporter Sebastian Rotella, who did the documentary, according to NPR. “As a young man, he slides into drug addiction and drug trafficking.”

To read more click here.

Former FBI Agent: Oswald Acted Alone

Jacqueline Kennedy-1961/white house photo

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

A former FBI agent who worked in the Kennedy assassinations believes  the conspiracy theories may have resulted from suspicions after the FBI decided to initially withhold some information, reports the Salem News. He still believes Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

Former agent Jim Graham of Overland, Ks., says the FBI withheld initially, at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy, evidence indicating the bullet that killed Kennedy came from Oswald’s position and his rifle, according to the Salem News. That, he says, may have created the conspiracy theories.

“Mrs. Kennedy did not want this evidence released immediately because she did not want her children to see it,” Graham told the paper.

Graham was a street agent in Kansas City at the time of the assassination, listening in over the radio from his car as it happened. Two days later Jack Ruby killed Oswald and Graham wound up investigating the incident in Dallas with hundreds of other agents. His work made it into the Warren Commission report, the large investigation into the murder.

Graham firmly believes Oswald acted alone. “Oswald was a small person who always wanted to be somebody,” he told the paper. “Killing the President of the United States was his claim to fame.” Graham believes Oswald would have confessed had he not been killed.

To read more about Graham’s career click here.