At the height of 1930s era crime and depression, criminals that under normal circumstances would be looked upon with scorn, became larger than life iconic figures whose daring bank robberies and shootouts with policy became stuff of legend. The brazen thefts in the middle of broad daylight accomplished with the use of the Thompson Sub-machine Gun (Tommy Gun) and the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) catapulted America into a new and deadlier form of crime. In response, the Federal Bureau of Investigation under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) stepped into the foray and within a one-year stretch, arrested or executed America’s most wanted. At the top of this list was the late John Herbert Dillinger (1903-1934).
John Beineke has captured the outlaw’s life in this straight to the point biography of his life of crime and sudden death. It is neither praise or vindication of Dillinger but a look at the life of the legendary figure. The story begins in Indiana, Dillinger’s home state. After the death of his mother, the young boy slowly makes his way into a life in crime resulting in stint at Indiana State Prison after a conviction for robbery and assault. Paroled nine years later, it would be the last time that Dillinger served time in prison. In fact, he vowed never to return to a prison cell, a vow he kept until his final moments. But what is it about Dillinger that captivates people even today? In 2009, director Michael Mann brought Dillinger’s life to the big screen again, enlisting Johnny Depp in the starring role. The film was released under the title Public Enemies, and also portrayed the FBI’s pursuit of Lester Gillis, a.k.a George “Babyface” Nelson (1908-1934) and Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd (1904-1934). Christian Bale stars as FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (1903-1960), tasked with capturing the outlaws at all costs. The film was solid and with an all-star cast, Mann recreates the feel of depression era America.
Here, Dillinger is the star and he has his own supporting cast of criminals, each of whom would meet their own violent ends. To say that Dillinger’s life was extraordinary would be an understatement. As we learn in the book, not only did he excel in knocking over banks, but no jail could seemingly contain him and incredibly, he often hid from authorities in plain sight. It is literally a story that no filmmaker could write. The pace of the book picks up early and it never slows down. And with each heist, Dillinger becomes more infamous to authorities and more a folk hero to thousands of Americans who believed the banks were the real enemies, profiting off the misery of the average citizen. In comparison to some biographies, mundane information is excluded leaving the reader with the facts peppered with occasional sub-stories between the major characters. Politics inevitably enters the story as America grapples with a rising crime wave and Washington reconsiders the tenure of the FBI’s longest-serving director whose job might have ended if not for the apprehension of Dillinger and others.
Less than one hundred years ago, John Dillinger used Midwestern banks as his own personal ATM. His escapades filled newspapers, filled with tales of crimes by fellow outlaws such as Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, Pretty Boy Flood and part-time accomplice, Baby Face Nelson, who enters and leaves this story on multiple occasions before parting ways with Dillinger for good not long before both would be gunned down. Today such a crime spree is unthinkable but in Dillinger’s era, a time before two-way radios, cellphones and social media, bank robberies and shootouts with cops were common occurrences. Beinecke has taken us back in time to relive the decade that Dillinger made a name for himself. Curiously, although the end of his story is widely known, the story still pulls the reader in with its engaging descriptions of the Dillinger gang’s exploits and graphic descriptions of the deaths that occurred as a result. The outlaws will always be romanticized in American culture. In fact, they are as American as apple pie. Dillinger has been dead for more than eighty years but if you research depression era gangsters, his name will appear on every single list. He lives on in infamy and is idolized by some as a rebel who fought against the corrupt banking establishment as a modern-day Robin Hood. To the FBI, he was a public enemy whose capture was more important than anything else. In the end, they would get their man but not before Dillinger left his mark and became part of history.
It is not often that a former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation writes a book. In fact, it is almost unprecedented. In all fairness, there have been books written by former members of the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. intelligence apparatus. When James Comey published this book, news outlets were eagerly waiting to get a copy of one of the most anticipated book releases in history. The political climate of the United States is unlike anything most of us have ever seen. There are a number of adjectives that come to mind, any of which could be rightfully applied to Washington, D.C. Time will tell what will happen in the oval office. The firing of James Comey through the media left many of us shocked, confused and even angry. For some, it was just one more act by a vindictive and childish commander-in-chief. Others believed that it was the right call as they believed the FBI was out of control. I watched broadcasts that day and found myself astonished at the day’s events and wondering if this was just the start of a regrettable trend developing in the United States government.
During the 2016 president election, James Comey became a celebrity of sorts as a result of the bureau’s investigation of improper use of e-mail by Hillary Clinton. She was never charged with a crime and given a warning about improper use of a mail server. Several weeks later, it was announced that once again, the FBI was looking into the e-mail issue. Critics of the FBI jumped on the announcement and blasted it as a smear campaign to discredit Clinton and tilt the election in favor of Donald Trump. Whether the e-mails was the deciding factor that caused Clinton to lose the election, is still up for debate. Comey was labeled all sorts of names by Clinton supporters and disliked even by some Trump supporters for not fully going after Clinton as they believed he should have. Seemingly a man caught in the middle, he did his best to wade through difficult waters. I have often wondered what really did happen and why did the FBI put out the statement about re-opening the investigation in Clinton’s emails? Well, here in this book Comey answers that question and many others that have crossed the minds of millions of Americans.
The book is largely an autobiography where we learn about Comey’s childhood, his role as a husband and father and experiences in the U.S. Department of Justice. The young kid from Yonkers, NY, probably never imagined that one day he would lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation and find himself at the center of an election controversy. What I found most interesting about the book is that Comey does not come off arrogant or self-pitying. He is a neutral as you could expect. It is clear that he truly believes in the bureau and the laws of the United States. But any beliefs about him being out to sabotage Clinton, help Trump or just make a mockery of the Department of Justice is ludicrous. In fact, his revelation about his true feelings towards the election says a lot about how he approached his job.
Many of us are unaware of the sacrifices made by those who work in top positions in the U.S. Government. Long hours and time away family is often the norm and the jobs are sometimes quite unorthodox. Comey speaks on this and the several times his family had to relocate as his career took yet another term is an example of the chaotic life that can come with service in government. But not once does Comey complain and is grateful for everything he has done. His story reads like that of an accomplished employee looking back on all that he has done. That is until we get to the current President.
To say that the story takes a dramatic turn would be an understatement. I do not believe that any of us knew exactly what would happen once Donald Trump took office. The celebrity television star and real estate figure ran a campaign that bordered on the unreal at times. But he received the electoral votes needed to become the next President of the United States. Almost immediately, the relationship between Trump and Comey is filled with uneasiness and bizarre situations. Readers might be tempted to believe that the book has turned into fiction but it does not. The recollections come from Comey’s memos and memory of the meetings, the substance of which will make most people scratch their heads in bewilderment. In addition, Comey puts to rest any notion people might hold about any relationship he has with Donald Trump. And I would like to think that his very public firing confirms what Comey says about their prior encounters. Most of the story will sound unbelievable but then again, the man in office was elected on a campaign that many thought was also unbelievable.
Regardless of party affiliation, if you believe in the laws of the United States and our democratic institutions, the book is a good read about the Department of Justice. And now we know the story of James Comey, who went from FBI Director to a man known to millions of people as the person unfairly fired by a President whose is beyond unpredictable. I do not know what the future holds for Donald Trump of James Comey but with this statement, the former FBI Director has taken a large step in clearing his name and reputation and telling his side of a most interesting story.
Currently, in the Midwestern United States, Opioid addiction is causing the deaths of hundreds of men and women. Their deaths and the rise of Heroin use is a direct affront to the long-standing war on drugs. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan is fondly remembered for her eternal slogan “just say no”. Narcotics are still largely illegal but more states have begun to decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana which has allowed entrepreneurs to invest their savings into a new and profitable industry. The story of America’s war on drugs is long and often misunderstood. Allegations , rumors and explosive revelations have all contributed to cast the dark cloud over the battle against narcotics. Douglas Valentine decided to explore the history of the war on drugs and in this eye-opening book, he tells the story of the history of America’s battle against drugs and the rise and fall of the legendary and infamous Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).
Students of history will be familiar with the story of Charles “Lucky” Luciano (1897-1962) and his participation with the U.S. Government to defeat the Axis powers during World War II. The story on the surface sounds simple enough, but as Valentine shows us, Luciano was only a small part of the puzzle and there was more to his role than meets the eye. Further, the relationship between Washington and the Italian American mafia would take on monstrous proportions an in the process taint the FBN’s reputation. The bureau was under the guidance of the later Harry Anslinger (1892-1975) and rivaled the Federal Bureau of Investigation, led by John Edgar Hoover (1895-1972). Anslinger made a name for himself as a director whose agents made cases that resulted in convictions but whose personal racial prejudices and desire for recognition caused him to make decisions that would have far-reaching effects for years to come. Valentine did an impeccable task of researching the topic and the revelations contained in the book are nothing short of jaw-dropping. And the interviews with former agents of the FBN are shocking to say the least but provide valuable insight into what made the FBN a success and what ultimately led to its failure.
Anslinger plays a prominent role in the book but the story heats up and takes on a life of its own as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) makes its appearance. Organized in 1947 through the National Security Act signed into law by President Harry Truman, the Agency, as its known, grew into an uncontrollable secret apparatus of the Unites Government that engaged in espionage, assassinations and as we learn in this book, narcotics trafficking. Rumors of the Agency’s involvement in the rise of drugs of America have held in place for decades. In fact, the allegations proved to be true and the story was broken by late journalist Gary Webb (1955-2004). But what many people did not know then and perhaps now, is that the story was far deeper and much uglier that most would be willing to accept. The FBI also plays a large role in the story of the FBN and Valentine brings the three together exposing the complicated and tension filled relationship between the three organizations.
Before beginning this book, it is necessary for the reader to accept that many unpleasant truths will be revealed. A complicated web of deceit and complicity was constructed that allowed thousands of people to profit off the misery of millions. But more frightening is are ways in which narcotics were able to enter the country with the help of those in high places and the impossibility we now face of their removal. The story is filled with legendary names such as Meyer Lansky (1902-1983), Vito Genovese (1897-1968), Tibor Rosenbaum, James Angleton (1917-1987), Richard Helms (1913-2002) and Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975), among others. But what is paramount is that Valentine has put together an extraordinary jigsaw puzzle that allows the reader to see the dark side of governments and the reality of war as highlighted in the conflict in Vietnam. The revelations about the CIA’s role in the war alone are enough to earn the wrath of veterans still with us today. Valentine spares nothing and gives us the facts, as ugly as they are. The beauty of the book however, is the author’s genius is connecting the characters and providing a mental map of the endless connections between law enforcement, politicians, mobsters, intelligence officers and rebels of all sorts. The information is staggering and at times during the book, I literally could not believe what I was reading. And I do not believe Valentine did either as he was writing this book. I forewarn readers that as an American citizen, this book may cause grief and outrage at the actions of the United States Government domestically and abroad. It is not an easy pill to swallow but the truth is rarely enjoyable.
The FBN earned a legacy as the most successful drug enforcement agency in American history, but paranoia of corruption and an internal investigation by Andy Tartaglino, devastated the bureau and changed the course of history forever. The story of the demise of the bureau is told here in the book from start to finish and it is sure to leave readers shaking their heads. Today the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is the premier federal organization responsible for investigating narcotics trafficking. Time will tell if the bureau will reach the heights of the famed FBN but as we can see very well, drugs are here to stay. As we look back through Valentine’s work, we can only hope that history does not repeat itself. This book is the place to start in understanding the true nature of the business of narcotics and how it propagated throughout our world.