We miss the good old days of the FBI (aka G-men). In the old days, they could do no wrong. They caught bank robbers, kidnappers, German spies and men taking women across state borders for illicit purposes.

When they were on a case, we were certain they'd solve it. If they had to use a Thompson submachine gun to get their quarry, so be it, but they shot only the bad guys.

How did we know all this? J. Edgar Hoover told us so, and television and the movies confirmed it.

As boys, we dreamed of becoming G-men.

The criminal names we knew were John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Ma Barker, and Bonnie and Clyde.

We didn't know diddly about white-collar crime. The truth was, we didn't know what white-collar crime was.

I don't remember when my image of the FBI changed. It was probably about the time I read somewhere that Hoover dressed in women's clothes. And also when we heard he was using FBI files to blackmail presidents and civil rights leaders.

This doesn't mean the G-men weren't able to catch crooks, but they were so busy they didn't have time for all the duties assigned to them.

They were in charge of security checks and had to send out teams of agents to interview relatives, friends and people who had nothing nice to say about the subject.

Also, the more people there were in the government doing bad things, the more people had to be followed and wiretapped. As if that wasn't enough, Congress kept insisting the FBI investigate members of the opposite party (see Rep. Tom DeLay).

Political fraud was turned over to the FBI. Now terrorism is its biggest priority.

You would think that, with all these jobs to do, the FBI has millions of agents on the payroll. Not so. It has only 12,406 agents and 17,239 support staff.

The agency is understaffed and overworked. It misses things it's supposed to know (see 9/11 Commission report). Agents have been told they have to work with the CIA, a humiliating thing for them to do.

But the worst blow of all is that the media no longer treat them as the golden men and women they used to be. Instead, the press highlights everything they do wrong.

It's no surprise that morale has sunk low and American kids no longer pretend to be G-men.

Is there any hope? I think there is. Deep Throat turned out to be an FBI man who, at the time, was second in command of the agency.

He is said to have blown the whistle on Richard Nixon to save the FBI and the country.

Here is my modest proposal. Instead of eliminating Deep Throats, we increase their number -- one for every 10 agents. Every time a Deep Throat finds something's rotten in the White House, he or she would meet in a garage with Woodward and Bernstein.

Woodward and Bernstein don't need the money, but it would be a good way for them to keep a hand in the game. Also, there is always a chance there could be a movie in it.

The FBI image needs all the help it can get so that kids will start playing G-man again.

(c) 2005, Tribune Media Services