The ultimate G-man just got busted down to storage.
A wax-like, life-size figure of J. Edgar Hoover, which was recently installed among other memorabilia in the FBI’s New York Field Office, has been removed because of objections from bureau personnel.
The decision to oust Hoover, who was the FBI’s director for 48 years and served under 10 presidents, is something of a cultural moment for the bureau. Once revered among FBI agents, Hoover is no longer universally admired at the crime-fighting organization he built.
“There are no plans to display him again,” said Michael P. Kortan, assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.
Today’s agents and other employees dislike the history he represents, which includes secret campaigns to spy on and discredit political enemies, anti-war activists and civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Women were also unwelcome in Hoover’s bureau. By 1928, four years after he became acting director, all three female agents had resigned, and it was not until 1972, the year Hoover died, that women were again invited to apply to be special agents.
Today, about 20 percent of FBI special agents are women.
“Hoover was not a monster. He was an American Machiavelli. He was astute, he was cunning, and he never stopped watching his enemies,” wrote Tim Weiner in “Enemies: A History of the FBI.” “He was a masterful manipulator of public opinion. He practiced political warfare and secret statecraft in pursuit of national security, often at the expense of morality.”
Current FBI Director James B. Comey has invoked Hoover’s toxic legacy to warn new agents about the exercise of their powers.
In a speech at Georgetown University in February, Comey said he makes new agents and analysts study the FBI’s relationship with King and visit his memorial so they can ponder the mistakes of the past. Comey also said that he keeps a letter on his desk from then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy approving Hoover’s baseless request to wiretap King’s telephone calls.
“The reason I do those things is to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them,” Comey said. “So we must talk about our history. It is a hard truth that lives on.”
[FBI director uses Hoover as a cautionary tale about law enforcement abuses]
FBI officials said that sending the Hoover figure to New York seemed to be a harmless idea at first. The figure — a jowly, stern-faced Hoover dressed in a dark suit — was originally on display in Washington at the FBI headquarters building, which is named after Hoover, but the figure had been in storage for years.
It had been all but forgotten until FBI officials in New York decided they wanted to add to their museum collection.
An FBI spokeswoman in New York said that in exchange for the Hoover mannequin, the office sent to Washington a $60,000 replica of the Wall Street bull, which was confiscated during an investigation of white-collar crime.
Hoover was hauled north in a rental truck. Some agents seemed happy to see him, posting a picture on Facebook of themselves surrounding the figure and grinning happily.
“Among the few former agents alive who worked in the bureau [back then], there are some, I’m sure, who still think he was the epitome of good law enforcement and someone who stood as a bulwark during the Cold War [and] kept the bad guys under control,” said Betty Medsger, author of “The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI.” “There are other former agents who wonder how they ever endured the crazy environment he created.”
The Hoover figure was taken down after senior managers recently conferred and decided it was time for it to go. Hoover’s days of greeting visitors on the 28th floor, where FBI management sits, are over.
The New York Field Office, in a 2014 nationwide FBI survey, received high marks for working well with “employees of different backgrounds.”
“He will likely go back into storage,” Kortan said. The FBI declined to allow The Washington Post to photograph Hoover and would not provide an image.
And who or what will taken Hoover’s place amid the vintage guns and counterintelligence gear in the collection?
“We are in the process of updating and changing it,” said Kelly Langmesser, spokeswoman for the FBI in New York. “It’s a moving puzzle.”