Saturday, January 31, 2009

My peek into Hoover's FBI

I’ve encountered zillions of people during my sixty years in the writing business, but none more intriguing than an ex-FBI agent we’ll call Scotty. I first met him back in the sixties during my days of editing Nashville Magazine. He was a friend of one of my equally intriguing staff members. She would relate stories about him that sounded a bit off the wall but still believable.

After a few years, she asked me to meet with him at her place one night to talk about a book he wanted me to co-write. We talked for hours and the strange tale unfolded.

Scotty went to Washington just out of high school and got a job as a clerk at the FBI. He worked there while getting a degree in accounting. According to his story, he got close to Director J. Edgar Hoover in the process, often delivering files to his home. After graduation, he took the FBI training course and became an agent.

At some point, he was assigned to the Nashville office, which is how my magazine staffer met him. This was during the Cold War, and she reported some suspicious activity she encountered. Scotty met her on assignment.

But back to his story. Scotty was chosen to participate in a small group of agents known as Hoover’s Goon Squad. They were tasked to do jobs that were not exactly in the rule book. That included assignments outside the country for counterespionage, something that should have been in the CIA’s bailiwick. But, as Scotty said, the CIA was ignoring the Bureau’s sole jurisdiction in the U.S. also. Records of the operations were buried in a special group of restricted safes known as the T Files.

One of the weird stories he told was of an agent who was sent out to Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah to pick up a package containing a chemical compound for use in some kind of skullduggery. They figured he must have gotten curious and opened the package. He was found a day or so later wandering naked around a little town in the Provo area, babbling like the village idiot.

Scotty said Hoover and Asst. Director Bill Sulllivan picked him to try to infiltrate the Cosa Nostra, a favorite Hoover target they had been unable to crack. First he had to resign from the FBI. He was instructed to commit a few crimes like bank robbery to build some bona fides, but not get caught. He said it was easy. Then he hung out in Las Vegas and tried to weasel his way into the mob but was never successful.

When he gave up and went back to report to Hoover, the man he had idolized all those years, the director refused to see him. Apparently Hoover had written him off and didn’t want to admit what they had done.

The last I heard of Scotty, he was trying to get copies of his personal files from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act. He sent me copies of his correspondence, including a request for $50 to cover duplication at ten cents per page. That was in March of 1985. We never made it to the point of putting anything on paper. I had contact with his friend in later years and heard that Scotty had died. I know she did.

Though nothing ever came of it, it would have made a hell of a story.

I used Scotty as the model for the protagonist in the first novel I wrote after retirement. It was a post-Cold War thriller, something that went out of vogue about that time. Several of them have been published in recent years. I may resurrect it and try again.


Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Maybe you should dig your first novel and Scotty out of the moth balls - sounds like an intriguing story.

Jane Kennedy Sutton

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Sometimes life is stranger than fiction...

I agree - pursue that character! And the story of the guy wandering naked is perfect - I'd use that somewhere, too.

L. Diane Wolfe

Chester Campbell said...

Thanks, Jane and Diane. I've worked on it a bit but haven't really made a concerted effort. I taped the interview, but that was 25 years ago and it's long gone. Now I'm not too sure what parts of the manuscript are true and what fiction. Don't guess it matters, though.

Shari Lyle-Soffe said...

I saay go for it. Intriguing story.


Anonymous said...

Having lived and worked in the DC Metro for years, I always dig stuff that has to do with the FBI, CIA, State Department, etc. This sounds good.

Anonymous said...

I showed this post to my father, and he wants to read the book!