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Episode 2 of 7

J. Edgar Hoover's FBI - Giant Among G-Men | 2

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American History Tellers
Duration: 37:04
J. Edgar Hoover became director of the FBI when he was just 29 years old. His orders? Clean up the Bureau. At first, he proved to be a brilliant and innovative leader, setting new standards for education, physical fitness, and training of federal agents.But there was a dark side to his success. Hoov
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J. Edgar Hoover became director of the FBI when he was just 29 years old. His orders? Clean up the Bureau. At first, he proved to be a brilliant and innovative leader, setting new standards for education, physical fitness, and training of federal agents.But there was a dark side to his success. Hoover was also obsessed with tracking anyone he considered to be disloyal to the U.S. government. By the early 1930s, the Bureau was secretly compiling dossiers on tens of thousands of American citizens, in defiance of government orders. And Hoover understood that the best cover for his actions lay in bolstering the Bureau’s reputation as a beloved and virtuous American institution. All he needed was the help of an expert in an emerging but promising field: public relations.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
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12 years before you can't Get Away With It premiered in theaters. J. Edgar Hoover became the director of the FBI. His orders were to clean up the scandal and corruption tarnished bureau. But Hoover had actually played a key role in tarnishing the bureau's image in the first place he organized and led the Palmer Raids, which Congress called Lawless acts. Despite that, he was selected as director of the bureau in 1924 when he was just 29 years old, and immediately he started to make major changes. He fired political cronies and action hero wannabe agents. He created strict standards for new agents, outlining everything from education requirements to appearance to physical fitness. He wanted smart agents to, so he hired accountants and attorneys. But he also wanted them well trained in law enforcement. So he established an FBI academy to provide every agent with state of the art police training. A brilliant bureaucrat and organizer, Hoover was also innovative. He made the bureau one of the first American law enforcement organizations to embrace fingerprinting, establishing a massive fingerprint system in the old Washington D. C armory to collect and categorize millions of fingerprints. The FBI pioneered the use of other science and law enforcement. It's crime lab accomplished wonders like reading invisible ink, identifying who wrote a letter by tracing typewriters and matching bullets to guns through the science of ballistics. All told, J. Edgar Hoover was an effective director of the bureau during his 1st 10 years. But there was a dark side to a success. After the public outcry that followed the Palmer raids, Hoover promised his bosses he would stop illegally collecting information on Americans he suspected to be disloyal to the government. But secretly, he continued his spying. By the early 19 thirties, the bureau had compiled dossiers on tens of thousands of Americans who had not committed any crimes. They simply disagreed with the U. S. Government. But all of Hoover's work to transform the agency was done behind the scenes. 1933. The bureau remained invisible to most Americans. It was inconceivable then that Hoover, the FBI and the G men were about to become household names. Franklin Delano Roosevelt opened the door when FDR took office in 1933. The Great Depression had destroyed the lives of tens of millions of Americans. In addition to creating jobs. FDR's New Deal programs also addressed a perceived crime wave that accompanied the economic crisis. When the president and attorney general, Homer S. Cummings, declared their war on crime in 1933 Hoover saw the opportunity to advance his ambitious agenda for the FBI and himself. In reality, crime had not increased but its visibility hat, thanks to some high profile outlaws in the Midwest. In response, FDR and Attorney General Cummings pushed sweeping changes through Congress that included a vast expansion of FBI jurisdiction. Now, for the first time, FBI agents could carry guns and make arrests they could investigate. Bank robberies and kidnappings could conduct searches for federal fugitives. Money followed that expanded jurisdiction, and the FBI grew dramatically during the thirties, from just a few dozen to more than 800 special agents. Still, it wasn't enough for whoever he craved the power to pursue criminals and police dissent in America. So while FDR tapped Attorney General Homer as Cummings as the face of the war on crime, Hoover had other plans. Imagine it's a muggy summer night, July 22nd, 1930 for you, and a friend just saw a movie called Manhattan melodrama starring Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy at the Biograph Theater in Chicago. In the movie, two boys grow up Together an orphanage, only to take different paths as adults. Gables character becomes the gangster owner of an illegal casino. William Powell's character grows up to be a district attorney, putting their lives on a collision course. Of course, they both fall in love with Myrna Loy, setting up a conflict over life and love. As the credits roll, you stand and stretch. Wow. What do you think? Not great, huh? No predictable. But at least we got out of the heat for a while. Well, yes. That was worth 20 cents. Movie sure wasn't. As you exit the theatre, the warm, humid air outside is waiting. Also confronting you is a man in a stylish hat moving against the crowd, blocking the stream of patrons. Excuse me, sir. People are trying to get by here. He ignores you and you feel a wave of annoyance. You're about to say something when your friend takes you by the arm. Come on. No need to mess with him. Some people just don't have manners. The two of you narrow your eyes at the man in the hat, But then follow the throng of people shuffling down the sidewalk past the country club liquor store and towards an alley. Suddenly you hear shouting behind you. Stop! Stop! U turn and see a man running towards you. Headed for the alley. Behind him are three men in suits. Handguns drawn. You shove your friend against the building. Get down! Yes. What was that? No idea. You move cautiously toward the alley there, on the ground, right in front of you. Is the man lying face down? He made it just inside the alley before a bullet to the back of his head struck him down. Blood pools at your feet. Two bystanders. Women were also wounded. Though it doesn't look like it's serious. Your friend sucks in his breath. I can't believe it. What? Your friend pulls out a handkerchief, leans over and dips it in the pool of blood on the pavement. What in the world are you doing? It's John Dillinger. Dillinger? Yeah, I recognize him from the newspaper. I bet those guys are from the FBI. He folds up the handkerchief and tucked it into his pocket. A little memento of public enemy number one right there. You're shocked. Then a woman next to you pulls out her handkerchief to another man does the same. The most wanted man in America is dead on the pavement at your feet. Mhm. John Dillinger was a violent criminal, 1933 and 1934. He and his gang robbed 24 Midwestern banks and also stole guns and ammunition from four police stations. A police officer was murdered during one of those heists. Newspapers and radio had picked up the Dillinger story in 30 three. Many of the bank robberies included so called Robin Hood moments where Dillinger destroyed mortgage or other loan records, attempting to free ordinary people from financial burden. Those acts, along with the fact that Dillinger was a dashing young man, made the murderous outlaw something of a celebrity. 1933 was also the darkest year of the Great Depression. Banks failed. Unemployment surged. Dust covered the farmlands of the Midwest. The public condition to darkness and hopelessness was hungry for action hero stories like those provided by high profile outlaws. There was Lester Gillis, better known as Baby face Nelson, who partnered with Dillinger at times and also let his own gang of kidnappers and bank robbers. Nelson was killed by FBI agents in late 1934. Kidnapper George Machine Gun Kelly was imprisoned in 33. Alvin Creepy Karpis led the Karpis Barker gang of kidnappers and bank robbers. Karpis was arrested by Hoover himself in 1936. But while Dillinger became a kind of hero of the people to the FBI, he was public enemy number one. Dillinger proved difficult to bring to justice. He was captured once, but escaped from a local jail in Indiana by fashioning a fake gun from a bar of soap and some shoe polish. Then, in April 1934 he and his gang were cornered by the FBI in a lodge in rural Wisconsin but escaped again. The FBI failed to close off a back exit, and an FBI agent was killed. The bureau was widely reported to have botched what should have been a certain arrest when the bureau finally caught up to Dillinger in Chicago. It could have been a great moment of redemption for Hoover and the FBI. But Hoover's overhaul of the bureau had not yet included a public relations team. So instead of logging the bureau's impressive detective work, media coverage of the Dillinger shooting highlighted a single FBI agent as a loan action hero. Chicago Special agent in Charge Melvin Purvis, the man in the stylish hat, was credited for the shooting and news reports, along with Attorney General Cummings. There was nothing printed about Hoover. Purvis was brought to Washington to meet with President Roosevelt. Eventually, his face made it onto cereal boxes. Hoover, though, was relegated to the sidelines. Not that he would have wanted to share the spotlight with purpose. Hoover was a vain man who wanted desperately to be America's top cop for whoever it was obvious that to get there, he needed to control the story.
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