Recruiters for corporate America routinely claim they’re looking for “a team player.”
This sounds great–as though the corporation is seeking people who will get along with their colleagues and work to achieve a worthwhile objective.
And, at times, that is precisely what is being sought in a potential employee.
But, altogether too often, what the corporation means by “a team player” is what the Mafia means by “a real standup guy.”
That is: Someone willing to commit any crime for the organization–and take the fall for its leaders if anything goes wrong.
Consider this classic example from the files of America’s premier law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
On November 14, 1957, 70 top Mafia leaders from across the country gathered at the estate of a fellow gangster, Joseph Barbara, in Apalachin, a small village in upstate New York.
The presence of so many cars with out-of-state license plates converging on an isolated mansion caught the attention of Edgar Crosswell, a sergeant in the New York State Police.
Crosswell assembled as many troopers as he could find, set up roadblocks, and swooped down on the estate.
The mobsters, panicked, fled in all directions–many of them into the surrounding woods. Even so, more than 60 underworld bosses were arrested and indicted following the raid.
Perhaps the most significant result of the raid was the effect it had on J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI.
J. Edgar Hoover
Up to that point, Hoover had vigorously and vocally denied the existence of a nationwide Mafia. He had been happy to leave pursuit of international narcotics traffickers to his hated rival, Harry Anslinger, director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).
But he had been careful to keep his own agency well out of the war on organized crime.
Several theories have been advanced as to why.
- Hoover feared that his agents–long renowned for their incorruptibility–would fall prey to the bribes of well-heeled mobsters.
- Hoover feared that his allegedly homosexual relationship with his longtime associate director, Clyde Tolson, would be exposed by the Mob. Rumors still persist that mobster Meyer Lansky came into possession of a compromising photo of Hoover and Tolson engaged in flagrante delicto.
- Hoover knew of the ties between moneyed mobsters and their political allies in Congress. Hoover feared losing the goodwill of Congress for future–and ever-larger–appropriations for the FBI.
- Hoover preferred flashy, easily-solved cases to those requiring huge investments of manpower and money.
Whatever the reason, Hoover had, from the time he assumed directorship of the FBI in 1924, kept his agents far from the frontlines of the war against organized crime.
Suddenly, however, that was no longer possible.
The arrests of more than 60 known members of the underworld–in what the news media called “a conclave of crime”–deeply embarrassed Hoover.
It was all the more embarrassing that while the FBI had virtually nothing in its files on the leading lights of the Mafia, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had opened its voluminous files to the Senate Labor Rackets Committee.
Heading that committee as chief legal counsel was Robert F. Kennedy–a fierce opponent of organized crime who, in 1961, would become Attorney General of the United States.
So Hoover created the Top Hoodlum Program (THP) to identify and target selected Mafiosi across the country.
Since the FBI had no networks of informants operating within the Mafia, Hoover fell back on a technique that had worked wonders against the Communist Party U.S.A.
He would wiretap the mobsters’ phones and plant electronic microphones (“bugs”) in their meeting places.
The information gained from these techniques would arm the Bureau with evidence that could be used to strongarm mobsters into “rolling over” on their colleagues in exchange for leniency.
Hoover believed he had authority to install wiretaps because more than one Attorney General had authorized their use.
But no Attorney General had given permission to install bugs–which involved breaking into the places where they were to be placed. Such assignments were referred to within the Bureau as “black bag jobs.”
So, in making clear to his agent-force that he wanted an unprecedented war against organized crime, Hoover also made clear the following:
Before agents could install electronic surveillance (an ELSUR, in FBI-speak) devices in Mob hangouts, agents had to first request authority for a survey. This would have to establish:
- That this was truly a strategic location;
- That the agents had a plan of attack that the Bureau could see was logical and potentially successful; and, most importantly of all
- That it could be done without any “embarrassment to the Bureau.”
According to former FBI agent William E. Roemer, Jr., who carried out many of these “black bag” assignments:
“The [last requirement] was always Mr. Hoover’s greatest concern: ‘Do the job, by God, but don’t ever let anything happen that might embarrass the Bureau.”