In 1959,, J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI, declared war on the Mafia.
He set up a Top Hoodlum Program and encouraged his agents to use wiretapping and electronic surveillance (“bugging”) to make up for lost time and Intelligence.
But Hoover also imposed a series of restrictions that could destroy an agent’s professional and personal life.
William E. Roemer, Jr., assigned to the FBI’s Chicago field office, was one of the first agents to volunteer for such duty.
In his memoirs, Man Against the Mob, published in 1989, Roemer laid out the dangers that went with such work:
- If confronted by police or mobsters, agents were to try to escape without being identified.
- If caught by police, agents were not to identify themselves as FBI employees.
- They were to carry no badges, credentials or guns–or anything else connecting themselves with the FBI.
- If they were arrested by police and the truth emerged about their FBI employment, the Bureau would claim they were “rogue agents” acting on their own.
- Such agents were not to refute the FBI’s portrayal of them as “rogues.”
If he had been arrested by the Chicago Police Department and identified as an FBI agent, Roemer would have:
- Definitely been fired from his position as an FBI agent.
- Almost certainly been convicted for at least breaking and entering.
- Disbarred from the legal profession (Roemer was an attorney).
- Perhaps served a prison sentence.
- Been disgraced as a convicted felon.
- Been unable to serve in his chosen profession of law enforcement.
Given the huge risks involved, many agents, unsurprisingly, wanted nothing to do with “black bag jobs.”
The agents who took them on were so committed to penetrating the Mob that they willingly accepted Hoover’s dictates.
In 1989, Roemer speculated that former Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North had fallen victim to such a “Mission: Impossible” scenario: “The secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions….”
In 1986, Ronald Reagan’s “arms-for-hostages” deal known as Iran-Contra had been exposed.
To retrieve seven Americans taken hostage in Beirut, Lebanon, Reagan had secretly agreed to sell some of America’s most sophisticated missiles to Iran.
During this operation, several Reagan officials–including North–diverted proceeds from the sale of those missiles to fund Reagan’s illegal war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
In Roemer’s view: North had followed orders from his superiors without question. But when the time came for those superiors to step forward and protect him, they didn’t.
They let him take the fall.
Roemer speculated that North had been led to believe he would be rescued from criminal prosecution. Instead, in 1989, he was convicted for
- accepting an illegal gratuity;
- aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry; and
- ordering the destruction of documents via his secretary, Fawn Hall.
That is how many employers expect their employees to act: To carry out whatever assignments they are given and take the blame if anything goes wrong.
Take the case of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the world’s biggest retailer.
In March, 2005, Wal-Mart escaped criminal charges when it agreed to pay $11 million to end a federal probe into its use of illegal aliens as janitors.
Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided 60 Wal-Mart stores across 21 states in October, 2003. The raids led to the arrest of 245 illegal aliens.
Federal authorities had uncovered the cases of an estimated 345 illegal aliens contracted as janitors at Wal-Mart stores.
Many of the workers worked seven days or nights a week without overtime pay or injury compensation. Those who worked nights were often locked in the store until the morning.
According to Federal officials, court-authorized wiretaps revealed that Wal-Mart executives knew their subcontractors hired illegal aliens.
Once the raids began, Federal agents invaded the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., seizing boxes of records from the office of a mid-level executive.
Of course, Wal-Mart admitted no wrongdoing in the case. Instead, it blamed its subcontractors for hiring illegal aliens and claiming that Wal-Mart hadn’t been aware of this.
Which, of course, is nonsense.
Just as the FBI would have had no compunctions about letting its agents take the fall for following orders right from the pen of J. Edgar Hoover, Wal-Mart meant to sacrifice its subcontractors for doing precisely what the company’s executives wanted them to do.
The only reason Wal-Mart couldn’t make this work: The Feds had, for once, treated corporate executives like Mafia leaders and had tapped their phones.
Which holds a lesson for how Federal law enforcement agencies should treat future corporate executives when their companies are found violating the law.
Instead of seeing CEOs as “captains of industry,” a far more realistic approach would be giving this term a new meaning: Corrupt Egotistical Oligarchs.
A smart investigator/prosecutor should always remember:
Widespread illegal and corrupt behavior cannot happen among the employees of a major government agency or private corporation unless:
- Those at the top have ordered it and are profiting from it; or
- Those at the top don’t want to know about it and have taken no steps to prevent or punish it.