Rest Easy, Dad: Your FBI Will Survive

My father was a Special Agent in the FBI. 

Born in 1916, he grew up with ten brothers and sisters on the wharves of Galveston. Like most back then, the Goodson family scratched its way through the Depression and bit every nickel to see if it was real. 

All of the kids went to public schools. There was no money for college, but dad got into Rice University which was free if you had the grades.  He took a degree in history, and went on to law school at the University of Texas. 

Dad dropped in and out of law school, working at different jobs to scrape together enough money to pay for the next semester. In 1942, he graduated, passed the Texas bar, and fulfilled his lifelong dream of joining the FBI. It was a heady time to work for the Bureau, and an honor and a privilege that he was supremely proud of until the day he died. 

A.C. Goodson was good at what he did, and in 1943 his team of FBI agents captured Public Enemy No. 1. Bank robber Roy Brown had been on the run for seven years before they found him operating a local motor court near Mobile, Alabama.  

As a reward, the FBI moved dad to Chicago and later to New York City. There, in February 1944, he resigned to join the Navy and fight in World War II. After he died in 2006, we found a copy of his resignation letter to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.  It said, in part, this:

“The integrity of the Bureau and the fine example of your conduct have been an inspiration to me.  In the time that I have been a Special Agent, I have always acted as I am sure you would have had me act, and have never done anything that would discredit yourself or the Bureau in any way.  Whatever I do in the future, you may be sure that I will always be available for whatever slightest duty I might be able to perform for this organization.”

Dad sailed out of San Francisco. He fought at the battle of Leyte Gulf duringt he Philippines campaign, and was preparing to invade Japan in August 1945 when President Truman ordered the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The second bomb fell on his 29th birthday, ending the war for good.    

Dad didn’t return to the FBI. Instead, he practiced law in Houston and later moved to a small Texas town where he also served as Justice of the Peace.  Through 64 years of practicing law, there was a single framed picture on his office walls. It was a small, signed photograph of J. Edgar Hoover, reminding him of the days when he had been one of the best and brightest of his generation, a Special Agent working for the most respected law enforcement institution in the world. 

We still have the picture.

Dad’s been gone for ten years now. But he would roll over in his grave if he knew how the FBI caved in to the Justice Department over investigation of Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified materials. My own concern is not so much because my Foreign Service colleagues and I would be in federal prison had we so recklessly threatened national security. But rather because a part of me is glad that dad’s not alive to see what has become of his beloved FBI. 

Americans get that Hillary Clinton brought the email and Clinton Foundation scandals upon herself. And that political favoritism and abuse of power long pervaded the upper echelons of the Obama Justice Department. No one was living under any illusions for the last eight years that there was equal justice under the law. The Department of Justice was never going to prosecute Hillary Clinton -- nor the National Security Advisor or the IRS for abuse of power. 

But the damage done to the Bureau’s credibility and independence under the Directorship of James Comey runs deep, and his termination was way overdue.  Comey was, simply, the wrong man for the job of FBI Director.   

The new director will have to do whatever is necessary to restore the Bureau’s credibility and independence, and re-establish the FBI as the iconic law enforcement institution that it was before the Obama-Comey era. Only then can it start to rebuild the respect and integrity that it has rightfully enjoyed for so many decades in the eyes of the American people. 

And in our memories of the many Special Agents past, who created the Bureau’s sterling reputation in the first place. 

Jeff Goodson is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer.  

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