A Broken Badge Healed? The FBI, a Special Agent, and the Cancer within Both
Four Stars (Out of Five)
Ex- Agent says the FBI went astray when it began chasing terrorists rather than criminals.
Author Frederic Donner, an FBI veteran who was forced to accept a medical disability leave when he was diagnosed with brain cancer, is a remarkable man. Instead of penning a self-congratulatory memoir on how he courageously defeated the disease that ravaged his body, he uses his experience to thoughtfully compare his cancer to the cancer he perceives within the FBI, and he offers positive steps to cure both bodies.
In A Broken Badge Healed? Donner’s critique of the organization he served so well for so long is present forthrightly, without rancor or bitterness. Clearly, he has a deep affection for the men and women with whom he worked and for the FBI as a vital organization. He is not a whistle-blower or a disgruntled former agent attempting to right wrongs done to him.
Donner’s principle criticism of the FBI is that it has been led astray from its primary mission as a police agency. Today, it has become largely an anti-terrorism body, having lost its ability to simultaneously carry on different investigations into various types of criminal activity, asserts the author. In addition, employees of the Bureau are assigned to anti-terrorist work without regard to whether they are suited for it. While not making this judgement personal, Donner notes this alteration of the FBI’s mission was based on a deliberate decision made by the FBI director Robert Mueller pursuant to a directive from the then president George W. Bush, in response to the attacks on September 11, 2001.
Donner Details how the FBI is burdened by its own bureaucracy, duplicating administrative fieldwork with additional layers of requirements generated by Bureau headquarters in Washington. Too many agents, says Donner, spend too much time pushing around too much paper.
New recruits also come under fire from Donner. Too many new agents belong to what Donner calls the “me generation” and are unwilling to take chances to do good work for the fear of being reprimanded by superiors.
Donner writes well and is clearly passionate about his cause. But wading though page after page of description of bureaucratic detail does not make for a riveting narrative. The volume likely will appeal more to those interested in public administration then the average person who is already convinced the federal government suffers from bureaucratic gridlock.
The author believes that an informed citizenry will be able to apply pressure from the outside in order to bring about change in the Bureau. But many people today believe that the federal government does not respond to citizens’ opinions. Donner notes that the last few directors of the FBI have been lawyer. While Donner himself is a law-school graduate, he believes the Bureau would be improved by having a former city police chief as director. President Obama just nominated a new director of the FBI, Jim Comey, for a ten-year term—Comey is a lawyer.
A Broken Badge Healed? Is Donner’s second book. His first was Zen and the Successful Horseplayer. If a reader can check his or her general skepticism about federal government, there is much that is refreshing and honest in Donner’s latest offering.
~ John Senger
A Broken Badge Healed? The FBI, A Special Agent, and The Cancer Within Both
Xlibris, 158 pages, (paperback) $19.99,
(Reviewed: June, 2013)
A Broken Badge Healed? is a curious hybrid of medical memoir and prescriptive critique in which a retired FBI Special Agent attempts to rehabilitate his former employer by using his own cancer as a metaphor for its ills. He succeeds more often than not with factual, persuasive writing, a solid grasp of his subject, and compelling anecdotes from his experiences fighting both cancer and crime.
Frederic Donner was investigating terrorist groups in Saudi Arabia when diagnosed with two malignant brain tumors. “Cancer is in some ways much like evil transformed into a disease,” he writes in the introduction. “I instructed my doctors to identify aggressive ways to fight my cancer, and they did. Now, I ask you to help me find ways to make the FBI heal.”
Donner weaves the metaphor loosely throughout the book as he delves into what he perceives as the FBI’s weaknesses: waste, bloat, complacency and mediocrity. Worst of all, in his view, is the post-911 overemphasis on terrorism. Not only does the FBI move too slowly to fight up-and-coming terrorist groups, Donner believes, but in trying to do so, the bureau is losing its edge in other criminal investigations.
Generally, the analogies between battling cancer and fighting crime are well handled, as when he contrasts the efficiency of the hospital where he was treated to the FBI’s bureaucratic inefficiency. At other times, the metaphor seems strained: “Many current employees feel lost and angry that the FBI is now ‘terrorism central,’” he writes. “Lost and angry is the same way many feel when diagnosed with cancer.”
Occasional glints of humor enliven his prose. For example, he writes that while not all “beauty queens and gorgeous bodybuilders…[m]ost agents… usually are not so physically heinous that they cannot get a date on New Year’s Eve.”
With a brief but thoughtful history of the FBI appended, A Broken Badge Healed? makes an informative addition to the libraries of law enforcement buffs.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.