FBI historian John Fox told the Voice of America that when J. Edgar Hoover was appointed head the agency at age 26 in 1935, he inherited a repository for political hacks and started a campaign to change its image into that of a "squeaky-clean" law enforcement agency above political manipulation. The image, he said, stuck at least until the 1970s.
"What Hoover did was, he really went wholeheartedly into reforming the bureau and into making law enforcement in the federal government a profession rather than a political position," Fox told VOA.
Fox said the FBI, which now has 13,000 special agents and 23,000 support staff, survived scandals over its spying on political dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s and has regained its influence as a leader in the fight against terrorism.
"(The scandals) made us more fully aware of the individual rights of individuals," Stan Pimentel, who joined the FBI five years before Hoover's death in 1972, told the VOA.
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