Nicholas von Hoffman

  • PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

    As CIA books go, Hugh Wilford’s The Mighty Wurlitzer does not give the agency the feel of a lethal fun house full of wild and crazy guys that is its indelible reputation. Not that the book is devoid of incidents of frightening nonsense:

    Staff would travel to sites on the borders of the Soviet Union’s “satellite” nations and release balloons. Carried eastward on the prevailing winds, the balloons would explode once they had reached a height of 30,000 or 40,000 feet, showering propaganda materials—leaflets denouncing communist leaders, fake currency, and

  • The Untouchable

    America has had its famous lawmen and its hero detectives, real and somewhat less so: Wyatt Earp, Dick Tracy, Allan Pinkerton, Hawkshaw, and, above all, J. Edgar Hoover. From 1924 to his death in 1972, Hoover ran the FBI and its predecessor, the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation. When he died, his name was as well known as that of any movie star, sports hero, or president.

    As a rule, the people who head law-enforcement organizations are not in the limelight. They are anonymous, deskbound administrators. Hoover was deskbound but anything except anonymous. At the apogee of his career,