Peeping Ron: Ronald Reagan’s secret alliance with the FBI
In January of 1965, FBI agents closing in on mobster Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonanno discovered that the hellion son of an FBI informant code-named T-10 was raising hell alongside Bonanno’s own teenage son. Agents looked to exploit the two boys’ relationship to help break the case—until, that is, J. Edgar Hoover ordered his underlings to instead warn informant T-10 that his son’s mob associations might harm the confidential source’s fledgling political career. The Justice Department never did manage to pin a decent indictment on Joe Bananas. But T-10—and his fledgling political career—did just fine. He later became the fortieth president of the United States.
This is just one of at least a dozen revelations about one of the most studied men in history in Seth Rosenfeld’s new book. “Here was Ronald Reagan,” writes Rosenfeld, “avowed opponent of big government and people’s over-dependence on it … taking personal and political assistance from the FBI at taxpayer expense… . Moreover, he seems to have been unaware, or unconcerned, that in doing so he was becoming beholden to the Boss,” who now possessed the sort of blackmail-worthy secret anyone who has seen the recent film J. Edgar knows made even presidents slaves to the FBI. But such questions were moot when it came to Reagan: As readers of this unbelievably good book will learn, he was unblackmailable. There had never been any favor too big for Reagan to volunteer for Hoover, and no favor too small for Hoover to tender him in return—including, in March of 1960, sending out agents to track down a rumor that his daughter Maureen was living with a married man.
Rosenfeld reveals that Reagan’s relationship with the FBI, which began in 1947, when he became president of the Screen Actors Guild, was far deeper, and creepier, than anyone has ever known before. But documenting the depth of that covert alliance is only one of the amazing things this sweeping book accomplishes. The product of more than thirty years’ indomitable work acquiring the files via the Freedom of Information Act to yield these new secrets, this volume is also an outstanding primer on the postwar Red Scare; a riveting account of the origins, development, and philosophy of the New Left; and a penetrating look into the mind of Reagan. But most of all, it is the best account I’ve read of how the FBI corroded due process and democracy.