An insider's tour of the FBI;
Inside Hoover's FBI, by Neil J. Welch and David W. Marston. New York: Doubleday & Co. 1984. 384 pp. $17.95. Would you like to read about the Abscam sting from the point of view of the field chief who orchestrated the operation? How about the inside story on the recapture of Kitty Genovese's escaped killer? These were two of the highlights in the career of recently retired Field Chief Neil J. Welch, as recounted by himself and David Marston in ''Inside Hoover's FBI.''
The episodic account of Welch's career - interspersed with his personal observations of an evolving FBI - is sandwiched between the obligatory portrait of J. Edgar Hoover and a concluding chapter on how to improve our law-enforcement system.
Welch's assessment of Hoover rings true. The late FBI director was neither the supercop glorified and mythologized by numerous authors and editors in the 1940s and '50s nor the warped, malevolent bigot maliciously portrayed in a TV miniseries last fall. Here, Hoover is shown to be an idiosyncratic, domineering, patriotic straight arrow whose organizational genius, understanding of human nature, and political skill built the FBI into a superior crime-fighting force.
Welch's suggestions for improved law enforcement are necessarily less colorful than his discussion of Hoover but are more worthy of our consideration. He opines that the FBI has become too big and bureaucratic to do its job efficiently. This is no shocker; indeed, is there an agency in Washington which has not been so described? Far more controversial is his allegation - buttressed by his bird's-eye view of Abscam and such pathetic anecdotes as the one about two of New York's most famous officeholders appearing as character witnesses at the trial of a mobster (whom the jury convicted of bribery anyhow) - that organized crime has significantly penetrated our political process.
In spite of the manifest problems he sees today, Welch is optimistic about our potential to curtail crime. Citing the FBI's successes against ''public enemies'' and kidnapping in the 1930s and against wartime saboteurs in the '40s, he maintains that the FBI could achieve similar dramatic successes today. What is needed, he asserts, is for the bureau to be given a set of priorities so that agents could focus on major problem areas (e.g., political corruption and drug trafficking) and for courts to administer justice firmly and consistently.
Some of Welch's specific proposals will surely elicit vehement protests. Civil libertarians, for example, as well as a lot of criminals will have fits about Welch's enthusiasm for greater use of undercover operations such as Abscam.