Veera Korhonen

discovering rhetoric

Is the FBI Headquarters Fit to Represent our Nation’s Top Law Enforcement Agency?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation Headquarters, or the J. Edgar Hoover Building, sits on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, a worn-out building surrounded by security and FBI cop cars. I was slightly startled to realize that the fascinating, enthralling organization that has been spoken about in major T.V. shows like Criminal Minds was held in a building that looked like it was about to crumble. The main visitor entrance is in the center of the block, with a sign that claims it is for “business”, and a revolving door with only two security guards. Other entrances are not visible, except for an entrance on the side for cars, which appears to be completely surrounded by security. The few people that stroll by the building seem to be unfazed by the building, as if it does not play a vital role in society. A building that is known for its exclusivity doesn’t appear to be anything special, and I am slightly awed by how ordinary it seems. There is a miniscule sign that reads ‘J. Edgar Hoover FBI,’ and there is no dramatic evidence that this is anything more than a worn out building.

img_7094From taking a seat at the cafe outside the Headquarters, I am able to easily observe the people walking in and out of the building, as well as the officers who slip quickly into the cafe for a coffee and then walk right back into the building like they’re in a hurry. From my initial observations, while these people look busy, they don’t look like they’re about to work on a huge case involving suspects, and crimes, and murders. They look tired, and worn out, with dark circles under their eyes and exhausted facial expressions. The officers especially don’t seem to be friendly, as they don’t greet anyone, and the security officers merely open and close the gates, without so much as a smile.

Since the headquarters is near other important landmarks, such as the White House, the Department of State, and is across from the Department of Justice, the people in the area seem quite professional and used to being around a place that hold a certain aura of importance. There are very few tourists taking pictures, since only the FBI Education Center is open to the public for tours, not the FBI Headquarters. It is obvious that this site is strictly functional, used just for those working there and those guarding what is inside. The function of the Headquarters is only clear to me from what I’ve learned through the media, but this old building doesn’t seem like it could possibly hold the forensics labs and crime fighting offices that I’ve heard about.

The Headquarters is a light brown color, with ridges and windows that stick out unattractively. While large in size, the building blends into the city. This could be on purpose, in order to keep the secrecy of the FBI intact, but from reading articles on the architecture of the building, it seems to simply be a very old building, with plans already created to rebuild it in the near future. An article named, “The FBI’s Headquarters Is Falling Apart” written by Jonathan O’Connell especially speaks about how this specific building could be suspect to attacks on it, because of how worn out and broken it is. The idea that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is an organization meant to be fighting against crime and keeping the country safe, can’t even keep their own headquarters at top safety and priority, makes me feel unsafe and unhopeful for the United States as a country.

Workers with identification badges hanging from their necks will occasionally enter and exit the unflattering building, giving it an prominent flair of importance, yet the surroundings overpower that. Although, if it was not for the FBI cops everywhere, there is not much to look at. The security surrounding the entrances is probably the most exciting that the exterior of the building has to offer, and from reading about the Headquarters, I understand why it has been spoken about as unfit to represent an organization known for its top secret crime fighting, as the building looks like it is about to crumble.

Still the sense I get from being outside the J. Edgar Hoover building is still one of awe, knowing that the building I am standing outside of holds information that very few people in the world have the possibility of knowing. The amount of security adds to the uneasy but exhilarating mindset of being in the presence of a building that has been given such a heavy reputation in the media and the movies for being so ‘top secret.’ If I had not have known what this building was, I would not have had any idea that it was anything special, which in a way, adds to the secrecy of what is inside the Headquarters. But if the building itself is unfit to keep these secrets safe, is there really any importance to it? Can the Headquarters of such a prominent and crime-fighting organization really work well under these undesirable circumstances?

Stepping through a giant gold revolving door into the tiny cramped room where I was asked to show I.D. and proof of an invite had never been so exciting. When I met the director of the Headquarters, and the historian he brought with him to talk more about the building, they were very friendly but slightly reserved as well. At first, it took them a very long time to even let me inside the building, and the historian explained that this was because people who didn’t work here weren’t really allowed inside unless they knew an agent here. I was searched down thoroughly, my phone was taken from me, and I was given a badge to wear, which also was used to let me through security measures. The FBI headquarters had giant, human-sized pods that you would step in, the doors opened and closed, wait, and then walk out. It was almost futuristic, and I felt very out of place.

The most astonishing thing about being inside the FBI headquarters, (excluding the fact that most people weren’t allowed a tour of the building at all), was how normal everyone seemed to be acting. The hallways were lit up with a bright, vibrant light that almost hurt my eyes, and forced me to keep my head down. Even though I really wanted to closely observe the people who were walking past, the historian who was leading me around walked fast and furiously talked my ear off about the architecture of the building. The hallways were lit with an intensely white light and they were painted bright colors such as orange and green, which seemed a little strange to me, considering this was supposed to be a high profile building. The inside of the building actually reminded me of hospital corridors, with the fluorescent lighting and the brightly painted walls without much decoration, but the people around me gave me feelings of exclusivity and importance, because they were all dressed up and walking with a purpose. I felt so out of place since I wasn’t wearing dark official-looking clothes and the headpiece that I noticed on almost everyone.

Since the headquarters isn’t open to the public, the tour that I was able to arrange didn’t allow me into the rooms that needed security clearances to access them. The historian told me that those rooms mostly consisted of lockboxes that held secret FBI files. The one room I spent the most amount of time in was the room that held a bunch of artifacts that portrayed the FBI best. They told me that that before 9/11, the headquarters used to be allowed to have tours, so they would use these rooms to show to the public. There was one whole room dedicated to what some of the agents did in their free time, like sky-diving or making dolls, and they had exhibits showcasing pictures and representations of these hobbies. Another room held representations of mannequins holding up guns against a fake broken down door, and wearing gas masks. Since they confiscated my phone at the door, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, but some of the pictures of those scenes they portrayed haven’t been able to leave my mind because of how graphic they were. The last exhibit of the room was my favorite. It was a deep red wall, with “FBI Top Ten Most Wanted” written across the top. Below that, there were ten papers stapled below, with pictures and descriptions of criminals. Reading the descriptions was so interesting, because a lot of the criminals were actually past agents, who had turned against the U.S. and then escaped. I felt almost fearful, but also thrilled at the same time to be fortunate enough to see these rooms that the rest of the public will probably never be able to see.

Overall, I understand why the headquarters aren’t open to the public, because the work they do in there is extremely secretive, and after 9/11, no one really trusts anyone anymore. After seeing that their own agents turned on their own government, I was shocked, but it made sense as to why government buildings would increase their own security. The only real disappointment of the interior of the building was that it could’ve just been a normal office building, with terribly bright hallways. The FBI that is portrayed in the media, with the crazy investigation labs and technology was really nowhere to be seen, but then again they might have not been allowed to show it to me. Even though this was an exclusive tour that I was only able to arrange through my mother’s government connections, I still felt like I wasn’t seeing the entirety of the Headquarters, and it gave me a curious feeling that left me wanting to know more.

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The website that represents the arguably most well-known crime fighting organization outweighs its expectations, painting the best possible picture of the FBI Headquarters. The site is riddled with information about how the Headquarters fights against terrorism, and helps the country during times of national crisis. Not to mention, the website emphasizes promoting their social media, with every one of their social media platforms showcased at the top of their website, and easy clickable links to access them. This really shows that the modern lifestyle of people focuses on the Internet and social media, since the Headquarters building itself was not nearly as impressive as the website made it seem through the way it was spoken about and the professional pictures that were posted of the building.

picture of the Headquarters from the Official website

picture of the Headquarters from the Official website

While “CONTACT US” is written in giant blue letters at the top of the site, there is essentially no real way to contact the Headquarters, only to find a local FBI office near you and contact them. The bold letters at the top of the side send a message to the site user that the Headquarters wants them to be able to send in tips and ask questions. But when the user goes further into the site, there is a side note claiming the Headquarters doesn’t have a national email for people to contact. It is slightly subduing that the headquarters of the national crime-fighting organization of America doesn’t even have an email that people can contact. Yet this was the only downside to the website, which was facile to navigate, as well as straightforward in the information that was presented. Sending in a tip might take a while, but there is a giant map as well as directions to be able to send the user straight to the Headquarters if they so wish.

The rest of the website takes a dark turn, focusing on actual criminals and crimes that are still being investigated. The dates on some of these stories go all the way back to 1980, which leaves me with an uneasy feeling, since many crimes will probably never be solved, and those criminals are still out there. The Most Wanted page is another twisted highlight of the site, there are over one hundred people, victims and suspects, who are showcased with their pictures on this site. This itself would be bad enough, if they also hadn’t included distressing images that were actually facial reconstructions of people who had been murdered, and digital photographs of what missing children could look like up to 30 years after they had already disappeared. While I was quite horrified to see these images, I was also very intrigued. The layout of the website allowed me to just keep scrolling down easily, which actually made me spend more time scouring the images and stories that were there, just because they were effortless to access.

I was surprised at how entertaining it was to visit the website of the FBI Headquarters. I had never been able to read through so many tales of crimes in one place, and I was shocked at how much information was able to be fit into a single story. Some of the remarks on the stories of criminals included details like, “He enjoyed eating peanuts and spicy food,” or “Brown enjoys being the center of attention and has been known to frequent nightclubs where he enjoys showing off his high-priced vehicles,” which are remarks that I found absolutely hilarious and definitely did not expect to see written on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Criminals list. The most relieving part of being on this website, was that when I visited it again on a different day, and went back to the Most Wanted page, two of the criminals I had read about previously had been captured. This was showcased by a giant red “captured” sign over their pictures. This filled me with hope for our nation, since even if the Headquarters is a dingy old building that looks like it could be an ancient Roman artifact, at least they’re still solving crimes and capturing criminals.

Many people, such as the majority of American citizens, assume that the nation’s leading law enforcement organization that does incredible work such as fighting terrorism and creating national security would have a top of the line, extremely secure building for their Headquarters. However, the Headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigation has never been more unsatisfactory. The fragile exterior of the building is truly falling apart, with reports of chunks of broken concrete falling off the building, a potential safety hazard to the general vicinity. The interior of the building, while supposedly the site of extreme crime-fighting operations, has been proven faulty as well, with alarms failing to work and makeshift work stations placed in storage areas. These findings have important consequences for the broader domain of the country, since even FBI Officials have stated that the structure is so weak, it could be vulnerable to attacks, not to mention hindering the level of work the FBI is able to do. This essay, then, aims to prove that a strong law enforcement is crucial for a country to maintain safe and positive environments, and the FBI Headquarters building is unable to protect our nation from the rapidly evolving threats and crimes of the modern world.

Nicknamed “the Ugliest Building in the World” and ranking first on a list of the “Top 10 “Ugly” Buildings to Visit”,, the Headquarters was built in 1975 to showcase the FBI’s work, inviting the public to view crime labs and agents at work. It wasn’t built to be an attractive building, it was built to be functional and educational, but the features of the building that made it worthwhile diminished with time. The building was immediately closed to the public after 9/11 attacks to ensure security, and therefore the features designed for the public were immediately shut down. This immensely affected the overall aesthetic of the building, the courtyard was supposed to be an open space for workers to eat and socialize, the public was able to watch agents taking shooting practice and working in the labs, and visit the rooms of mini museums, the rooms which now are unoccupied and sit there, useless to most. The building wasn’t built for safety, it’s on the edge of a street, with many pedestrians near the building at all time, which is even more of a fear for security and safety concerns. The Headquarters essentially falls short in both the security and the operational needs of the leading crime-fighting agency of America.

Yelp Reviews from fellow Americans include harsh words on the appearance of the building,”Prepare to be disappointed. Don’t even include this place on your list of places to visit in Washington. Our Cabbie was right, it is the ugliest building downtown. There’s nothing much to say about this place” (Cathy C, Yelp), proof that tourists and D.C. residents both are bothered by the structure, that the impact of the building isn’t just on the FBI itself, but of the people living in this city as well. By occupying an entire block on a pedestrian sidewalk, there is no hiding the ugly clunkiness of the building. A repulsed reporter’s account of the building states, “It creates a void along Pennsylvania Avenue. Given its elephantine size and harshness, it creates a black hole. Its concrete wall, with no windows or life to it, is an urban sin” (Austermuhle, Dcist), a description that seems a little severe for a building, yet portrays a vivid picture of a building that is socially and physically self-destructing. The issue with building a new Headquarters is that the value of the current building will probably outweigh the cost of a new one. A new FBI Headquarters, that could potentially combine all aspects that the agency needs in one campus, could cost up to $2 billion, while the J. Edgar Hoover building will probably only bring in about $500 million. Receiving extra funding for a new building is difficult, yet the longer the current Headquarters is kept, the lower its value will become. At the same time, not having enough funds and still trying to build a new Headquarters could essentially recreate the current problem.

The effectiveness of our government system is taken into question when realizing that FBI officials have been trying for over a decade to get a new Headquarters building. A U.S. Government Accountability report released in 2011 confirmed that the aging Headquarters aren’t capable of supporting the security, space, and building condition requirements of the FBI. Even with this report that came out years ago, the government still has barely made moves to relocate the Headquarters. With the agents themselves claiming that the building can’t sustain the operations that the agency is evolving to, explaining that “the mission of the FBI has evolved, but the building itself has not kept pace” a statement which was brought before the committee for public buildings back in March, it is unsatisfactory that there is still no update on a new building. Therefore, this building doesn’t just reflect poorly on the FBI, or the attractiveness of D.C., but also on the capabilities and priorities of America’s government.

Countries require strong law enforcement for protection against terrorism, criminal and foreign intelligence operations, cyber-based attacks, and general public crimes. By housing the FBI in this atrocious building, there is an increased safety threat on all U.S. citizens, since the organization can’t work to their fullest capability. The FBI Headquarters is not only degrading the reputation and abilities of the FBI, but also dishonoring American citizens and the pride they have in the proficiency of their country. With a lack of proficient resources, the FBI risks creating more problems rather than solving them, and the ability to solve and identify crime diminishes greatly, putting the country at a greater risk of negative repercussions and possible attacks. Overall, the J. Edgar Hoover building is unable to satisfy what the United States expects of the FBI Headquarters, to be a facility capable of protecting our nation from the rapidly evolving threats and crimes of the modern world.

 

 

Works Cited

O’Connell, Jonathan. “The FBI’s Headquarters Is Falling Apart. Why Is It so Hard for America

to Build a New One?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 16 Oct. 2015. Web. 14

Nov. 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/digger/wp/2015/10/16/the-fbis-headquarters-is-falling-apart-why-is-it-so-hard-for-america-to-build-a-new-one/>

“History of FBI Headquarters.” FBI. FBI, 02 July 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

<https://www.fbi.gov/history/history-of-fbi-headquarters>

“Criminal Minds.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Nov. 2016. Web. 18 Nov. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_Minds>

McDermott, Newsnet5.com Colin. “An inside Look at FBI Headquarters in DC Reveals How Agency Is Stronger since 9/11.” Newsnet5. N.p., 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 07 Nov. 2016.

FBI Headquarters.” FBI. FBI, 03 May 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. <https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/fbi-headquarters>

Austermuhle in News on Nov 9, 2011 4:30 pm, Martine. “Feds Agree: The FBI Building Is Awful.” DCist, 9 Nov. 2011

Martin Austermuhle in News on May 7, 2012 11:00 am. “Brutal: J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building Declared World’s Ugliest Building Worth Visiting.”

“Federal Bureau of Investigation: Actions Needed to Document Security Decisions and Address Issues with Condition of Headquarters Buildings.” U.S. Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO)

C., Miss Maggie et al. “FBI – Penn Quarter – Washington, DC.” Yelp, 20 July 2016

“The Need for a Consolidated FBI Headquarters Building.” FBI, FBI, 1 Mar. 2016

Cameron, Gary. “Top 10 ‘Ugly’ Buildings to Visit.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 7 May 2012

@Washingtonian. “The Best Bad Reviews of the FBI Building.” Washingtonian, 11 Aug. 2016

O’Connell, Jonathan. “The FBI’s Headquarters Is Falling Apart. Why Is It so Hard for America to Build a New One?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 Oct. 2015