Although the Federal Bureau of Investigation might seem mysterious to most of us, Dean Paisley of Chatham can tell you specifically what happened during one-quarter of the FBI's 100-year history. That's because from 1969 until 1994, he was an agent for the Bureau.
When Paisley entered the FBI under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, he was in his mid-20s, married and had one very young son. "Training took 16 weeks," Paisley says. "When we graduated, we all got to shake his hand."
After Hoover died in 1972, Paisley served under a long succession of leaders - some who had much longer tenures than others. "But at one time or another, I met all of them," he says.
In the well-appointed home Paisley shares with his wife, Sue, memorabilia from his days with the FBI are on display in his office and living room, along with family photos. There, next to the smiling faces of their three grown sons and their eight grandchildren, reign medals and certificates of recognition of decades of hard, detail-oriented work.
Paisley admits to being a collector. He has photos of his days with the bureau, old FBI publications and copies of the hand-written logs agents were required to keep many years ago. He can even produce his appointment paper listing his annual salary that first year: $10,252. Now, an entry-level agent makes about six times that much. "That was a step up from my last year of teaching high school," he recalls. "That year, I made $8,350." Paisley says Hoover was making $42,500 at the time.
Paisley says getting into the FBI wasn't easy. "The application I filled out was 15 pages long," he says, adding that he had to pass an extensive background investigation. "When I came in, in 1969, there were approximately 8,000 agents and 10,000 support employees. We covered the whole United States, and we had offices in every state," he says. "Now there are about 16,000 agents and 25,000 support employees.
"When you go into the FBI, you put down an office of preference. Usually that office of preference is close to your hometown. But Hoover didn't want agents to be in their hometown, because he thought they were subject to possible corruption by the criminal element. For example, if you went to school with some guy who turns out to be a crook," he says with a hearty chuckle. "You could eventually get back there with seniority and what they call 'the needs of the bureau.'"
More than most, J. Edgar Hoover was one tough leader, Paisley admits. "It was very strict. You had rules. If you followed the rules, you were OK. But if you deviated from the rules, you were going to be punished.
"For example, three months after I was an FBI agent, I was involved in an automobile accident," says Paisley, explaining the FBI didn't contest the accident, but did hold him responsible. "I had to pay for the repair of the FBI car. That was just a rule they had. It cost me about $750, which was a lot of money back then. Three months later, they junked the car."
New cars that were ordered for FBI use were bare-bones, even by 1970 standards."We used the old police-type radios and carried big walkie-talkies in an operation. But the cars had no radios because Hoover didn't want his agents distracted," Paisley says. "We used to hang portable radios over the rear-view mirrors.
"And there was no air conditioning," he says, explaining that FBI agents were required to wear dark suits, white shirts and ties, no matter what the season. "Let me tell you, a lot of the time it was hot." Much still is expected of modern-day agents, but the rules and regulations have been relaxed a bit, Paisley says.
During his tenure, Paisley served in various places including Georgia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Illinois. "The whole year of 1977, when the Carter administration came in, I worked at headquarters in Washington, D.C., and I helped work the national security nationwide background investigations for the incoming presidential staff and all of the employees of the incoming presidential administration.
"When I came back in 1978, I was made a supervisor, where I supervised a great squad. It was bank robberies, kidnapping, extortions and fugitives. From 1980 to 1982, I was a supervisor at FBI headquarters, and I was handling national security investigations for the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I also conducted nationwide investigations for requests for pardons."
In September 1982, Paisley finally was transferred to Springfield. "I actually stepped down from being a supervisor and requested that transfer. I had promised my wife that we'd be back here by the time our oldest son was entering high school. Once I was in Springfield, I became a supervisor again, which was almost unheard of. I was a supervisor in Springfield for the last seven years of my career, from 1987 to 1994."
Throughout the years, Paisley had his share of excitement. "The foreign counterintelligence cases that I worked and supervised were classified. I could not talk about those cases with anybody," he says. And, while most of us have read about the ups and downs of U.S. history in either school books or newspapers, Paisley has lived some of it.
On May 15, 1972, presidential candidate George Wallace was shot. "I was the one who was in charge of searching the arrest-ed person's car," Paisley says. "Among other things, I found a briefcase - and inside there was a diary. He talked about how he had been stalking President Nixon, even into Canada. He was trying to kill Nixon, but he couldn't get close enough, so he finally decided to go for a 'lower target,' which he said was George Wallace."
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter met with Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel, and Anwar al-Sadat, president of the Republic of Egypt. "Eventually they came out with the Camp David Accords," Paisley says. "I was the FBI liaison representing the FBI, and I had 50 agents under my command because if there was any security threat, the FBI had to investigate it. I was up at Camp David those 13 days with the Secret Service.
"In 1992, I was in charge of the Archer Daniels Midland - out of Decatur - anti-trust case," he says, mentioning that the upcoming Matt Damon movie, "The Informant," is based on that case. "Somebody is playing me in the movie," he remarks with a modest shrug. "I don't know who it is."
Actor Allan Havey will portray Paisley in "The Informant," which will be released in 2009.
One of Paisley's worst moments happened when he came upon a bank robber who had accidentally shot and killed himself with a sawed-off shotgun. "I was first on the scene that day. My wife said, 'That could have been you who was killed!' I know she worried a lot," Paisley says. "I promised her in the beginning that if they asked me to do anything illegal, immoral or unethical, I'd quit. I didn't have to.
"And over all those years I only had to draw my weapon a few times, and I never had to shoot anyone." What he remembers most of all were the long work days. "We worked five 10-hour days and half of Saturday," he says. "And we were on call 24 hours a day."
Still, some habits die hard - and in Paisley's case, that's a good thing - as he has been able to find other challenging jobs after retiring from the FBI. He spent four years in charge of security investigations at Walt Disney World and eventually moved back to central Illinois to work for the state, helping to defend capital murder cases. "My job was to make sure innocent people were not convicted," he explains. Finally, about four years ago, he became a licensed private investigator.
Obviously the discipline of years of hard work still is with him. In fact, at age 65, Paisley looks like a former FBI agent. He's fit, his white hair is neatly cut and when he's not in casual attire, he still prefers a starched white shirt with a distinguished looking tie, dark dress pants, and dark socks and shoes.
One thing has changed, Paisley says, as he looks at his feet. "The wingtips are gone now," he says, chuckling. "And I was never required to wear the hat."
Paisley's wife, Sue, admits that it wasn't always easy being an agent's spouse. "We lived out East for 15 years, and we didn't have any family out there. But we've had some very nice neighbors," Sue says with a smile, explaining that the wives of FBI agents also were a supportive group. "Still, because he was working so much, I was on my own with the kids much of the time. And, I can't tell you how many birthday parties and things like that he missed."
"One time, I even missed my own going-away party that the neighbors were having for us," Dean Paisley recalls, shaking his head.
The family moved a lot. Some boxes never were even unpacked between moves. The movers just added new packing labels, Paisley says.
"When we moved to this house, I told everyone, 'This is it. We are never moving again,'" Sue says, adding that she still feels that way. Dean and Sue are thrilled with their grandchildren and are happy that some live nearby. Their more relaxed schedule allows them time to travel to see those who live farther away.
Paisley says his career was long and challenging, but he doesn't regret his time as an agent and still feels proud to have served 25 years. His wife adds that she is proud of him, too. Two of their sons even considered a career similar to his, but eventually decided against it.
"I've always been tenacious and competitive," Paisley says, explaining the career choice he made 40 years ago. "But you know, I really was just looking for a job that allowed me to support my family. It was really that simple."
Story published Friday, November 7, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 6 )