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FBI: From Al Capone to Al Qaeda Exhibition Now at Reagan Library

 

In the FBI: From Al Capone to Al Qaeda exhibition at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley is Bonnie and Clyde’s getaway car where they eventually died.

 

By Laurie Hanson • July 17, 2021

Ever dream of being an All-American hero? Your chance is here at FBI: From Al Capone to Al Qaeda now on exhibition at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

“I would highly recommend the exhibit for anyone, whether they’re current or past law enforcement, military, or general citizens, so they can understand and appreciate what the FBI does for all Americans and for people all over the world,” said Former FBI Special Agent David Espie who recently toured the exhibit with his family. 

This worldwide premiere features the brand-new 11,000 square foot exhibition about the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) from its beginnings with J. Edgar Hoover to its modern-day fight against terrorism. For the first time, more than 300 historical artifacts from approximately 40 lenders are brought together on public display, many from retired agent’s personal collections, according to Chief Marketing Officer Melissa Giller of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.

The Reagan Library has a small curatorial team made up of a curator, a registrar, an exhibit specialist, and a graphic specialist who developed the overall storyline of the exhibit, and then made the calls to bring all the artifacts together, according to Giller.

“At first, the idea was really just to share the story of the FBI’s history with our guests,” she said. “But as we began to work with the FBI, we also realized the importance of showcasing the impact of FBI agents on our freedoms, our safety and to help bring to light that the FBI is always recruiting for more agents and personnel. We tell both stories within our exhibit.”

The agency got its famed start in 1906 when President Teddy Roosevelt and his Attorney General Charles Bonaparte agreed it was necessary to prevent crime in the United States at the federal level. At that time, corruption was widespread. Through Bonaparte, a small investigative group was put together, and in 1909 under President Taft, the group was named the Bureau of Investigation. It was later officially renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935, according to www.reaganlibrary.gov.

Today’s FBI fights terrorism far and wide with both perseverance and persistence. According to Former FBI Agent David Marquis, “Terrorists can run, but they can’t hide…If you kill and/or injure an American or kidnap an American during the commission of a terrorist attack, the U.S. government will find you and do our very best to bring you to justice.”

Included in the Reagan Library’s exhibition is the origins of the FBI, what makes it unique among other federal agencies and how it has evolved over the years. On display are artifacts from the first Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover’s estate and office. Guests can learn about how to become an agent, plus participate in a handful of interactives including a brief qualification on how to become an agent, according to www.reaganlibrary.gov.

“The FBI Academy is the toughest boot camp, hardest grad school rolled into one. It is not college. It is life and death.”- quote from the television show, Quantico.

 Included in the exhibition is how the FBI formed its Top 10 Most Wanted List and what it has accomplished over the years. Another gallery showcases stories and evidence from top cases including those of Al Capone, John Dillinger, the DC Beltway Snipers, the Mafia, the Unabomber and 9/11. Displayed artifacts include a bullet-ridden car in where Bonnie and Clyde met their fate, John Dillinger’s death mask, the raft and paddle used in the only escape from Alcatraz, Donnie Brasco’s undercover documents, and trial evidence from the DC Beltway sniper case. Artifacts from more recent cases are from the infamous “Unabomber” and Oklahoma City Bombing – including parts of the bomb-laden truck from the crime scene.

 

A close-up of a vehicle’s trunk with “beltway sniper” hole in rear (above the license plate) shows where alleged sought after criminals would stick their rifles out to fire shots.

 

 

Yet another gallery covers the changes the FBI has made over the years and shows their advance in technology and artifacts recovered from 9/11 and the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. The FBI in film and pop culture with props, posters, and costumes from shows such as Bones, X-Files and The Americans are also displayed.

 “An entire gallery in our exhibition [is] dedicated just to this [inspiring young people about working for the FBI],” she said. “In that gallery we focus on Quantico – the training center (both classroom and physical) for agents. [There’s] a buildout of ‘Hogan’s Alley’ – known as ‘the most dangerous city in America’ – it is a built-out town within Quantico (with an actual working hotel, subway sandwich shop, bank, post office and more). [Here] everyday FBI agents are sent in to ‘react’ to whatever they find (bank robbery, hostage situation, kidnapping, etc.). 

“The main role of the FBI is that they are the lead federal law enforcement agency for investigating and preventing acts of domestic and international terrorism,” added Giller. This is especially challenging in today’s technological world where online attacks are prolific.

According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, on the cyber front the country is seeing hack after hack, and breach after breach repeatedly, and more of what is called a ‘blended threat,’ where cyber and espionage merge together in all kinds of new ways. The country still confronts traditional espionage threats, with dead drops and covers, but economic espionage dominates the FBI’s counterintelligence program.

“We [The Reagan Library and Museum] interviewed eight former FBI agents in preparation for this exhibit, and every one of them said the same thing – today’s world is scarier than when they joined the FBI,” Giller said. “They all pointed to cybercrime, the use and availability of technology and terrorism as the reasons why.”

“We spoke to a current agent in the Los Angeles office who oversees the Cybercrime Division and he said that his main responsibility is to ensure that the 19 million people that live in Southern California are protected,” she added. “So that’s one of the main ways that the FBI has evolved.”

“They have also evolved as ‘things’ improve – meaning as forensics have improved, tracking has improved, etc.,” Giller explained. “They’ve kept up with the times and improved the way they do things.”

Certain actual cases have evolved the FBI as well. One example is when the FBI started, and how agents did not carry weapons then. If they were going to go into a serious situation, they brought local law enforcement. 

“After a shootout with a mobster in the 1930s, all agents started carrying guns,” Giller said. “In 1986 there was a huge shootout in Miami between FBI agents and bank robbers. The case is known as ‘The 5 minutes that changed the FBI,’ because in 5 minutes 150 rounds were shot. The FBI agents had handguns and the bank robbers had rifles. After that shootout, all FBI agents now carry rifles and have personally fitted body armor.” 

Putting their lives on the line for the country is part of the remarkable work the FBI does day in and out. Former President Ronald Reagan held the FBI in high esteem as he held all of law enforcement. On July 26, 1983, he declared FBI Day and spoke at the 75th anniversary of the agency. He was made an honorary agent during his presidency, and the Reagan Library possesses a plaque honoring him in the exhibition.

The Reagan Library rotates in special exhibitions twice a year with each typically lasting 6 months each. Prior exhibitions include one on Pompeii, the Vatican, the Titanic, Abraham Lincoln, and Baseball. These exhibits have helped drive attendance through repeat visitations where patrons also can go onboard Air Force One, see the library’s exact replica of the Oval Office, and eat in the onsite café. 

 

Guests at the Reagan Library view a jet engine found at “Ground Zero” South Tower in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. 

 

 

“Suddenly, you’ve spent your day here and were able to really enjoy the experience,” Giller said. She explained that about 75 percent of the exhibitions are rented through touring exhibitions companies, but about 25 percent are self-curated. 

“The FBI is self-curated,” she said. “We often survey our guests to see what types of exhibition topics they’d be interested in coming back to see, and when we tested the FBI, it did really well.” 

“The FBI is dedicated to the well-being of all United States citizens,” Giller explained. “We want the public to learn about their history and learn all the things they do to keep us safe every day. To young people- we hope we can inspire them to perhaps become agents someday.” 

“The FBI is special in that it hires people from all walks of life – teachers, accountants, lawyers, forensic specialists, former military, etc.,” she said. “Diversity, for them, is key.” 

“The FBI and all its employees, whether they’re special agents or support employees, are dedicated to the well-being of all United States citizens,” added Espie. “This exhibit expands knowledge of the FBI, respect of the FBI, and it will reaffirm and, potentially, educate individuals regarding the FBI’s jurisdiction and accomplishments during the course of its great history.”

 The Reagan Library preserves the papers, the documents, and the artifacts of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency. The Reagan Foundation is the non-profit business arm that supports the Reagan Library. They pay for exhibits and programming including educational programming where they give out hundreds of thousands of dollars in college scholarships annually. Every dollar raised goes back into their programming. 

“We aim to inspire future generations with President Reagan’s character, optimism and leadership traits through education outreach programs, hands-on learning, immersive simulations and in-person leadership summer camps,” Giller said. “Our mission is to promote the life and legacy of Ronald Reagan for generations to come. We focus on educating today’s youth…which are the leaders of tomorrow.”

“Ronald Reagan once said, ‘Education is not simply another part of American society – it is the key that opens the golden door,'” added Giller. 

For more information about the Reagan Library, please visit www.reaganlibrary.gov. For information on donating to the Reagan Foundation, please visit online at www.reaganfoundation.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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