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FBI marks 100 years of fighting crime

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  • Former agents, directors gather at Washington bash
  • "J. Edgar Hoover would have been proud," current director says
  • Attorney general made honorary special agent, praises agency
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From Justice Producer Terry Frieden
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Only one of the nearly 2,000 guests who attended the FBI's 100th birthday party Thursday was alive when a handful of investigators formed what was to become the world's premier law enforcement agency.

Walter Walsh, 101, was among the notables at Thursday night's FBI birthday party.

"I'm older than the FBI," said 101-year old Walter Walsh, who fought the mob as an FBI agent in the 1930s and '40s. The FBI says Walsh is its oldest living former special agent.

Walsh is among the thousands of special agents who contributed to the investigations and arrests upon which the FBI legend was built. Walsh personally arrested Doc Barker, son of the infamous gangster Ma Barker. Walsh was wounded in the 1937 shootout that killed Al Brady, then the nation's most wanted criminal.

Today, Walsh said that he was happy to be able to attend the festivities and that he was flattered his service is still remembered.

Among other guests at the party honoring a "Century of Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity" were the three living former FBI directors, William Webster, William Sessions and Louis Freeh. Plaques of appreciation were presented to the three men who had led the FBI through a long and sometimes troubled transition from the J. Edgar Hoover era to a modern intelligence agency largely aimed at spies, terrorists and international criminal networks.

FBI Director Robert Mueller recounted to the gathered throng at the National Building Museum in Washington how the bureau's missions had changed over the decades. This was not an occasion to dwell on the controversies and failures that have blemished the FBI's reputation.

Mueller marveled that what began as a band of 34 detectives, accountants and civil rights investigators in 1908 blossomed into a powerful force of more than 30,000 agents and support staff with a global reach.

"J. Edgar Hoover would have been proud," Mueller said.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who was made an honorary special agent, echoed the sentiment as he heaped praise on the FBI's storied history.

"You and your cases are the stuff of Hollywood legend," Mukasey said. "You have inspired generations of children who have grown up dreaming of joining your ranks."

But Mukasey noted that the bureau had not been viewed so promisingly in its infancy. Six months after its creation, then-Attorney General Charles Bonaparte made only a brief reference to his new band of special agents.

"The consequences of the innovation have been, on the whole, moderately satisfactory," Bonaparte wrote.

The snickers changed to applause as Mukasey then declared that in a century the FBI "had gone from 'moderately satisfactory' to absolutely extraordinary."

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