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Witsec Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program


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About the Author

PETE EARLEY is the author of Family of Spies, The Hot House, Super Casino, and Circumstantial Evidence, an Edgar Award winner for Best Fact Crime.

GERALD SHUR, now retired, was the founder and longtime head of WITSEC. Both live near Washington, D.C.


Earley, an Edgar fact-crime award winner for Circumstantial Evidence, and Shur present a fascinating third-person account of Shur's 25-year career with the Department of Justice. Starting out as a federal attorney who recruited witnesses to take down the New York crime syndicate, Shur immediately saw the need to protect those who might testify against organized crime. After years of ardent advocacy, Shur created what would become the Witness Protection Program (WITSEC). As this book shows, WITSEC's 30-year history has been anything but tranquil. Some witnesses started up new crime syndicates or haplessly revealed their true identities. Others, wanting to remain in the spotlight, presented false testimony at congressional hearings. Still others took their indispensability as witnesses to mean they were to live forever on government subsistence checks. Additionally, Shur and WITSEC faced infighting among the federal agencies that most used the program, notably, the FBI, IRS and DEA; and the physical protection of witnesses and their families was often badly handled by a poorly organized U.S. Marshals Service. Yet WITSEC has managed to protect thousands of witnesses from certain death for having offered incriminating testimony to authorities. Since the book brazenly cheers Shur's every contribution to WITSEC, it is not the well-rounded work that it should be; nevertheless, this is an eye-opening account of a significant government program, with firsthand testimony by a woman identified only as "Witness X," who has been relocated by the program. (Feb. 4) Forecast: This BOMC alternate selection has plenty of drama and action to satisfy true-crime fans. The dramatic cover photo of a man in the dark, his outline silhouetted by light, will draw attention. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

WITSEC, or the Witness Protection Program, has alternately been praised as the key to the destruction of organized crime and damned for "buying" testimony and setting vicious criminals loose on unsuspecting communities. Here Shur, the driving force behind WITSEC for over 30 years, and journalist Earley present the history of the program, warts and all. Conceived as a way to help mob informants, WITSEC was underfunded, understaffed, and foisted on the unwilling U.S. marshals. But over the years it became much more organized and professional, even as it began to draw controversy. Some relocated criminals continued their criminal careers, families were broken up, and some noncriminal witnesses felt like criminals themselves. Included is a first-person account of the relocated wife of a mobster, who describes the terror and devastation of leaving her old life behind. While Shur's perspective is foremost, the authors bend over backward to present dissenting opinions. Overall, the impression is of a program that works staggeringly well despite its shortcomings. For all true-crime collections. Deirdre Root, Middletown P.L., OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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