J. Edgar Hoover on War Preparedness

J. Edgar Hoover on War Preparedness

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In a September 1940 address to the American Legion, J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, warns of the growing threat of subversive forces in the United States.


Riebling argues that relations have always been tense, dating back to the relationship between the two giants of American intelligence—J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI and William Donovan of World War II's Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA). Wedge traces many of the problems to differing personalities, missions, and corporate cultures. Donovan had been in combat in World War I, while Hoover was building the FBI Indexes at the GID. Donovan argued against the constitutionality of Hoover's GID activities in the 1920s. In World War II, President Roosevelt (at the demand of the British, including Ian Fleming), allowed the creation of a new intelligence agency, against the wishes of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. He put Donovan in charge. The intelligence failure of the FBI (i.e. regarding Dusko Popov) leading to Pearl Harbor helped convince government leaders of the necessity of a 'centralized' intelligence group.

Donovan's new group accepted communist agents and the alliance with the Soviets, while Hoover (informed by his experiences in the First Red Scare period) was abhorred at the thought and believed the Soviet empire would become the 'next enemy' after World War II was over. The CIA evolved from freewheeling World War II foreign operations, hiring known criminals and foreign agents of questionable moral character. Donovan operated with a flat, non-existent hierarchy. The FBI in contrast focused on the building of legal cases to be presented in the US court system, and the punishment of criminals, and demanded 'clean living' agents who would act in strict obedience to Hoover's dictates. [1]

CIA Counterintelligence Chief James Jesus Angleton Edit

Scott Ladd wrote in Newsday, "If a heroic figure emerges from Wedge it is the late James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's controversial director of counterintelligence for more than 20 years. Riebling partially rehabilitates Angleton from the drubbing he's taken in recent books such as David Wise's Molehunt, in which he is depicted as disrupting his own agency in a futile, paranoid search for a nonexistent mole." [2] A Namebase reviewer finds that "Riebling explains the Angleton view so competently that it finally makes sense on its own terms." [3]

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover Edit

Ladd asserts that Riebling "avoided tarring the late FBI boss with the kind of sensationalist touches common to recent biographies. . [Riebling] is respectful of those he believes played the game both wisely and well." [2]

KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn Edit

In his 1984 book New Lies For Old, Soviet KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the rise of a democratic regime in Russia. [4] Riebling calculated that of Golitysn's 194 original predictions, 139 were fulfilled by 1994, while 9 seemed 'clearly wrong', and the other 46 were "not soon falsifiable"—an accuracy rate of 94%. [5] Riebling suggested that this predictive record (and the rise of KGB officer Vladimir Putin) justified re-evaluation of Golitysn's background theory, which posited a KGB role in "top-down" liberalization and reform. Golitysn quoted Riebling's assessment in a January 1995 memo to the Director of the CIA. [6]

Probe of the John F. Kennedy assassination Edit

Riebling devotes considerable attention to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His take is that "liaison problems" between the FBI and the CIA "contributed" to the Dallas tragedy, impeded the investigation and led to a "fight that precluded the truth from being inarguably known." When the Warren Commission issued its conclusions on the murder in 1964, it concealed "indications of a Communist role" because of an interagency conflict over the bona fides of the Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko, who insisted that Moscow had nothing to do with the crime. The FBI thought Nosenko was telling the truth the CIA was sure he was lying to protect Moscow. Riebling writes that the Warren Commission's "obvious delinquencies and cover-ups would later lead conspiracy theorists to suspect Government complicity in the assassination." [7]

Dispute over KGB defector Yuri Nosenko Edit

Wedge describes the divisiveness caused by the FBI's championship of Nosenko, versus the CIA's support for the Soviet defector Golitsyn, who accused Mr. Nosenko of being a Kremlin plant. In 1970 the Nosenko-Golitsyn conflict "reached a point of crisis." Calling on Richard Nixon in Florida, J. Edgar Hoover asked the President how he liked the reports obtained by the FBI from Oleg Lyalin, a KGB man in London. Nixon said he had never received them. Furious, Hoover learned that Angleton acting on advice from Golitsyn, had withheld them from the President as disinformation. "If Lyalin had been the first such source to be knocked down by Golitsin," Riebling writes, "Hoover might have been able to tolerate Angleton's skepticism. But coming at the end of a decade which had seen CIA disparage a whole series of FBI sources, the Lyalin affair turned Hoover irrevocably against Angleton and Golitsyn." [7]

Watergate and the crisis in domestic surveillance under Richard Nixon Edit

Emboldened by the knowledge that his personal relationship with Nixon was far warmer than that of Richard Helms, the Lyndon Johnson-appointed Director of Central Intelligence, Hoover proceeded to break off direct contact with the CIA. Later, when the agency sent him requests for information, he would curse the CIA and say, "Let them do their own work!" [7]

Yet despite his ties to Hoover, Nixon privately felt, in the words of his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, that "the FBI was a failure it hadn't found Communist backing for the antiwar organizations, which he was sure was there." As Riebling writes, the Nixon White House quietly encouraged the two agencies to encroach on each other's territory, and it established the notorious rump group known as the Plumbers, whose key operatives came from both the FBI and the CIA. [7]

Nixon's conspiratorial mind-set, combined with his wont to exploit the two agencies for his own political purposes, led naturally to the President's effort to enlist both in the Watergate cover-up, which was strenuously opposed by Helms. Hoover had died in 1972, but Riebling believes that had he been alive, the FBI Director would have responded the same way as Helms. Riebling writes that "no one ever doubted" that Hoover "would have refused to let CIA or the White House, tell the bureau how to conduct a criminal investigation. The Watergate cover-up, even his most severe detractors would admit, could not have happened on Hoover's watch." [7]

Analysis of 9/11 intelligence failures Edit

In the epilogue to the paperback edition, Riebling argues that the Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen spy cases further soured relations, resulting in liaison problems that contributed to the intelligence failures of 9/11. Riebling's account of interagency counter-terrorism efforts before September 11, 2001 highlights ten instances in which he believes the national security establishment failed along the faultline of law enforcement and intelligence. [8]

John Edgar Hoover is born

Today in Masonic History John Edgar Hoover is born in 1895.

John Edgar Hoover, more commonly referred to as J. Edgar Hoover, was an American attorney and director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Hoover was born in Washington D.C. For some reason no birth certificate was filed for Hoover's birth until 1938 when Hoover was 43.

As a young man Hoover was a member of his school choir, participated in Reserve Officers' Training Corp (ROTC) and was a member of his schools debate team. Hoover's school newspaper hailed his "cool, relentless logic". During debates, on two key issues of the time, Hoover argued against women receiving the right to vote and the abolition of the death penalty.

In 1917 Hoover received an LL.M, Masters of Laws Degree, from The George Washington University Law School.

After graduating Hoover was hired by the Justice Department to work in the War Emergency Division. He quickly became to the head of the Division's Alien Enemy Bureau. The Alien Enemy Bureau was responsible for finding and arresting disloyal foreigners living in the United States. Individuals taken into custody were put in jail without trial. The Alien Enemy Bureau arrested 98 individuals and declared more than one thousand others as arrest-able.

In 1919 Hoover became the head of the Bureau of Investigation's (predecessor of the FBI) new General Intelligence Division. The division was also called the Radical Division because it was the task of the division to find radical elements in American society to monitor and disrupt their activities. Around this time America was experiencing it's first Red Scare and Hoover participated in the Palmer Raids. The Palmer Raids went on for about a year named after the Attorney General of the time, A. Mitchell Palmer. The Raids sought out foreign nationals in the United States who were considered radical leftists and anarchists so they could be deported. The raids lasted about a year when the Labor Department, who were responsible for deportations and did not agree with the Palmer's tactics, put an end to them.

In 1921 Hoover was made the deputy head of the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) and was named the director of the BOI just 3 years later when the previous director was believed to have been involved in a scandal.

During Hoover's time as Director of the BOI and after 1935 the FBI, he focused largely on what he termed subversive elements in the United States. These included Civil Rights organizations, organizations of related to the women's rights and any group looking to make political changes in the United States. In 1956 his efforts received a code name in the FBI called COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgram). COINTELPRO conducted a variety of operations after it's creation, and some before it's official start, which were questionable or plainly illegal. Hoover claimed it was in the best interest of National Security.

Until 1957 Hoover denied Organized Crime existed in the United States and refused to apply FBI resources in pursuit of it. This changed after the Appalachian Meeting, a historic summit of the American Mafia in 1957. Pictures of the meeting appeared on the front page of newspapers across the country.

Also during Hoover's time with the FBI he is credited with building the FBI into a large crime-fighting agency, modernizing police technologies, centralizing the fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

J. Edgar Hoover hounded MLK solely because he was racist

By modern standards, J. Edgar Hoover would be considered a racist. He was openly opposed to the civil rights movement and was clearly on the wrong side of history there. Hoover and the FBI also repeatedly attacked, demeaned, harassed, and monitored various civil rights leaders, and yet he saved his worst offenses for Martin Luther King, Jr. The question is, why? Is it because he sensed that King would emerge as the defining voice of the movement?

It's definitely possible, but Susan Rosenfeld, a former FBI official historian, posits an alternate explanation. To be clear, what the FBI and Hoover did to King was deplorable and cruel, that isn't up for reinterpretation here. Rosenfeld's assertions are all about the why. Specifically, she says that Hoover's real problem with King was due to a personal grudge. King publicly questioned why the FBI didn't spend more resources investigating crimes against civil rights leaders and also wondered why there seemed to be no Black FBI agents. Apparently, these questions angered Hoover, a man who didn't like to be questioned.

According to this theory, while racism certainly played a part in how the FBI approached King, his specifically horrible treatment may have been less about the color of his skin and more about his refusal to bow down to Hoover by challenging the FBI. Again, this doesn't excuse anything that happened, but if Rosenfeld is correct, it might offer some more detail about the situation.

J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI’s War on Americans’ Civil Liberties

‘Enemies: A History of the FBI’ explores almost a century of the agency’s domestic spying in a fast-paced and exciting narrative, says Ben Jacobs.

Ben Jacobs

Many books about the FBI focus on J. Edgar Hoover’s psychology, from his mother issues to his alleged predilection for dressing in drag. Enemies: A History of the FBI, by Tim Weiner, is not one of these. There is no racy gossip about Hoover or exciting tidbits about famed Depression-era gangsters like John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd whom Hoover and the bureau helped catch. Instead, Weiner’s history has an exciting and fast-paced narrative that focuses on the bureau’s perennial enemy, the Fourth Amendment, and civil liberties generally. Weiner plumbs the inherent conflict in spying on citizens to protect democracy, and explores nearly a century of domestic intelligence gathering—from the agency’s thorough infiltration of the American left during the Cold War to its failures prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the course of this narrative, Weiner reveals FBI exploits and excesses that will shock, surprise, and occasionally amuse.

Spying on the Supreme Court

While Hoover’s most egregious abuses of power are associated with the civil-rights era, as early as the mid-1930s the FBI may have been wiretapping the Supreme Court. Weiner reports, “Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes suspected that Hoover had wired the conference room where the justices met to decide cases.” The wiretapping was in connection with a bureau investigation into alleged leaking of Supreme Court decisions, during which the home phone of one of the high court’s clerks was tapped. But if Hoover could bug the innermost sanctum of the Supreme Court, nothing was sacred for the FBI.

The FBI and Newsweek’s Joint Counterintelligence

The newsmagazine was once featured in an FBI mission. With the blessing of Vincent Astor, who owned Newsweek from 1937 to 1959, a double agent opened the offices of a front company called the Diesel Research Corporation, funded by German intelligence, in the building that the magazine occupied at the time in midtown Manhattan. The offices were extensively bugged with “hidden microphones and cameras.” The result of the operation was to shut down an entire German intelligence network in the United States.

The FBI’s ‘Who’s Who of Homosexuals in America’

On the eve of the 1960 presidential election, when Cold War tensions were at one of their highest points, President Eisenhower and Hoover spent an entire meeting of the National Security Council discussing the gravest threat to the United States—gays. Two code breakers at the National Security Agency, rumored to be gay lovers, had defected to the Soviets. The logical conclusion for Eisenhower and Hoover was to link communism and homosexuality. While Eisenhower had promulgated an executive order banning gays from government service at the beginning of his term, he now directed Hoover to create a centralized “list of homosexuals” to prevent gays from being hired to government positions in the future.

Congressional Sex Palace in the Dominican Republic

Rafael Trujillo was the heavy-handed military dictator of the Dominican Republic in 1961. While Trujillo was a staunch anticommunist, he also was deeply corrupt, bribing numerous American elected officials and maintaining a friendly relationship with the Mafia. His crimes, including committing murder on American soil, had become too much for the U.S. to tolerate. But as the FBI gathered intelligence for an eventual coup, it became clear that Trujillo was bribing elected officials not just with money but also with sex. He had set up a “love nest” that the U.S. ambassador, a former FBI agent, described as “totally wired. There were two-way mirrors. There was a supply of whatever one wanted in the way of your desire. A number of our Congressmen made use of that and were photographed and taped.”

J. Edgar Hoover as an Interior Designer

Soon after taking office as president, Richard Nixon, along with Attorney General John Mitchell and then-White House counsel John Ehrlichman, was invited to Hoover’s house for dinner. While the discussion was of “FBI operations against domestic radicals and foreigners,” many of which were of dubious legality, the décor was far more eye-catching. Hoover’s living room was “dingy, almost seedy” and “its walls covered with old glossies of Hoover with dead movie stars.” The basement had a “wet bar decorated with pin-up drawings of half-naked women.” But most exotic was Hoover’s dining room, “lit with lava lamps glowing purple, green, yellow, and red.”

Hoover and the Pentagon Papers

The Nixon White House created its unit of “Plumbers,” the secret group responsible for the Watergate break-in, because of Hoover’s refusal to investigate Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers. The FBI director didn’t have political motivations for his refusal. Instead, it was because Ellsberg’s father-in-law, Louis Marx, was a wealthy manufacturer who was a major donor to a charity run by Hoover. This meant he was officially listed as a “friend of the FBI.” Even though Marx was willing to testify against his son-in-law, Hoover nixed the idea of the FBI interviewing him, and fired the chief of the bureau’s Intelligence Division, who decided to plow ahead regardless.

Nixon, Terrorism, and the Psychic

In the aftermath of the cold-blooded murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Nixon undertook “the first full-scale effort by the American government to address the threat” of terrorism, the President’s Cabinet Committee on Terrorism. However, Nixon’s fears of terrorist attack were not fueled by Black September but by a newspaper psychic. Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, brought the prophecies of Jeane Dixon to the president’s attention. Dixon foretold “a Palestinian attack on a Jewish target.” This was even cited by Nixon in a conversation with Henry Kissinger in which he shared his angst, which he attributed to Dixon, whom the president described as “this soothsayer.”

Deep Throat

While the revelation in 2005 that Mark Felt, the former No. 2 at the FBI, was the famous source “Deep Throat” garnered massive headlines, Weiner makes clear that Felt’s motives weren’t entirely altruistic, and that he wasn’t acting alone. Felt actually was the leader of a faction in the FBI that resented Nixon’s appointment of an outsider, Justice Department official Pat Gray, to run the bureau after Hoover’s death rather than Felt himself. The White House had knowledge of Felt’s role in the leaks, but Gray could not bring himself to do anything about it—as Felt actually was running the bureau. Watergate would bring Nixon down, and “the information, almost all of it, had its source in the work of the FBI.”

Failure to Thwart the 1993 WTC Bombing

The FBI had the names and identities of nearly every plotter involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing almost a year in advance. The bureau, however, dropped the confidential informant, Emad Salem, who had insinuated himself into the plot. It backed away from Salem, for fear that he was also working for Egyptian intelligence. As a result, even though the FBI could have prevented the bombing—which killed six people and injured more than 1,000—months before, it did not. Afterward, Salem was outraged, demanding to speak to the head of the FBI. “The information I supplied, it was expensive and valuable enough to save the country’s ass from this bomb,” said Salem. “How many disasters would be created if the World Trade Centers collapse out of some stupid assholes trying to play Muslims?” Although Salem would later aid in catching the perpetrators, the bureau's inability to act on his intelligence earlier marked one of its greatest failures.

Methods questioned

In his forty-eighth year as director of the FBI (fifty-five years total working in the bureau), Hoover died in his sleep in Washington, D.C., his hometown. His body lay in state in the Capitol's Rotunda one of only several dozen Americans who have received this honor. Throughout his career as head of the FBI, Hoover had worked hard to maintain a clean public reputation. However, casting a shadow of suspicion over his activities, Hoover ordered his personal secretary to destroy all his personal files upon his death. His tactics of surveillance, wiretapping (secretly listening to telephone conversations), and keeping detailed files on innocent citizens he deemed suspicious violated the civil liberties of many Americans.

After his death, Hoover became the subject of a Senate investigative committee in 1975 and 1976. The Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities determined that Hoover had greatly abused his governmental authority and had violated the First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly (freedom to meet with others) by harassing those he considered a threat. Yet Hoover's positive contributions could not be overlooked. He organized and led an effective, elite federal law enforcement agency through nearly half a century of U.S. history.

A 1957 Meeting Forced the FBI to Recognize the Mafia—And Changed the Justice System Forever

New York State Troopers guessed something fishy was afoot when a fleet of expensive cars, with license plates from across the country, swarmed the tiny town of Apalachin, located a few miles west of Binghamton. The cars converged around the home of Joseph Barbara, a local beverage distributor who also happened to have an extensive arrest record that included several murder charges. Sergeant Edgar Croswell, who overheard Barbara’s son booking rooms at a nearby hotel the day before, drove up to the property and began noting the out-of-state licenses. He called in reinforcements, and on November 14, 1957, the officers managed to barricade the roads surrounding the Barbara estate just as its visitors fled, catching 58 men in all. Dozens of others escaped by foot.

“That meeting literally changed the course of history,” writes Michael Newton in The Mafia at Apalachin, 1957. The arrested men were soon recognized as powerful members of the Mafia, having gathered to discuss the logistics and control of their criminal syndicate. The aftershocks of the raid at Apalachin upended the criminal justice system, forced the Department of Justice to revise their policies, and proved to the American public that the Mafia, whose existence the FBI had vehemently denied, was real. All while spending decades building up legitimate businesses, these mafiosi engaged in racketeering, loansharking, narcotics distribution and bribing public officials.

Of course, the bigoted fear of Italian-Americans as perpetrators of a crime epidemic was nothing new. After the assassination of New Orleans police chief David Hennessy in 1891, a number of Italian-Americans were charged with the crime. Though they were acquitted, a mob lynched 11 people, and the term “mafia” entered the public consciousness for the first time.

While Americans of the Prohibition Era followed the violent careers of gangsters like Al Capone, those types of criminals were generally seen as local groups, limited to a city or a small region rather than being a national syndicate. The FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, began keeping tabs on individual gangsters and modernizing their investigation and enforcement tactics, and by the late 1930s notorious criminals had largely been arrested or killed.

By the 1950s, intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice turned their attention to what they saw as matters of great importance. The Cold War was slowly heating up, and getting bogged down by supposedly small-scale domestic crime seemed like a waste of resources.

“Most federal agencies and the government were focused almost entirely on subversion, Communism, issues with the Cold War,” says Lee Bernstein, a professor of history at State University of New York, New Paltz. “Something like organized crime seemed like a relic of an earlier age, a throwback to some of the gangsters of the earlier Prohibition period.”

Among the most purposely myopic law enforcement officials was Hoover. The FBI director repeatedly dismissed the notion that a network of criminals like the Mafia might be operating on a national scale. In the FBI’s New York field office, which could have investigated activities at Apalachin had it been paying attention, 400 special agents were assigned to ferreting out “subversives,” while only four were charged with investigating organized crime. And while Hoover accumulated personal files on 25 million people over the course of his tenure, most of them from the period before the 1950s contained information on suspected Communists and other antagonists rather than on criminals or gangsters.

“Before the Apalachin summit changed everything, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter had a [personal file] card, but not Brooklyn crime boss Joe Bonanno. Left-wing activist Carlo Tresca, but not the gangster who killed him, Carmine Galante,” writes Gil Reavill in Mafia Summit: J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy Brothers, and the Meeting That Unmasked the Mob. “In Sicily, one of the nicknames for the police is la sunnambula, the sleepwalkers. Hoover fit the bill perfectly.”

That’s not to say that no one was paying attention to the possibility of real mafiosi. In 1949, the American Municipal Association (which represented more than 10,000 cities) petitioned the government to take more immediate measures against organized crime, reporting that illegal gambling and interstate crime were going unchecked by the federal government.

At the association’s prompting, Senator Estes Kefauver helped create a committee to investigate the problem. When the Kefauver Committee proceedings were televised in March 1951, approximately 30 million Americans tuned in. (The hearings are memorably fictionalized in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Part II.) But while Kefauver’s commission found plenty of evidence for interstate gambling, the rise of narcotics trade, and the infiltration of legitimate businesses and law enforcement offices by gangsters, they failed to convince the federal government to take concerted action against organized crime. And as before, Hoover refused to acknowledge the existence of an American Mafia.

“For three decades, whenever possible, Hoover ignored the Mafia,” writes Selwyn Raab in Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires. Hoover knew how tricky such investigations might be, and didn’t want to risk tarnishing the reputation of the FBI by getting involved in cases that couldn’t be solved.

But with the capture of nearly 60 mafia members at the Apalachin meeting, Hoover and the FBI could no longer avoid taking action against the Mafia, or denying its existence. The men who congregated in New York came from all over the country, from Florida to the Midwest, and had close business and often familial relationships. They were indeed the foundation of a crime syndicate. Within four days—on November 18—Hoover ordered the creation of an anti-mob initiative. Shortly thereafter he created the Top Hoodlum Program, and authorized the use of illegal wire taps to track down criminals. But even as Hoover acknowledged the mafia as a real organization, he continued to filter them through the vocabulary of the Cold War.

“It was this notion of front organizations, of aliases, of underground cells, the need to be vigilant and inform on your neighbors,” Bernstein says. He says the result of that framing was an oversimplified view of a complicated criminal network. “Over a ten-year period the alarms are going off about organized crime in ways that lead to a huge clampdown on union activity, delays of immigration reform, and very few resources going towards drug rehabilitation or mental health counseling—things proven to reduce the harm of drug use.”

The arrests made at Apalachin resulted in few immediate repercussions. It took years for prosecutors to put together legal cases eventually, 20 men were charged with obstruction of justice and found guilty. But all of the convictions were overturned and the mafioso went free. Yet Apalachin was still an important turning point: the moment when mafia took on a solid meaning, and the U.S. government launched its attack against the underworld bosses.

Editor's note, June 29, 2020: This story originally included a photograph misidentified as being the spot of the Apalchin meeting. We've replaced it with an accurate photograph.

J. Edgar Hoover: “Masters of Deceit” (1958)

In 1958 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director J. Edgar Hoover published a potted history of communism titled Masters of Deceit. In the final chapter, “How to stay free”, Hoover summarises what he believes are the goals of communism and why they will fail:

“We cannot afford the luxury of waiting for communism to run its course like other oppressive dictatorships. The weapons of communism are still formidable. They become even more effective when we lower our guard and when we become lax in strengthening our democratic institutions, in perfecting the American dream.

The call of the future must be a rekindled American faith, based on our priceless heritage of freedom, justice, and the religious spirit. In our reawakening, we Americans can learn a great deal from the fight against communism…

It is sad but true that many young people have been drawn into communist clubs or study groups. Often they are highly intellectual but lonely students and fall under a sinister influence. We know this from the experiences of hundreds of former communists and from acts of near-treason we have been called upon to investigate.

American education, of course, does not make communists communist education does. Communism, to survive, must depend upon a constant program of education, because communism needs educated people, even though it distorts the use to which their education is put. Thus, we need to show our young people, particularly those endowed with high intellects, that we in our democracy need what they have to offer.

We, as a people, have not been sufficiently articulate and forceful in expressing pride in our traditions and ideals. In our homes and schools, we need to learn how to “let freedom ring”. In all the civilised world there is no story which compares with America’s effort to become free and to incorporate freedom in our institutions. This story, told factually and dramatically, needs to become the basis for our American unity and for our unity with all free peoples…

The communists stress action. This means carrying out our responsibilities now — not tomorrow, the next day, or never. To communists, the Party means continual action, not just talk, waiting for annual elections, meetings, or affairs. With us, action must supplement good intentions in building the America of the future. We need to provide our youth with activity groups. To give them only a high standard of material advantages or a constant diet of recreation is not enough. Recreation must be made part of a life of responsibility, otherwise, it becomes merely a preface to boredom. Our young people, as well as adults, need to be working members of our republic and citizens on duty at all times.

Communists accent the positive. In their deceptive and perverted way they are always purporting to stand for something positive. “Better,” “higher,” etc. are trademarks in their language. We, too, in the true sense of the word, should strive for goals that are genuinely better, higher, and more noble, trying to improve self, community, and nation…

The [Communist] Party’s effort to create ‘communist man’, to mould a revolutionary fighter completely subservient to the Party’s desires, is destined to fail. The power of bullets, tanks and repression will bulwark tyranny just so long. Then, as the Hungarian freedom fighters proved, man’s innate desire for freedom will flare up stronger than ever…

With God’s help, America will remain a land where people still know how to be free and brave.”


During the First World War, there was a nationwide campaign in the United States against the real and imagined divided political loyalties of immigrants and ethnic groups, who were feared to have too much loyalty for their nations of origin. In 1915, President Wilson warned against hyphenated Americans who, he charged, had "poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life." "Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy", Wilson continued "must be crushed out". [2] The Russian Revolutions of 1917 added special force to fear of labor agitators and partisans of ideologies like anarchism and communism. The general strike in Seattle in February 1919 represented a new development in labor unrest. [3]

The fears of Wilson and other government officials were confirmed when Galleanists—Italian immigrant followers of the anarchist Luigi Galleani—carried out a series of bombings in April and June 1919. [4] At the end of April, some 30 Galleanist letter bombs had been mailed to a host of individuals, mostly prominent government officials and businessmen, but also law enforcement officials. [4] Only a few reached their targets, and not all exploded when opened. Some people suffered injuries, including a housekeeper in Senator Thomas W. Hardwick's residence, who had her hands blown off. [4] On June 2, 1919, the second wave of bombings occurred, when several much larger package bombs were detonated by Galleanists in eight American cities, including one that damaged the home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer in Washington, D.C. [4] At least one person was killed in this second attack, night watchman William Boehner, and fears were raised because it occurred in the capital. [4] [5] [6] Flyers declaring war on capitalists in the name of anarchist principles accompanied each bomb. [4]

In June 1919, Attorney General Palmer told the House Appropriations Committee that all evidence promised that radicals would "on a certain day. rise up and destroy the government at one fell swoop." He requested an increase in his budget to $2,000,000 from $1,500,000 to support his investigations of radicals, but Congress limited the increase to $100,000. [7]

An initial raid in July 1919 against an anarchist group in Buffalo, New York, achieved little when a federal judge tossed out Palmer's case. He found in the case that the three arrested radicals, charged under a law dating from the Civil War, had proposed transforming the government by using their free speech rights and not by violence. [8] That taught Palmer that he needed to exploit the more powerful immigration statutes that authorized the deportation of alien anarchists, violent or not. To do that, he needed to enlist the cooperation of officials at the Department of Labor. Only the Secretary of Labor could issue warrants for the arrest of alien violators of the Immigration Acts, and only he could sign deportation orders following a hearing by an immigration inspector. [9]

On August 1, 1919, Palmer named 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover to head a new division of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, the General Intelligence Division (GID), with responsibility for investigating the programs of radical groups and identifying their members. [10] The Boston Police Strike in early September raised concerns about possible threats to political and social stability. On October 17, the Senate passed a unanimous resolution demanding Palmer explain what actions he had or had not taken against radical aliens and why. [11]

At 9 pm on November 7, 1919, a date chosen because it was the second anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, agents of the Bureau of Investigation, together with local police, executed a series of well-publicized and violent raids against the Union of Russian Workers in 12 cities. Newspaper accounts reported some were "badly beaten" during the arrests. Many later swore they were threatened and beaten during questioning. Government agents cast a wide net, bringing in some American citizens, passers-by who admitted being Russian, some not members of the Russian Workers. Others were teachers conducting night school classes in space shared with the targeted radical group. Arrests far exceeded the number of warrants. Of 650 arrested in New York City, the government managed to deport just 43. [12]

When Palmer replied to the Senate's questions of October 17, he reported that his department had amassed 60,000 names with great effort. Required by the statutes to work through the Department of Labor, they had arrested 250 dangerous radicals in the November 7 raids. He proposed a new Anti-Sedition Law to enhance his authority to prosecute anarchists. [13]

As Attorney General Palmer struggled with exhaustion and devoted all his energies to the United Mine Workers coal strike in November and December 1919, [14] Hoover organized the next raids. He successfully persuaded the Department of Labor to ease its insistence on promptly alerting those arrested of their right to an attorney. Instead, Labor issued instructions that its representatives could wait until after the case against the defendant was established, "in order to protect government interests." [15] Less openly, Hoover decided to interpret Labor's agreement to act against the Communist Party to include a different organization, the Communist Labor Party. Finally, despite the fact that Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson insisted that more than membership in an organization was required for a warrant, Hoover worked with more compliant Labor officials and overwhelmed Labor staff to get the warrants he wanted. Justice Department officials, including Palmer and Hoover, later claimed ignorance of such details. [16]

The Justice Department launched a series of raids on January 2, 1920, with follow up operations over the next few days. Smaller raids extended over the next 6 weeks. At least 3000 were arrested, and many others were held for various lengths of time. The entire enterprise replicated the November action on a larger scale, including arrests and seizures without search warrants, as well as detention in overcrowded and unsanitary holding facilities. Hoover later admitted "clear cases of brutality." [17] The raids covered more than 30 cities and towns in 23 states, but those west of the Mississippi and south of the Ohio were "publicity gestures" designed to make the effort appear nationwide in scope. [18] Because the raids targeted entire organizations, agents arrested everyone found in organization meeting halls, not only arresting non-radical organization members but also visitors who did not belong to a target organization, and sometimes American citizens not eligible for arrest and deportation. [19]

The Department of Justice at one point claimed to have taken possession of several bombs, but after a few iron balls were displayed to the press they were never mentioned again. All the raids netted a total of just four ordinary pistols. [20]

While most press coverage continued to be positive, with criticism only from leftist publications like The Nation and The New Republic, one attorney raised the first noteworthy protest. Francis Fisher Kane, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, resigned in protest. In his letter of resignation to the President and the Attorney General he wrote: "It seems to me that the policy of raids against large numbers of individuals is generally unwise and very apt to result in injustice. People not really guilty are likely to be arrested and railroaded through their hearings. We appear to be attempting to repress a political party. By such methods, we drive underground and make dangerous what was not dangerous before." Palmer replied that he could not use individual arrests to treat an "epidemic" and asserted his own fidelity to constitutional principles. He added: "The Government should encourage free political thinking and political action, but it certainly has the right for its own preservation to discourage and prevent the use of force and violence to accomplish that which ought to be accomplished, if at all, by parliamentary or political methods." [21] The Washington Post endorsed Palmer's claim for urgency over legal process: "There is no time to waste on hairsplitting over infringement of liberty." [22]

In a few weeks, after changes in personnel at the Department of Labor, Palmer faced a new and very independent-minded Acting Secretary of Labor in Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis Freeland Post, who canceled more than 2,000 warrants as being illegal. [23] Of the 10,000 arrested, 3,500 were held by authorities in detention 556 resident aliens were eventually deported under the Immigration Act of 1918. [24]

At a Cabinet meeting in April 1920, Palmer called on Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson to fire Post, but Wilson defended him. The President listened to his feuding department heads and offered no comment about Post, but he ended the meeting by telling Palmer that he should "not let this country see red." Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, who made notes of the conversation, thought the Attorney General had merited the President's "admonition", because Palmer "was seeing red behind every bush and every demand for an increase in wages." [25]

Palmer's supporters in Congress responded with an attempt to impeach Louis Post or, failing that, to censure him. The drive against Post began to lose energy when Attorney General Palmer's forecast of an attempted radical uprising on May Day 1920 failed to occur. Then, in testimony before the House Rules Committee on May 7–8, Post proved "a convincing speaker with a caustic tongue" [23] and defended himself so successfully that Congressman Edward W. Pou, a Democrat presumed to be an enthusiastic supporter of Palmer, congratulated him: "I feel that you have followed your sense of duty absolutely." [26]

On May 28, 1920, the nascent American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which was founded in response to the raids, [27] published its Report Upon the Illegal Practices of the United States Department of Justice, [28] which carefully documented unlawful activities in arresting suspected radicals, illegal entrapment by agents provocateur, and unlawful incommunicado detention. Such prominent lawyers and law professors as Felix Frankfurter, Roscoe Pound and Ernst Freund signed it. Harvard Professor Zechariah Chafee criticized the raids and attempts at deportations and the lack of legal process in his 1920 volume Freedom of Speech. He wrote: "That a Quaker should employ prison and exile to counteract evil-thinking is one of the saddest ironies of our time." [29] The Rules Committee gave Palmer a hearing in June, where he attacked Post and other critics whose "tender solicitude for social revolution and perverted sympathy for the criminal anarchists. set at large among the people the very public enemies whom it was the desire and intention of the Congress to be rid of." The press saw the dispute as evidence of the Wilson administration's ineffectiveness and division as it approached its final months. [30]

In June 1920, a decision by Massachusetts District Court Judge George W. Anderson ordered the discharge of 17 arrested aliens and denounced the Department of Justice's actions. He wrote that "a mob is a mob, whether made up of Government officials acting under instructions from the Department of Justice, or of criminals and loafers and the vicious classes." His decision effectively prevented any renewal of the raids. [31]

Palmer, once seen as a likely presidential candidate, lost his bid to win the Democratic nomination for president later in the year. [32] The anarchist bombing campaign continued intermittently for another twelve years. [33]

The History Of The FBI's Secret 'Enemies' List

John Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation gives a speech on November 17, 1953, in Washington.

Bob Mulligan/AFP/Getty Images

This interview was originally broadcast on Feb. 14, 2012.

Four years after Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tim Weiner published Legacy of Ashes, his detailed history of the CIA, he received a call from a lawyer in Washington, D.C.

"He said, 'I've just gotten my hands on a Freedom of Information Act request that's 26 years old for [FBI Director] J. Edgar Hoover's intelligence files. Would you like them?' " Weiner tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And after a stunned silence, I said, 'Yes, yes.' "

Weiner went to the lawyer's office and collected four boxes containing Hoover's personal files on intelligence operations between 1945 and 1972.

"Reading them is like looking over [Hoover's] shoulder and listening to him talk out loud about the threats America faced, how the FBI was going to confront them," he says. "Hoover had a terrible premonition after World War II that America was going to be attacked — that New York or Washington was going to be attacked by suicidal, kamikaze airplanes, by dirty bombs . and he never lost this fear."

Weiner's book, Enemies: A History of the FBI, traces the history of the FBI's secret intelligence operations, from the bureau's creation in the early 20th century through its ongoing fight in the current war on terrorism. He explains how Hoover's increasing concerns about communist threats against the United States led to the FBI's secret intelligence operations against anyone deemed "subversive."

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Secrecy And The Red Raids

Weiner details how Hoover became increasingly worried about communist threats against the United States. Even before he became director of the FBI, Hoover was conducting secret intelligence operations against U.S. citizens he suspected were anarchists, radical leftists or communists. After a series of anarchist bombings went off across the United States in 1919, Hoover sent five agents to infiltrate the newly formed Communist Party.

"From that day forward, he planned a nationwide dragnet of mass arrests to round up subversives, round up communists, round up Russian aliens — as if he were quarantining carriers of typhoid," Weiner says.

On Jan. 1, 1920, Hoover sent out the arrest orders, and at least 6,000 people were arrested and detained throughout the country.

"When the dust cleared, maybe 1 in 10 was found guilty of a deportable offense," says Weiner. "Hoover denied — at the time and until his death — that he had been the intellectual author of the Red Raids."

Hoover, Attorney General Mitchell Palmer and Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt all came under attack for their role in the raids.

"It left a lifelong imprint on Hoover," says Weiner. "If he was going to attack the enemies of the United States, better that it be done in secret and not under law. Because to convict people in court, you have to [reveal] your evidence, [but] when you're doing secret intelligence operations, you just have to sabotage and subvert them and steal their secrets — you don't have to produce evidence capable of discovery by the other side. That could embarrass you or get the case thrown out — because you had gone outside the law to enforce the law."

Hoover started amassing secret intelligence on "enemies of the United States" — a list that included terrorists, communists, spies — or anyone Hoover or the FBI had deemed subversive.

The Civil Rights Movement

Later on, anti-war protesters and civil rights leaders were added to Hoover's list.

"Hoover saw the civil rights movement from the 1950s onward and the anti-war movement from the 1960s onward, as presenting the greatest threats to the stability of the American government since the Civil War," he says. "These people were enemies of the state, and in particular Martin Luther King [Jr.] was an enemy of the state. And Hoover aimed to watch over them. If they twitched in the wrong direction, the hammer would come down."

Hoover was intent on planting bugs around civil rights leaders — including King — because he thought communists had infiltrated the civil rights movement, says Weiner. Hoover had his intelligence chief bug King's bedroom, and then sent the civil rights leader a copy of the sex recordings his intelligence chief had taken of King — along with an anonymous letter from the FBI.