Was there a Link Between the FBI and the HUAC?

“Hoover proclaimed his political support for the Committee on Un-American Activities and its members in the war on communism. They were no a team.”—Tim Weiner, Enemies, 149.

Here is a picture taken during an HUAC hearing in 1948.

The question of how linked the relationship was between the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) is to me one of the most interesting questions that can be asked of this period. By law they were two very different organizations falling under two very different departments. The HUAC was a congressional committee tasked with investigating and trying Americans who were allegedly guilty of subversive activities and allegiances. The organization was founded in the late 1930s and during its almost forty years of existence issued thousands of subpoenas and sentenced hundreds to jail for contempt of court (for refusing to answer the infamous question “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”) The FBI on the other hand was a crime fighting institution that fell under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice rather than Congress. The question remains, how closely were these two organizations linked in their shared objectives?

As mentioned in a previous post, it was not uncommon for someone seated before the HUAC to find the committee members armed with the defendant’s entire FBI file. This was the heart of the link between these organizations. The FBI could go about their covert techniques of gathering information, but could now channel it to the HUAC for use as anonymously provided evidence against the defendant. Tim Weiner writes. “The FBI would gather evidence in secret, working toward the “unrelenting prosecution” of subversives. The committee would make its greatest contribution through publicity—what Hoover called ‘the public disclosure of the forces that threaten America.’”[1] This link would remain mostly secret from the public for many years.

It was not until the early 1950s that the HUAC, under the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy, hit the peak of its anti-communist rhetoric and action. William Sullivan, the high ranking FBI official who has been mentioned many times before in this blog wrote in his

Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin led the HUAC during the first few years of the 1950s.

memoir, “During the Eisenhower years the FBI kept Joe McCarthy in business. Senator McCarthy Stated publicly that there were Communists working for the State Department. We gave McCarthy all we had, but all we had were fragments, nothing could prove his accusations. For a while, though, the accusations were enough to keep McCarthy in the headlines.”[2] This quote, if Sullivan’s book is indeed accurate, changes the picture a little bit. Rather than two titan organizations teaming up in order to fight communism in America, we get the image of the commonly used analogy of FBI as the puppet master. Rather than being a productive organization on its own, Sullivan’s account makes it seem as if the HUAC was nothing more but an assassin of public opinion ready to attack and besmirch the public image of anyone the FBI had dirt on. Despite the fact that J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with the public’s opinion of the Bureau, it is clear that he preferred to leave the dirty work of public accusations to people who did not mind getting their hands dirty. Luckily, the HUAC was desperate for information and more than willing to provide that service.

[1] Tim Weiner, Enemies. New York: Random House, 2012. Pp. 149-150.

[2] William Sullivan, The Bureau. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1979. Pp. 45.

Who was Matt Cvetic?

I Was a Communist for the FBI –Here is a link to a film clip from the 1951 film I Was a Communist for the FBI.

Any first hand account of J. Edgar Hoover would be flawed if it did not convey his obsession with the public’s opinion of himself and the FBI. This included pop culture. Many great books have been written about the FBI’s changing place within popular culture and media including, G-Men: Hoover’s FBI in American Popular Culture by Richard Powers, and The FBI and the Movies by Bob Herzberg.

One of the more interesting occurrences in which the FBI’s clandestine operations melded with popular culture was the popularity of I Was a Communist for the FBI, which started as a serial story in the Saturday Evening Post. Both a film and a weekly radio drama of the same name soon followed. The fictionalized film, staring Frank Lovejoy, would even earn an Academy Award nomination for best documentary.

The man behind it was Matt Cvetic, a notoriously short and stout from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He had been unsuccessful in various government jobs until in 1941, after three rejections from U.S. Army Intelligence, he was accepted into the FBI under the pretense that

he was fluent in seven Baltic and Slavic languages, including Russian.[1]After he began his career with the FBI, Matt Cvetic became one of their most useful informants. For nine years Cvetic worked his way up the ranks of Pittsburg’s Communist Party becoming a well-trusted member of the community. Daniel Leab writes in his article on Cvetic, “The FBI no doubt

Matt Cvetic was a professional informant for the FBI for nine years.

considered Cvetic an extremely useful informant for much of his tenure with the Bureau. Various Special-Agents-in-Charge of the Bureau’s Pittsburgh office reported to Hoover on Cvetic’s “excellent results.”[2] However, according to Cvetic, the job was starting to become to much for him.

Cvetic claimed in front of the HUAC that his family had begun to shun him because of his affiliation with the Communist Party. He also claimed to be under physiological and spiritual distress because his cover as a Communist had prohibited him from attending church lest he be exposed as a man a faith. For whatever reason, the stressful job seemed to be taking its toll on an already unstable man. From many accounts I’ve read about Cvetic, most accuse him of being an abusive father and husband as well as a raging alcoholic.

By the late 1940s, the FBI was beginning to sense that Cvetic might need to be let go. Due to his well-publicized testimonies in front of the HUAC (including testifying against William Albertson) his effectiveness as an informant was beginning to wane. The FBI was also concerned with his very overt extra-marital affairs. It was not uncommon for Cvetic, while drunk, to publicly brag about his covert exploits as a way to gain female attention.[3] It was in light of his deteriorating relationship with the FBI that Cvetic approached journalist James Moore as a way to cash in on his FBI exploits. Thus I Was a Communist for the FBI was born. It started as a regular story installment in issues of the Saturday Evening Post but was soon picked up by Warner Brothers for a cinematic version. In the FBI files for the film, you can see that throughout the entire production process and after its nation-wide release, the FBI received innumerable amounts of letters of people trying to confirm whether or not the film was FBI sanctioned. The response from the FBI was always the same, “The FBI does not have any ties with Matt Cvetic and will not take any stance on the film.” (that can be read in the FBI vault here)

The whole story of Matt Cvetic and I Was a Communist for the FBI shows the public fascination with FBI covert actions and the counter-communist initiatives of the U.S. government. It is also indicative of something I have discussed many times on this blog, that being the potency of the public paranoia that the FBI and its affiliates cultivated throughout the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.


[1] Daniel J Leab, “Anti-Communist, the FBI, and Matt Cvetic: The Ups and Downs of a Professional Informer.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. Vol. 115, No. 4. (Oct., 1991) Pp. 542.

[2] Ibid, 544.

[3] Ibid, 547.

What was the Smith Act?

“Congressional hearings had already begun on the statute that would ultimately be known as the Smith Act. It was aimed, initially, at the fingerprinting and registration of aliens. By the time it passed, it had grown to become the first peacetime law against sedition in America since the eighteenth century. The Smith Act included the toughest federal restrictions on free speech in American history: it outlawed words and thoughts aimed at overthrowing the government, and it made membership in any organization with that intent a federal crime.” –Tim Weiner, Enemies, 83


Starting with its passing in 1940, the Smith Act became one of the most effective weapons in the government’s arsenal during its domestic war on communism. Proposed by conservative representative Howard Smith of Virginia and signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt, the act made illegal any act of advocacy, public or private, on behalf of overthrowing the government. This was a major blow to the Communist Party as it effectively made being a member illegal because of the Communist Manifesto’s emphasis on an eventual violent overthrow of modern capitalist regimes.

The act would not be brought fully into play until 1949 when most of the leaders of the Communist Party USA were brought before the Supreme Court for conspiracy. The trial

Here activists bring petitions to the Supreme Court in support of the 11 defendants of the "Smith Act Trial"

would become infamously know as the “Smith Act Trial.” The government’s case: the men and women on trial subscribe to communist ideology, one of whose tenets clearly advocates for a violent overthrow of the government. Therefore the defendants are guilty of conspiracy under the Smith Act.

Eugene Dennis rebutted the government’s stance in his opening defense to the Supreme Court. He said, “The allegation of crime rests on the charge that we Communist leaders used our inalienable American rights of free speech, press, and association, and sought to advance certain general political doctrines which the indictment falsely says teach and advocate the duty and necessity to overthrow the Government of the United States by force and violence.”[1] Despite the defense’s efforts to show how the Smith Act violates the first amendment, the court voted 6 to 2 to convict the eleven Communist Party leaders. In his dissenting opinion made in June of 1951, Justice Hugo Black wrote, “Public opinion being what it now is, few will protest the conviction of these Communist petitioners. There is hope, however, that in calmer times, when present pressures, passions, and fears subside, this or some later Court will restore the First Amendment Liberties to the high preferred place where they belong in a free society.”[2]

This is a picture of the Supreme Court as it existed during the Smith Act Trial. First row, second from the left is Justice Hugo Black who disagreed with the 6 to 2 majority.

The Smith Act still remains on the books today. To make sure you are not in violation of it, you can read the text of the act here:

Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government; or

Whoever, with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or

Whoever organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof–

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.

If two or more persons conspire to commit any offense named in this section, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.

As used in this section, the terms “organizes” and “organize”, with respect to any society, group, or assembly of persons, include the recruiting of new members, the forming of new units, and the regrouping or expansion of existing clubs, classes, and other units of such society, group, or assembly of persons.


(from http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/comm/free_speech/smithactof1940.html)

[1] Eugene Dennis, “Opening Statement of Behalf of the Communist Party.” March 21, 1949, From, Ellen Schrecker, editor. The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents. New York: Bedford, 2002. Pp. 200.

[2] Justice Hugo Black, “Dissenting Opinion in Dennis et al. v. United States.” June 4, 1951. From, Ibid.

Who was William Albertson?

For me, some of the most interesting stories involving the FBI in this period come from their attempts at disinformation or counter-intelligence. One example of this is the infamous story of William Albertson. William Albertson joined the Communist Party while he was still at the University of Pittsburgh in 1929. He was a dedicated member of the party both in Pennsylvania and later in New York City where he moved after being expelled from college for organizing rallies. Over the years he worked his way up to being one of the highest raking members of the party and serving as the secretary of the Communist Party for the state of New York. That is, until July of 1964.

In the early days of that July William Albertson had agreed to loan his car to a friend and fellow communist. The FBI saw this as an incredible opportunity to employ a tactic called the “Snitch Jacket.”[1]This tactic involved planting false documents on a person or a person’s possessions that would make it appear as if they had been funneling information

July 8, 1964: The New York Times reports that 54-year-old William Albertson is expelled by the Communist Party for being a suspected government informant.

to the authorities.  Needless to say, the documents were found and Albertson was ousted from the Communist Party and exiled from the community he had been linked to for almost 40 years. The New York Times reported that, “The date of the expulsion was not given nor was the police agency that Mr. Albertson allegedly served identified. Party officials declined to make any comment and Mr. Albertson could not be reached.”[2]  Albertson died sometime later in a car accident. He had never stopped trying to assert his innocence to the party but his attempts were futile.

It would not be until over a decade later that the world would know the truth about the Albertson case. The circumstances surrounding the discovery were recorded in a New York Times article from 1976. It says, “The truth came out by ironic mischance. Last year a journalist asked the F.B.I. for documents about its past efforts to disrupt white hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. When the papers were released, one was on another subject. It was a report to bureau officials dated Jan. 6, 1965, that said a high functionary of the Communist Party had been expelled “through our counter-intelligence efforts.”[3]

Many more contemporary writers and historians have looked at the interesting case of William Albertson as a sort of litmus paper for how effective the FBI had become at intimidating the party by reputation alone. David Garrow writes, “Widespread suspicion of informant penetration provided fertile ground for accusations of betrayal whenever movement tensions led to angry, personal recriminations. The CP’s knee-jerk acceptance of William Albertson’s snitch-jacketing is the worst but by no means the only example of how ready thousands of activists within a wide-ranging assortment of FBI target groups—the CP, the Black Panthers, SCLC, and the Ku Klux Klan—were to uncover real or imagined informants within their ranks.”[4] The Albertson case is a great demonstration of how effective the FBI had become in infiltrating not only the organizations of leftists, but also their imaginations. You can read more about this in my post on this topic.

[1] Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001. Pp. 444.

[2] Murray Illson, “High-Ranking Communist Here Ousted by Party as ‘Police Agent,’” New York Times. July 8, 1964.

[3] Anthony Lewis, “A Cointel Story.” New York Times. May 29, 1976.

[4] David Garrow, “FBI Political Harassment and FBI Historiography: Analyzing Informants and Measuring the Effects.” The Public Historian. Vol. 10, No. 4. (Autumn, 1988.)

Hoover and the Kennedys: Part II

“The war between J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was a scorched-earth campaign that burned throughout the 1960s.”– Tim Weiner, Enemies, 223. 

Just as J. Edgar Hoover had not liked or trusted John F. Kennedy, so too did he dislike Attorney General Robert Kennedy. They fought on a number issues ranging from JFK’s romantic indiscretions to the Civil Rights movement. Robert was an outspoken advocate of the civil rights movement and yet, there were two issues that time and time again dominated the attention of the young attorney general as evident by his orders to the FBI. The first issue was organized crime and the second was communism in the United States. J. Edgar Hoover, like he had with so many other titans of American politics, was whispering threats of communism in the ear of Robert Kennedy. This allowed Hoover and the FBI use their own social biases to survey and harass whoever they wanted under the guise of suspected communism.

I have already written about the relationship between the FBI and race and you can read that here. For years Hoover was a silent antagonist to the civil rights movement and now he used his suspicions of a link between civil rights and communism to get permission to survey black activists in the US. David Garrow writes in his book, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. that despite his dislike of Hoover, often times Robert Kennedy unconditionally accepted FBI allegations of links between communism and specific civil rights leaders.[1]

Although an outspoken advocate for Civil Rights, Robert Kennedy was worried how an alleged connection between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Communism would effect the movement.

As mentioned before RFK was an outspoken advocate of civil rights and as such was worried how communism and communist affiliations would effect the movement. Both he and the President personally warned King against associating with communists and yet, memoranda from the FBI kept rolling in about his leftist affiliations. Begrudgingly, on October 10, 1963, RFK consented to give unlimited power of wiretapping to the FBI in order to bug King’s headquarters in Atlanta.[2] Hoover’s relationship with Robert Kennedy represents the mastery of his craft as a manipulator. Despite the Kennedy’s distrust and even at points, open hatred of Hoover, he was still able to get what he wanted.

Here is a video of J. Edgar Hoover presenting the FBI to the Kennedy brothers in October of 1961.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFDTBhwCiTM


[1] David Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Penguin Books, 1981. Pp. 95.

[2] Time Weiner, Enemies, New York: Random House, 2012. Pp. 235.

What Happened Between John F. Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover?

“Hoover’s knowledge of JFK’s private conduct and RFK’s political conspiracies were potentially lethal political weapons. He brandished them now. He let the president and the attorney general know that he know they had committed moral sins.”—Tim Weiner, Enemies, 232-233.


If you think about their backgrounds and what they stood for, it’s no surprise that J. Edgar Hoover and the Kennedy family did not get along. There is one exception to that however, Hoover and Joe Kennedy had a lot of mutual respect for one another. Joe Kennedy, the father of JFK, was a successful businessman, an ideal capitalist, and a self-proclaimed enemy of communism. This hatred of socialism was only compounded when in 1959 Joe Kennedy lost a very large investment in a Coca-Cola franchise in Havana, Cuba to Castro’s revolution.[1]In the eyes of Hoover however, the sons of his old friend were entirely different.

Joe Kennedy, Businessman and Friend of J. Edgar Hoover

JFK first came to the attention of Hoover in 1942 while he was having a well-publicized illicit affair with a married woman. Her name was Inga Arvad, she was a columnist for the The Washington Post. The reason the juicy gossip caught Hoover’s eye was because Arvad was a former Nazi sympathizer and a suspected spy. The FBI had had her house bugged for months. It would not be the last time Hoover would be privy to the dirty details of JFK’s private life.

As political enemies, their battle began during the election when, according to William Sullivan, “Hoover did his best to keep the press supplied with anti-Kennedy stories… While Hoover was trying to sabotage Jack Kennedy’s campaign, he was quietly helping Richard Nixon.”[2] Once JFK was elected however, the games did not end. The relationship between Hoover and the Kennedys became increasingly childish and passive aggressive as the years wore on. John would often wait until he knew Hoover might be napping in the afternoon and burst into Hoover’s office unannounced and without consulting with his secretary. John would sometimes discuss things with Hoover over lunch and would purposely upset Hoover’s highbrow gentile sensibilities by taking him to lunch at drug stores. In response to these slights, Hoover was clandestinely amassing files on JFK’s sexual indiscretions and his supposed links to organized crime across the country.

Even as the FBI handled the investigation of JFK’s assassination, Hoover’s attitude toward the Kennedys was still cold at best. Sullivan writes “I shouldn’t have been surprised by Hoover’s lack of personal remorse when jack Kennedy was killed. ‘Goddamn the Kennedys,’ I heard Clyde Tolson say to Hoover. ‘First there was Jack, now there’s Bobby, and then Teddy. We’ll have them on our necks until the year 2000.”[3]

While the relationship between Hoover and JFK was mostly one of gossip and childish pranks, Hoover and Bobby Kennedy were involved in much more political skirmishes.

[1] Burton Hersh, Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover that Transformed Modern America. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007. Pp.8.

[2] William C. Sullivan, The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1979. Pp. 49.

[3] Ibid.

How did Red Scare Surveillance End?

“After Half a Century as America’s counterrevolutionary in chief, Hoover no longer commanded unquestioned authority…. The control of secret information had always been the primary source of Hoover’s power. He had lost it.” -Tim Weiner, Enemies, 288.

It was dark and late on the night of March 8, 1971 when for the first time in fifteen years eyes other than those of an FBI employee read the word “COINTELPRO.” The COINTELPRO, which stood for Counter Intelligence Program, was created in 1956 during the height of the second red scare as an aggressive campaign to redouble efforts to survey the American left. It was one of the darkest secrets the FBI had.  Through the program, the FBI had clandestinely amassed thousands of files through illegal and

Here William C. Sullivan, the founder of the COINTELPRO, and J. Edgar Hoover shake hands.

unconstitutional methods. Unless the FBI wanted to purposely leak information, the world would never know about the intelligence that had been gathered in the name of COINTELPRO. Even the Attorney Generals that Hoover was supposed to have been reporting to had no idea of the program’s existence. In the 1976 Church Committee hearing investigating the civil rights abuses of intelligence organizations, the committee found that, “To the extent that Attorneys General were ignorant of the Bureau’s activities, it was the consequence not only of the FBI Director’s independent political position, but also of the failure of the Attorneys General to establish procedures for finding out what the Bureau was doing and for permitting an atmosphere to evolve in which Bureau officials believed that they had no duty to report their activities to the justice department, and that they could conceal those activities with little risk of exposure.”[1] That is of course, until March of 1971.

A few miles outside of Philadelphia, in a small town called Media, burglars working for the organization known as the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into a small satellite FBI office and raided it, taking every classified document they could find.[2]It was the first time anyone had seen documents illustrating the depth of FBI surveillance. For the

Here the Chicago Tribune reports on the FBI break-in in Media, PA.

next few months the organization continued to leak the information to certain members of the government, as well as members of the press who in turn, relayed the information to a stunned population. Tim Weiner writes, “It took weeks, in some cases months, before the reporters began to understand the documents. They were fragmentary records of undercover FBI operations to infiltrate twenty-two college campuses with informers, and the described the wiretapping of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panthers. It took a year before one reporter made a concerted effort to decode a word that appeared on the files: COINTELPRO. The word was unknown outside the FBI.”[3] The country was shocked. A few weeks later J. Edgar Hoover canceled the fifteen-year operation in hopes that no more secrets would leak, but it was too late. The days of an unquestioned FBI had come to an end. Hoover would stay on as director until his death, a year and two months after the break in. The second red scare had been over for nearly ten years but the systems put in place by that fear had stayed operational. Only after the revelations of 1971 could the public truly learn to what extent they had been watched for the past four decades.

Here is a photograph of J. Edgar Hoover's grave in Washington D.C. He died in 1972, a little over a year after the Media break-in.


[1] US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities Within the United States. 1976 US Senate Report on Illegal Wiretaps and Domestic Spying by the FBI, CIA and NSA. St. Petersburg, Florida: Red and Black Publishers, 2007. Pp. 185.

[2] James Kirkpatrick Davis, Spying on Americans: The FBI’s Domestic Counterintelligence Program. Westport: Praeger, 1992. Pp. 1.

[3] Tim Weiner, Enemies: A History of the FBI. New York: Random House, 2012. Pp. 293.

What was the FBI’s relationship to race during this era?

Hoover had been born in nineteenth-century Washington, D.C., a southern city that stayed segregated throughout most of the twentieth century…He presided over an Anglo-Saxon American, and he aimed to preserve and defend it.”- Tim Weiner, Enemies, 199

When most people think about the FBI and its relationship to race in America, most think of their detailed surveillance and blackmail attempts on Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1950s and 60s.[1] In fact, Weiner writes in his book Enemies, “The FBI had spied on every prominent black political figure in America since World War I. The scope of its surveillance of black leaders was impressive, considering the Bureau’s finite manpower, the burden of its responsibilities, and the limited number of hours in a day.”[2]

The extensive and complete FBI files on Martin Luther King Jr. can be seen in the FBI online archives here:  http://vault.fbi.gov/Martin%20Luther%20King%2C%20Jr.

Here is a scan of the letter, manufactured by the FBI, urging Martin Luther King Jr. to commit suicide in light of the discoveries of FBI investigations

However, for reasons other than politics, Hoover had very pointed views on race that became apparent to anyone who knew him. FBI agent William Sullivan wrote in his memoir about his class of recruits who all joined the Bureau in 1941. He says, “As I took a look at my classmates, I started to notice a certain sameness about the fifty of us. Although we came from ever part of the country and from every type of background, there were no Jews, blacks, or Hispanics in the class. I was later to learn that this was Hoover’s policy.”[3] African-Americans would not be formally admitted under the payroll of the FBI until the late 1940s when the Bureau was desperate to get moles and informants inside various organizations like the NAACP.

Besides Hoover’s own personal prejudices, the FBI did have other reasons to look into the political affiliations of African-Americans. Since before World War II, some African-Americans in the American South had fallen under the charms of communism because of its promotion of racial equality. This concerned the FBI and because of it, they turned their great propaganda machine toward the south. Despite Hoover’s personal racism, a chapter of his book Masters of Deceit is dedicated toward convincing black communities that the communist cause abandoned them years earlier. He writes, “The World War II period found the party cynically abandoning any alleged struggle for Negro rights. The aim was to help not Negroes but Moscow.”[4]

Anyone who is familiar with the history of the FBI might rebut by saying that the FBI had also surveyed and harassed white supremacist groups like the Klu Klux Klan and were therefore devoid of an official racial bias. Weiner again provides interesting information. He writes, “Despite the violence, Hoover took a hands-off stance toward the KKK. He would not direct the FBI to investigate or penetrate the Klan unless the president so ordered.”[5]

Whether motivation came from the perceived vulnerability of the Civil Rights movement to communism, or from Hoover’s own prejudices, it seems apparent that the FBI had a very tense relationship toward race in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

[1] David J. Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King Jr., New York: Penguin Books, 1981. Pp. 152.

[2] Tim Weiner, Enemies: A History of the FBI. New York: Random House, 2012. Pp. 197.

[3] William Sullivan, The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1979. Pp. 16.

[4] J. Edgar Hoover. Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight it. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1958. Pp. 245.

[5] Weiner, 199.

What was it like to be under surveillance?

“We had to change our tactics….We had to make every effort to develop live informants, utilize both mike and technical wiretaps, and become more sophisticated in our actual techniques.”- Jack Danahy, quoted in Enemies, 193. 

If the FBI were watching you, would you know it? Would you see shadowy men standing outside your window? Would your phone mysteriously click every time you picked it up? I cannot try to imagine the type of paranoia that would have set itself into members of subversive organizations during the late 1940s and into the late 1950s. The worst part is that many of the people being watched during this time period knew it, and even if they did not know it for a fact, they suspected it. The paranoia pervades the memoirs of the time. It drove many of the famous leftists of the era, like writer Howard Fast or playwright Arthur Miller into the countryside and away from New York City where the FBI knew how to use the urban environment to their benefit.

The first hint in knowing that the FBI investigated you were the people they sent to question your friends. These agents would not just talk to your friends or you employers; they would talk to almost everyone you had ever known well. Through the Freedom of Information Act I, acting on a hunch, requested the FBI files on Rod Serling the creator of the hit television series The Twilight Zone. What I found surprised me for two reasons. One was that Rod Serling, the writer of a television show that often criticized the nature of the Red Scare, was not investigated during the making of the show. The other reason I was surprised was that the file contained notes from a 45-page investigation. Serling was not being investigated for espionage or subversive activities; he had merely applied for a job as a writer on a government operated radio show called The Voice of America.

This is the first page of the Rod Serling file. Here we see J. Edgar Hoover sending out the first memorandum requesting the investigation.

To investigate this World War II veteran, the FBI dispatched agents to Albany, Cincinnati, New York, Cleveland, Springfield, and Miami, anywhere were Serling had spend any prolonged period of time in his entire life. Neighbors, employers, family members, co-workers, all were interviewed and asked to characterize his talent as a writer, his diligence, but especially his loyalty. Dozens upon dozens of people were interviewed and each FBI document concludes with the thought, “no information of a derogatory nature concerning loyalty which could be identified with the applicant was found.”[1]

In some instances the investigation became very specific and very personal. In a memorandum sent from Cincinnati, where Serling went to college, an FBI agent interviewed the director of a children’s summer camp where he had once worked. The director furnished the FBI with the only negative piece of information found in the entire investigation, “He said that applicant received an unsatisfactory rating during his employment period at Camp Treetops, Lake Placid, New York, due to his poor judgment in associations with his present wife at the camp when they were both single students and co-op employees during the summer of 1947.” And that, “they spend too much time together in front of the children of the camp.”[2] No dirty detail was left unrecorded.

The other ways in which a person knew they were being surveyed was, as Arthur Miller found out, the appearance of personal information and references to their FBI files while before the HUAC.[3] After the emergence and popular pulp stories of FBI informants, any new person, or old friend for that matter, could be an informant. The writer and Communist Party member Howard Fast had many overt run ins with the FBI. In his Memoir, Being Red, Fast remembers a dinner party that he threw. He writes, “On one occasion, on the day

Author and CP member Howard Fast testifying before the HUAC

before we gave a large fund-raising party, I received a drawing in the mail with the legend: “This bastard is FBI. He’s crashing your party. Throw him out.” It was a good drawing, and when the FBI man turned up, he was immediately recognized. He left quietly; if there was one thing you could give the FBI point for, it was politeness.”[4]

There are numerous memoirs written by those who were surveyed and all purvey the same sense of paranoia. As we see from the Serling records, the FBI’s investigations were often too deep and too thorough to go unnoticed.

[1] Washington Field Office-FBI, “Special Inquiry- Rodman Serling,” 5/21/1951.

[2] Cincinnati Field Office-FBI, “Special Inquiry- Rodman Serling.” 5/8/1951

[3] Christopher Bigsby, Arthur Miller. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009. Pp. 532.

[4] Howard Fast, Being Red: A Memoir. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1990. Pp. 168.

Tim Weiner’s NPR Interview

One of the most important secondary sources for this project has recently become Enemies: A History of the FBI by Pulitzer Prize winner Time Weiner. Earlier this year NPR conducted a great interview with the author about his new book.

You can find the interview here: http://www.npr.org/2012/02/14/146862081/the-history-of-the-fbis-secret-enemies-list