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.