Hoover and the Un-Americans
by Kenneth O'Reilly *
While ACLU officials Morris Ernst and Irving Ferman were busy collaborating with the FBI, the United States Senate condemned Joseph R. McCarthy for conduct unbecoming a United States Senator. The condemnation did not, however, terminate McCarthyism as a political phenomenon. In some ways, McCarthy's demise ushered in a more pervasive McCarthyism. The House Committee on Un-American Activities and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee continued to promote the menace, while FBI officials' priorities remained unchanged. In 1959, two years after McCarthy's death, over 400 agents in the FBI's New York Field Office were assigned to "communism" and only four to organized crime. FBI assistance to the congressional internal security committees also escalated dramatically in response to a new program launched by the FBI in 1956 -- the first of the COINTELPROs. Never content merely to spy and gather intelligence, FBI officials had always intended to use the information gathered during their investigations to discredit dissident political activities. Hereafter, they pursued these objectives on a truly grand scale. McCarthyism at Bay This apparent paradox -- the escalation of McCarthyism at the very time the junior Senator from Wisconsin was fading into oblivion -- can be explained in part by the anticommunist politics favored by the Eisenhower administration. Less than two weeks after his inauguration, President Eisenhower directed his congressional liaison, General Wilton B. Persons, and Vice- President Nixon to work with HUAC and the various congressional investigating committees searching for Communists in government. Nixon and Persons hoped to direct the congressional red-hunters by identifying "what ought to be investigated," thereby confining the ongoing search for subversives to New Deal and Fair Deal personnel while precluding "investigations of the present Administration." Justice Department officials, moreover, felt that the Republicans' electoral success had led to "changed conditions" and thus the FBI should now extend "as much cooperation as possible" to HUAC and other red-hunting committees. The President publicly questioned whether CPUSA members should be allowed to teach. Even when teaching mathematics, Eisenhower mused, party propagandists could substitute political symbols for apples and oranges. J. Edgar Hoover also supported the HUAC-SISS investigations. In March he ordered twenty-four field offices to compile reports on "subversive persons" employed at fifty-six universities and colleges. A month later, the FBI Director warned the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees of Communist infiltration in education at all levels. The administration's support for the anticommunist politics of HUAC and FBI officials was further reflected in the decision to create a new loyalty-security program. Established by executive order in April 1953, the Eisenhower loyalty-security program made it easier to fire not only potential security risks and those few Communists who had infiltrated the government, but New Deal holdovers as well. (In June 1954 Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr., told the Cabinet that there were "some 500 Government employees on an FBI 'pick-up list' in case of an emergency.") Then, at HUAC's recommendation, the President amended the loyalty-security program by authorizing loyalty review boards to take into consideration whether a federal employee had ever taken the Fifth Amendment before a congressional investigating committee. Led by Attorney General Brownell, the administration also lobbied for an immunity bill and on August 20, 1954, Congress passed the Compulsory Testimony Act. President Eisenhower commended the virtues of this new law three days later: Investigation and prosecution of crimes involving national security have been seriously hampered by witnesses who have invoked the Constitutional privilege against self-incrimination embodied in the Fifth Amendment. This Act provides a new means of breaking through the secrecy which is characteristic of traitors, spies and saboteurs. Although this act empowered congressional committees to request the District Court for the District of Columbia to grant immunity to recalcitrant witnesses, neither HUAC nor any of the other red-hunting committees made much use of it. The Un-American Activities Committee was quite content to fire twenty or more questions at unfriendly witnesses and receive the same answer each time: "I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me." In addition, the Supreme Court had recently decided, in Hoffman v. U.S., that Fifth Amendment protections extended to questions about other individuals and could further be invoked in response to any question that tended to incriminate, whether it was incriminatory or not. In Rogers v. U.S. the Court had ruled that a witness who testified regarding his or her own Communist affiliations thereby waived all constitutional rights and must answer questions regarding other persons as well. In these circumstances, those summoned by the Velde, Jenner, and McCarthy committees had few choices. They could take the Fifth, become a Committee informer, or refuse to testify on other grounds -- in which case they risked indictment for contempt of Congress and, ultimately, jail. (The FBI even kept justice Department prosecutors posted on the strategy that members of allegedly subversive groups intended to pursue when called to testify.) Witnesses who took the Fifth also risked losing their jobs and were routinely investigated by the FBI for inclusion on the Security Index. The Bureau held a dossier on everyone who took the Fifth Amendment before a congressional investigating committee. The condemnation of Senator McCarthy might have signalled a thaw in the domestic Cold War, but the anticommunist politics favored by the Eisenhower administration, HUAC, and FBI officials remained unchallenged. A series of Supreme Court rulings in 1956 and 1957, however, did impose substantive restrictions on FBI officials' attempts to exploit antiradical fears and the administration's concomitant attempt to devise a "total program [that] will have the effect of outlawing the Communist Party without becoming involved in the constitutional complications of actual outlawry." These decisions limited the scope of permissible testimony by FBI informers and granted defense counsel greater access to pretrial statements that government witnesses had made to the FBI; challenged the procedures of congressional committees investigating subversive activities; and questioned the constitutionality of Smith Act prosecutions, Subversive Activities Control Board hearings, and certain aspects of the Eisenhower administration's loyalty- security program. The Supreme Court's rulings did not reflect a change in congressional temperament. HUAC member Donald Jackson was not alone when he charged that the Court's decision to invalidate a contempt of Congress citation against John T. Watkins for refusing to answer Committee questions was "a victory greater than any achieved by the Soviet on the battlefield since World War II." During the Eighty-Fifth Congress, 101 anti-Court and anti-civil liberties bills were introduced. Led by Louis Nichols, the FBI lobbied extensively for new legislation to undo the effects of the recent rulings, particularly the Jencks decision, which granted defendants greater access to FBI reports. In 1959, two years after he left the Bureau, Nichols wrote an influential American Bar Association report that inspired in part yet another attempt by anticommunist congressmen to shore up the nation's internal security machinery. The Escalation of McCarthyism The FBI's response to the Supreme Court decisions of 1956 and 1957 was not so narrowly limited. Realizing that it would no longer be feasible to prosecute Communists, in August 1956 Bureau officials decided to augment their earlier political activities. They launched the first of a series of formal counterintelligence programs (COINTELPROs) designed "to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize" groups and individuals whom FBI officials had categorized as opposed to the national interest. The FBI's counterintelligence program was initiated unilaterally without the knowledge or authorization of the Attorney General or the President, at a time when Communist party membership was declining spectacularly, and when even FBI officials no longer considered the CPUSA an espionage threat. Thus began a massive campaign to bring Communists "into disrepute before the American public." Once institutionalized within the Domestic Intelligence Division (headed from 1961 to 1971 by William C. Sullivan), this COINTELPRO-Communist party expanded to include indigenous radicals and nonradicals. In March 1960 another Bureau program, COMINFIL, sought to prevent Communist infiltration of "legitimate mass organizations" ranging from the Boy Scouts to the NAACP. Under COMINFIL, the FBI began to investigate those whom FBI officials considered as being possibly under Communist influence. In time, the Bureau expanded its structured counterintelligence activities to include such diverse groups and amorphous movements (and their sympathizers) as the Socialist Workers party (1961), "White Hate Groups" (1964), "Black Nationalist Hate Groups" (1967), and the "New Left" (1968). Counterintelligence operations (some of which violated criminal statutes relating to mail fraud, incited violence, and involved sending obscene material through the mail and extortion) were not intended merely to invoke sanctions against dissidents. They also had an explicitly educational purpose -- developing logically, if not inevitably, from the earlier and less formal program of February 1946. Under the counterintelligence programs, FBI officials were more concerned with dramatizing the Communist threat than neutralizing the Communist party. When the CPUSA began to disintegrate in the late 1950s, FBI officials felt compelled to serve as cheerleaders for their archfoe. Accordingly, the collapse of the party newspaper in 1958 prompted FBI officials to draft a "statement which the Director may desire to use as an official publicity release explaining the discontinuance of the 'Daily Worker' for the American people." Hoover rejected this suggestion and instead ordered the Crime Records Division to give the FBI-authored statement to Hearst columnist George Sokolsky. This leak to Sokolsky was not atypical. The FBI's attempts to shape public opinion accelerated between 1956 and 1971, the years the Bureau operated the various COINTELPROs. The most frequently used techniques, however, had long been employed by FBI Assistant Director Nichols. These included anonymous mailings (whether reprints of published articles or FBI-authored pamphlets, news stories, or poison-pen letters); leaks to friendly journalists, congressmen, and other public opinion leaders; and efforts to prevent radicals from speaking, meeting, teaching, writing, and publishing. Following Nichols's retirement from the Bureau in late 1957, Cartha DeLoach carried on these activities. Starting out as an agent assigned to investigate Communists in Toledo and Akron, Ohio, DeLoach moved to Washington D.C. after World War II and was assigned to the Crime Records Division. Appointed FBI Assistant Director for Crime Records in 1959, he directed all FBI investigative activities six years later. Cultivating newsmen, congressmen, and even President Lyndon B. Johnson, DeLoach, like Nichols before him, was Hoover's troubleshooter." Less concerned than Nichols with the possibility that his activities would become publicly compromised, DeLoach not only furnished information to newspaper reporters and other publicists but supervised the production and distribution on college campuses of a newspaper, the Rational Observer, billed as the work of "a small group of students." As part of his counterintelligence responsibilities, DeLoach developed a "Mass Media Program" that included over 300 newspaper reporters, columnists, radio commentators, and television news investigators. Under DeLoach's supervision on the local level, FBI field offices cultivated their own media contacts. The Chicago Field Office, for instance, had one or more sources at various newspapers (Chicago Tribune, Chicago American, Chicago Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Defender, Joliet Herald, Rockford Register Republic, Rockford Morning Star, and Waukegan News Star), television stations (ABC, NBC, and CBS local affiliates), radio stations (WGN), and news organizations (City News Bureau and Field Communications Corporation). These sources could be counted on to publicize the FBI's position on virtually any issue and to discredit not only the CPUSA but "the liberal press and the bleeding hearts." Counterintelligence and the Committee As part of the counterintelligence program, DeLoach and other FBI officials also worked closely with the House Committee on Un-American Activities -- whether by directing Committee staff to FBI informers or public source information, servicing HUAC requests for specific files, providing Committee members and staff with FBI reports, or assisting the Committee's efforts to compile charts detailing the "structure and organization" of the CPUSA. The FBI, in return, routinely exploited HUAC's public hearings to expose the Communist associations of Security Index subjects. Other targets were selected under COINTELPRO through regular reviews of the seemingly endless lists of names of people whom FBI informers had identified as Communist during testimony before the Committee. The Bureau's dissemination of published HUAC hearings and reports did not begin with the new counterintelligence program. It dated from January 1939 and escalated under the Truman loyalty program. Because Truman's program required FBI and Civil Service Commission investigators to search HUAC files for information bearing on the loyalty of incumbent or applicant federal employees, two FBI agents were assigned permanently to the Committee file room. (Prior to March 25, 1947, when Truman established the loyalty program by issuing Executive Order 9835, Committee staff searched the files; after that date agency investigators did their own searching because file room staff could not keep pace.) When President Eisenhower expanded the loyalty program in 1953 but did not specifically mention the Committee's files, Hoover announced that the FBI continued to check the data accumulated by Martin Dies and HUAC in all federal employee security investigations. More importantly, six days after Truman issued Executive Order 9835, HUAC Chairman J. Parnell Thomas named John McDowell (R., Penn.), Richard Vail (R., Ill.), and John Wood (D., Ga.) to a three-man subcommittee that was to draw up a master list of subversive organizations. The first installment, scheduled to be completed and presented within a few days to Attorney General Tom Clark, was to serve as a guide for loyalty investigators. HUAC demanded the immediate dismissal of any federal employee who had been or remained a member of any proscribed organization. This list, and subsequent installments, had an immediate impact. The FBI treated the Attorney General's list of subversive organizations as only one list among many lists -- and a rather limited one at that. If a federal employee was a member of a group listed by HUAC but not by the Attorney General, the FBI reported that fact to the justice Department and to the appropriate loyalty board. The FBI also relied on the Dies Committee's Appendix IX, published in 1944 and aptly entitled Communist Front Organizations. Prepared when the Dies Committee's future was very much in doubt by a subcommittee headed by John M. Costello (D., Cal.), Appendix IX was a hastily compiled, rather careless cross-section of the Committee's files. When finished, it totaled seven volumes and just under 2,000 pages. Some 250 groups were labeled Communist fronts and the seventh volume consisted of a 22,000 name index. Although 7,000 sets were published at a cost of $20,000, the full Committee membership deemed Appendix IX irresponsible, expunged it from the record, and ordered the existing copies destroyed. Appendix IX was immediately removed from the Library of Congress and government document rooms. A few sets, however, had already been sold to private subscribers and government agencies. The FBI immediately cross-indexed its copy. When political scientist Robert Carr interviewed Richard Nixon and John Wood regarding the continued use of Appendix IX, both claimed to be unaware of its contents and the facts surrounding its controversial publication. In March 1950, however, Committee Chairman Wood announced that HUAC staff were updating Appendix IX to make it "a bible of subversive activities in the United States." Appendix IX, of course, was already a bible of sorts and not only for intelligence and security officers. A Republican club in Chicago used it to redbait Senator Paul H. Douglas, and Senator McCarthy relied heavily on it because it was more extensive than the Attorney General's list. For example, of the twenty-eight alleged CPUSA fronts that McCarthy listed after New York City Municipal Court judge Dorothy Kenyon's name, only four were cited by the Attorney General. According to ex-FBI agent Kenneth Bierly of Counterattack, "everybody has a copy" -- including, among others, the staff of the American Legion's Firing Line, blacklister Allen Zoll of the National Council of American Education, and Richard E. Combs, counsel to the California Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities. Appendix IX was so popular that a private organization reportedly reproduced it in 1954 to meet the needs of the blacklisters. The FBI and private-sector blacklisters also relied on another HUAC publication, the Guide to Subversive Organizations and Publications. Actively promoted by FBI agent Lee Pennington even before it was first published as a handbook in December 1948, the Guide declared 563 organizations and 190 publications subversive and was updated and expanded in 1951, 1957, and 1961. J. Edgar Hoover, for his part, furnished each field office with at least two copies and referred concerned citizens to the Committee's "convenient" report so they might "spot" fronts and "not be fooled into giving them ... support." The FBI not only helped HUAC compile the various editions of its Guide (whether by directly leaking information to the Committee or through publicity given by the Committee to the testimony of FBI informers). FBI officials, in addition, monitored the various editions of the Guide, occasionally gleaning information previously unknown to the Bureau. FBI officials and agents were most likely to use the Guide when preparing "characterizations" or "thumbnail" sketches for dissemination outside the Bureau both to other governmentagencies and to friendly journalists. Local FBI field offices were instructed to compile these sketches on five-by-eight cards and to review them periodically. These characterizations were not to be disseminated until they could be laundered (that is, until all of the sources or documentation cited were "public source" in nature). What's in a Name? The Bureau had long been in the intelligence laundry business -- using HUAC as conduit for the furtive dissemination of political intelligence from its classified files. The so-called COINTELPROs, then, did not represent a change in FBI officials' anticommunist Weltanschauung. The counterintelligence programs of 1956 to 1971 differed from earlier FBI activities principally in that a complete paper record was created of FBI actions, a record that was maintained in both the central COINTELPRO file at Bureau headquarters and in the field office counterintelligence files. (In 1975 the former COINTELPRO-New Left supervisor claimed that the COINTELPRO caption was, in some ways, simply an "administrative device to channel the mail to" FBI headquarters.) Under the various counterintelligence programs, field office proposals for disruptive or educational action, authorizations from senior FBI officials, and periodic summary reports recording tangible results were recorded in writing. Prior to 1956 FBI officials had been reluctant to risk creating such a paper record of their political efforts. This reluctance stemmed not from a greater sensitivity to civil liberties but from a concern that formal record keeping practices could increase the FBI's vulnerability. Accordingly, written records of the Bureau's earlier assistance to HUAC and conservative newspaper reporters were destroyed under "Do Not File" procedures, falsified, or filed under the Bureau's individual case captions -- making it difficult to ascertain the scope of the FBI's political activities without total access to the headquarters and field office files. In contrast, during the lifetime of the formal COINTELPROs, exactly 3,247 disruptive actions were proposed, of which 2,370 were carried out. This is not to say that the FBI's less formal activities ceased when COINTELPRO began. As Internal Security Section chief Alan H. Belmont noted in an August 1959 memorandum to Hoover, "the Counter- intelligence Program is one of the special programs that we have devised to disorganize and disrupt the Communist Party". One such program involved the dissemination of blind memorandums regarding subversive activities to local and state police officials. Another more formal program, begun in February 1951, authorized "the dissemination of information to appropriate authorities on a strictly confidential basis concerning Communist or subversive elements in public utilities or public or semi-public organizations." This so-called Responsibilities Program (Responsibilities of the FBI in the Internal Security Field) was launched on February 17 following Hoover's meeting with a group of state governors representing the executive committee of the 1951 Governors' Conference. All information volunteered by the FBI was oral and recipients included a "large number of state and local officials." The Bureau's role was not to be compromised; otherwise, as senior FBI officials noted, "our standard claim that the files of the FBI are confidential" would be threatened." The Responsibilities Program clearly indicates that the launching of the first COINTELPRO in August 1956 did not represent a shift in Bureau policy. Nor can COINTELPRO be considered simply as a skeleton in the FBI's closet. Only a small number of the FBI counterintelligence actions conducted between 1956 and 1971 were carried out as formal COINTELPRO operations. The vast majority were thus not recorded in the central COINTELPRO file but were under other program files or individual case captions.* a "readers digest" of Chapter 8, "Counterintelligence", of Hoover and the Un-Americans, by Kenneth O'Reilly, Temple University Press, 1983.