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 

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 

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" 

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 

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 

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 

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.