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J. Edgar Hoover

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Hoover in 1961
Hoover in 1961

John Edgar Hoover (January 23, 1895May 2, 1972) was the founder of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in its present form and its director from May 10, 1924, until his death in 1972. Hoover was appointed the first director of the FBI by President Calvin Coolidge. During his tenure, Hoover attained extraordinary power and unusual discretionary authority, while also feuding with many adversaries. It is because of Hoover that, since his tenure, FBI directors have been limited to ten-year terms.

Hoover is credited with creating an effective law enforcement organization but has frequently been accused of exceeding and abusing his authority by blackmailing notable public figures[citation needed] and engaging in extralegal activities such as through the COINTELPRO program he initiated (see below).

Hoover habitually fired FBI agents, either randomly or by singling out those who "looked stupid like truck drivers" or were "pinheads."[1] He was also notorious for relocating agents who had displeased him, such as Melvin Purvis, to career-ending jobs in cities with little need for an FBI presence.[2]


[edit] Early life and education

Hoover was born in Washington, D.C., but few details are known of his early years; his birth certificate was not filed until 1938. What little is known about his upbringing generally can be traced back to a single 1937 profile by journalist Jack Alexander. Hoover was educated at George Washington University, graduating in 1917 with a law degree. During his time there, he became a member of Kappa Alpha Order (Alpha Nu 1914). While a law student, Hoover became interested in the career of Anthony Comstock, the New York City based U.S. Postal Inspector who waged prolonged campaigns against fraud and vice (as well as pornography and information on birth control) a generation earlier. He is thought to have studied Comstock's methods and modeled his early career on Comstock's reputation for relentless pursuit and occasional procedural violations in crime fighting.

[edit] Career

During World War I, Hoover found work with the Justice Department. He soon proved himself capable and was promoted to head of the Enemy Aliens Registration Section. In 1919, he became head of the new General Intelligence Division of the Justice Department (see the Palmer Raids). From there, in 1921, he joined the Bureau of Investigation as deputy head, and in 1924, the Attorney General made him the acting director. He became the permanent director of the Bureau in 1925.

When Hoover took over the Bureau of Investigation, it had approximately 650 employees, including 441 Special Agents. Because of several highly-publicized captures or shootings of outlaws and bank robbers like John Dillinger, Alvin Karpis, and Machine Gun Kelly, the Bureau's powers were broadened and it was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935. In 1939, the FBI became pre-eminent in the field of domestic intelligence. Hoover made changes such as expanding and combining fingerprint files in the Identification Division to compile the largest collection of fingerprints ever made. Hoover also helped to greatly expand the FBI's recruitment and create the FBI Laboratory, a division established in 1932 to examine evidence found by the FBI.

Hoover in 1935
Hoover in 1935

Hoover was noted for his concern about—some would say obsession with—subversion. Under his leadership the FBI spied upon tens of thousands of suspected subversives and radicals. Hoover believed that his strategy for fighting subversion was necessary to prevent the emergence of a totalitarian police state in America, one which holds people without warrant or trial and utilizes torture to gain information. [citation needed]

Hoover tended to exaggerate the dangers of subversives, and many believe he overstepped his bounds in his pursuit of eliminating this perceived threat.[citation needed] One possible exception to this was during World War II, when German U-boats would prowl the eastern seaboard of the United States, sinking merchant vessels and two even launched small groups of Nazi agents ashore in Florida and Long Island to cause acts of sabotage within the country. The members of these teams were apprehended due in part to the increased vigilance and intelligence gathering efforts of the FBI, but chiefly because one of the would-be saboteurs, who had spent many years as an American resident, decided to surrender himself to the authorities, which led to the apprehension of the other saboteurs still at large. President Harry Truman wrote in his memoirs: "The country had reason to be proud of and have confidence in our security agencies. They had kept us almost totally free of sabotage and espionage during the World War II".[1] An example is his capture of the Nazi saboteurs in the Quirin affair.

Another example of Hoover's concern over subversion is his handling of the Venona Project. The FBI inherited a pre-WWII joint project with the British to eavesdrop on Soviet spies in the UK and the United States. Hoover kept the intercepts--America's greatest counterintelligence secret--in a locked safe in his office, choosing not to inform Truman, his Attorney General McGraith or two Secretaries of State—Dean Acheson and General George Marshall—while they held office. However, he informed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the Venona Project in 1952.

In 1956, Hoover was becoming increasingly frustrated by Supreme Court decisions that limited the Justice Department's ability to prosecute Communists. At this time he formalized a covert "dirty tricks" program under the name COINTELPRO.[3] This program remained in place until it was revealed to the public in 1971, and was the cause of some of the harshest criticism of Hoover and the FBI. COINTELPRO was first used to disrupt the Communist Party, and later such organizations such as the Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King Jr.'s SCLC, the Ku Klux Klan and others. Its methods included infiltration, burglaries, illegal wiretaps, planting forged documents and spreading false rumors about key members of target organizations.[4] Some authors have charged that COINTELPRO methods also included inciting violence and arranging murders.[5] In 1975, the activities of COINTELPRO were investigated by the Senate Church Committee and declared illegal and contrary to the Constitution.[6]

Hoover amassed significant power by collecting files containing large amounts of compromising and potentially embarrassing information on many powerful people, especially politicians. According to Laurence Silberman, appointed deputy Attorney General in early 1974, Director Clarence M. Kelley thought such files either did not exist or had been destroyed. After The Washington Post broke a story in January 1975, Kelley searched and found them in his outer office. The House Judiciary Committee then demanded that Silberman testify about them. An extensive investigation of Hoover's files by David Garrow showed that Hoover and next-in-command William Sullivan, as well as the FBI itself as an agency, was responsible. These actions reflected the biases and prejudices of the country at large, especially in the attempts to prevent Martin Luther King, Jr., from conducting more extensive voter education drives, economic boycotts, and even potentially running for President.

In 1956, several years before he targeted King, Hoover had a public showdown with T.R.M. Howard, a civil rights leader from Mound Bayou, Mississippi. During a national speaking tour, Howard had criticized the FBI's failure to thoroughly investigate the racially-motivated murders of George W. Lee, Lamar Smith, and Emmett Till. Hoover not only wrote an open letter to the press singling out these statements as "irresponsible" but secretly enlisted the help of NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall in a campaign to discredit Howard.

In the 1950s, evidence of Hoover's unwillingness to focus FBI resources on the Mafia became grist for the media and his many detractors, after famed muckraker Jack Anderson exposed the immense scope of the Mafia's organized crime network, a threat Hoover had long downplayed. Hoover's retaliation and continual harassment of Anderson lasted into the 1970s. Hoover has also been accused of trying to undermine the reputations of members of the civil rights movement. His alleged treatment of actress Jean Seberg and Martin Luther King Jr. are two such examples.

Hoover personally directed the FBI investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The House Select Committee on Assassinations issued a report in 1979 critical of the performance by the FBI, the Warren Commission as well as other agencies. The report also criticized what it characterized as the FBI's reluctance to thoroughly investigate the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the president.[7]

Presidents Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson each considered firing Hoover but concluded that the political cost of doing so would be too great. [citation needed] Richard Nixon twice called in Hoover with the intent of firing him, but both times he changed his mind when meeting with Hoover. [citation needed]

Hoover maintained strong support in Congress until his death, whereupon operational command of the Bureau passed to Associate Director Mark Felt. Soon thereafter Nixon appointed L. Patrick Gray, a Justice Department official with no FBI experience, as Acting Director with Felt remaining as Associate Director. As a historical note, Felt was revealed in 2005 to have been the legendary "Deep Throat" during the Watergate scandal. Some of the people whom Deep Throat's revelations helped put in prison—such as Nixon's chief counsel Chuck Colson and G. Gordon Liddy—contend that this was, at least in part, because Felt was passed over by Nixon as head of the FBI after Hoover's death in 1972.

In the latter part of his career and life, Hoover was a consultant to Warner Bros. on a 1959 theatrical film about the FBI, The FBI Story, and in 1965 on Warner Brothers' long-running spin-off television series, The F.B.I.. Hoover personally made sure Warner Bros. would portray the FBI more favorably than other crime dramas of the times.

The FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. is named after Hoover. Because of the controversial nature of Hoover's legacy, there have been periodic proposals to rename it.

[edit] Personal life

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Associate FBI Director Clyde Tolson.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Associate FBI Director Clyde Tolson.

For decades, there has been speculation and rumors that Hoover was a homosexual, but no concrete evidence of these claims has ever been presented. Such rumors have circulated since at least the early 1940s.[8] It has also been suggested that his long association with Clyde Tolson, an associate director of the FBI who was also Hoover's heir, was that of a gay couple. The two men were almost constantly together, working, vacationing, and having lunch and dinner together almost every weekday. Some authors have dismissed the rumors about Hoover's sexuality and his relationship with Tolson in particular as unlikely,[9] while others have described them as probable or even "confirmed",[10] and still others have reported them without stating an opinion.[11]

In his 1993 biography Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J Edgar Hoover, Anthony Summers quoted a witness who claimed to have seen Hoover engaging in cross-dressing and homosexual acts on two occasions in the 1950s.[12] Summers also claimed that the Mafia had blackmail material on Hoover, and Hoover had been reluctant to aggressively pursue organized crime for this reason. Although never corroborated, the allegation of cross-dressing has been widely repeated and become the subject of humor on television, movies and elsewhere. In the words of author Thomas Doherty, "For American popular culture, the image of the zaftig FBI director as a Christine Jorgensen wanna-be was too delicious not to savor."[13] Most biographers consider the story of Mafia blackmail to be unlikely in light of the FBI's actual investigations of the Mafia.[14]

Hoover has been described as becoming increasingly a caricature of himself towards the end of his life. The book, "No Left Turns," by former agent Joseph L. Schott, portrays a rigid, paranoid old man who terrified everyone. For example, Hoover liked to write on the margins of memos. According to Schott, when one memo had too narrow margins he wrote, "watch the borders!" No one had the nerve to ask him why, but they sent inquires to the Border Patrol about any strange activities on the Canadian and Mexican frontiers. It took a week before a HQ staffer realized the message related to the borders of the memo paper.[15]

Author Millie McGhee, who is African American, claims to be related to J. Edgar Hoover in her book Secrets Uncovered. She was told stories by her grandfather, father and mother throughout her childhood that Hoover was related to their Mississippi family. In 1998, McGhee contacted a professional genealogist, George Ott of Salt Lake City, Utah, to confirm these stories. One was that Hoover was not the son of Dickerson Naylor Hoover Sr. of Washington as officially reported, but was actually the son of one Ivy (Ivery) Hoover, was born in the South, probably New Orleans, and was then taken to Washington, D.C. at a very young age and raised by the Hoovers in Washington. Since publication of the first edition of McGhee's book, Ott found Mississippi census records that confirm the McGhee family's oral history as well as disquieting erasures and alterations of records pertaining to the Hoovers of Washington, D.C. Ott and McGhee were not, however, able to prove without doubt that Ivy (or Ivery) Hoover was indeed J. Edgar's father. Writer Edward Spannaus, a long-time close associate of Lyndon LaRouche, obtained a copy of J. Edgar Hoover's birth certificate. He found that it was not filed until 1938 when the FBI director was 43 years old, while his other siblings had their certificates filed days after their births.

[edit] Honors

  • In 1955, Hoover received the National Security Medal from President Eisenhower [1].
  • In 1966, he received the Distinguished Service Award from President Lyndon B. Johnson for his service as Director of the FBI.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Schott, Joseph L (1975). No Left Turns: The FBI in Peace & War. Praeger. ISBN 0-275-33630-1.
  2. ^ Purvis, Alston, and Tresinowski, Alex (2005). The Vendetta: FBI Hero Melvin Purvis's War Against Crime and J. Edgar Hoover's War Against Him. Public Affairs, pp 183+. ISBN 1-58648-301-3.
  3. ^ Cox, John Stuart and Theoharis, Athan G. (1988). The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition. Temple University Press, pg. 312. ISBN 0-87722-532-X.
  4. ^ Kessler, Ronald (2002). The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI. St. Martin's Paperbacks, pp 107, 174, 184, 215. ISBN 0-312-98977-6.
  5. ^ See for example James, Joy (2000). States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons. Palgrave Macmillan, pg. 335. ISBN 0-312-21777-3., Williams, Kristian (2004). Our Enemies In Blue: Police And Power In America. Soft Skull Press, pg. 183. ISBN 1-887128-85-9. and Churchill, Ward and Wall, Jim Vander (2001). Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. South End Press, pp 53+. ISBN 0-89608-646-1..
  6. ^ Intelligence Activities And The Rights Of Americans (1976). Retrieved on 2006-10-25.
  7. ^ Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (1979). Retrieved on 2006-10-25.
  8. ^ Terry, Jennifer (1999). An American Obsession: Science, Medicine, and Homosexuality in Modern Society. University of Chicago Press, pg. 350. ISBN 0-226-79366-4.
  9. ^ For example,
    Felt, W. Mark and O'Connor, John D. (2006). A G-man's Life: The FBI, Being 'Deep Throat,' And the Struggle for Honor in Washington. Public Affairs, pg. 167. ISBN 1-58648-377-3.,
    Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodri (2003). Cloak and Dollar: A History of American Secret Intelligence. Yale University Press, pg. 93. ISBN 0-300-10159-7.
  10. ^ For example,
    Percy, William A. and Johansson , Warren (1994). Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. Haworth Press, pp 85+. ISBN 1-56024-419-4.,
    Summers, Anthony (1993). Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J Edgar Hoover. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-88087-X.
  11. ^ For example,
    Edited by Theoharis , Athan G. (1998). The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide. Oryx Press, pp 291, 301, 397. ISBN 0-89774-991-X.,
    Doherty, Thomas (2003). Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture. Columbia University Press, pp 254, 255. ISBN 0-231-12952-1.
  12. ^ Summers, Anthony (1993). Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J Edgar Hoover. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-88087-X.
  13. ^ Doherty, Thomas (2003). Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture. Columbia University Press, pg. 255. ISBN 0-231-12952-1.
  14. ^ See for example Kessler, Ronald (2002). The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI. St. Martin's Paperbacks, pp 120+. ISBN 0-312-98977-6.
  15. ^ Schott, Joseph L (1975). No Left Turns: The FBI in Peace & War. Praeger. ISBN 0-275-33630-1.

[edit] Further reading

  • Beverly, William, On the Lam: Narratives of Flight in J. Edgar Hoover's America, University Press of Mississippi, 2003 [2]
  • French - Marc Dugain, La malédiction d'Edgar - (non official translation : Edgar's Curse) a Novel (French editor Gallimard 2005, ISBN 2-07-077379-5). Dugain is the writer of The Officer's Ward
  • Garrow, David J, "The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr., From 'Solo' to Memphis", W.W.Norton, New York, 1981, ISBN 0-393-01509-2, p. 166.
  • Gentry, Curt, J. Edgar Hoover: The man and the secrets, Plume, 1991, ISBN 0-452-26904-0, LoC HV7911.H6G46 1992
  • Hoover, J. Edgar, Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It, Pocket Books, 1958 (one of Hoover's many ghost-written books)
  • Johansson, Warren & Percy, William A. Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. Harrington Park Press, 1994, pp. 85-88, 105, 227.
  • McGhee, Millie L. Secrets Uncovered: J. Edgar Hoover--Passing for White?, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Allen-Morris, 2000.
  • Stove, R. J. The Unsleeping Eye: Secret Police and Their Victims, Encounter Books, 2003, ISBN 1-893554-66-X. The last chapter of this book is devoted to Hoover.
  • Summers, Anthony, Official and Confidential:The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, Putnam Pub Group, 1993, ISBN 0-399-13800-5, Details many negative claims concerning Hoover, but the evidence behind many of these claims has been disputed.
  • Yardley, Jonathan (2004). 'No Left Turns': The G-Man's Tour de Force. A review of the book "No Left Turns". Washington Post.

[edit] External links

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Preceded by:
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Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Succeeded by:
Clyde Tolson

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