John Edgar Hoover was born in Washington on 1st January, 1895. His father, Dickerson Hoover, was a printmaker, but he had a mental breakdown he spent his last eight years in Laurel Asylum.
The death of his father dramatically reduced the family income and Hoover had to leave school and seek employment. Hoover found work as a messenger boy in the Library of Congress, but highly ambitious, spent his evenings studying for a law degree at George Washington University.
After graduating in 1917, Hoover's uncle, a judge, helped him find work in the Justice Department. After only two years in the organisation, Alexander M. Palmer, the attorney general, made Hoover his special assistant. Hoover was given responsibility of heading a new section that had been formed to gather evidence on "revolutionary and ultra-revolutionary groups". Over the next couple of years Hoover had the task of organizing the arrest and deportation of suspected communists in America.
Hoover, influenced by his work at the Library of Congress, decided to create a massive card index of people with left-wing political views. Over the next few years 450,000 names were indexed and detailed biographical notes were written up on the 60,000 that Hoover considered the most dangerous. Hoover then advised Palmer to have these people rounded up and deported.
On 7th November, 1919, the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution, over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists were arrested in twenty-three different cities. However, the vast majority of these people were American citizens and had to be eventually released. However, Hoover now had the names of hundreds of lawyers who were willing to represent radicals in court. These were now added to his growing list of names in his indexed database.
Hoover decided he needed a high profile case to help his campaign against subversives. He selected Emma Goldman, as he had been particularly upset by her views on birth control, free love and religion. Goldman had also been imprisoned for two years for opposing America's involvement in the First World War. This was a subject that Hoover felt very strongly about, even though it was never willing to discuss how he had managed to avoid being drafted.
Hoover knew it would be a difficult task having Goldman deported. She had been living in the country for thirty-four years and both her father and husband were both citizens of the United States. In court Hoover argued that Goldman's speeches had inspired Leon Czolgosz to assassinate President William McKinley. Hoover won his case and Goldman, along with 247 other people, were deported to Russia.
Hoover's persecution of people with left-wing views had the desired effect and membership of the American Communist Party, estimated to have been 80,000 before the raids, fell to less that 6,000.
In 1921 Hoover was rewarded by being promoted to the post of assistant director of the Bureau of Investigation. The function of the FBI at that time was the investigation of violations of federal law and assisting the police and other criminal investigation agencies in the United States.
Hoover was appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924. The three years that he had spent in the organization had convinced Hoover that the organization needed to improve the quality of its staff. Great care was spent in recruiting and training agents. In 1926 Hoover established a fingerprint file that eventually became the largest in the world.
The power of the bureau was limited. Law enforcement was a stare activity, not a federal one. Hoover's agents were not allowed to carry guns, nor did they have the right to arrest suspects. Hoover complained about this situation and in 1935 Congress agreed to establish the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Agents were now armed and could act against crimes of violence throughout the United States.
Hoover now set about establishing a world-class crime fighting organization. Innovations introduced by Hoover included the formation of a scientific crime-detention laboratory and the highly regarded FBI National Academy. Hoover appointed Clyde Tolson as Assistant Director of the FBI. In his book, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1993), Anthony Summers claims that Hoover and Tolson became lovers. For the next forty years the two men were constant companions. In the FBI the couple were known as "J. Edna and Mother Tolson". Mafia boss, Meyer Lansky, obtained photographic evidence of Hoover's homosexuality and was able to use this to stop the FBI from looking too closely into his own criminal activities.
During the Spanish Civil War Hoover arranged for FBI agents to report on those Americans that fought for the Abraham Lincoln Battalion and George Washington Battalion. Hoover later wrote: "When a civil war broke out in that country in 1936, the Communists acted in line with the theory that the Soviet Union should be used as the base for the extension of Communist control over other countries. Soviet intervention in the Spanish civil war was twofold in nature. First, in response to directions from the Comintern, the international Communist movement organized International Brigades to fight in Spain. A typical unit was the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, organized in the United States... Many Communists throughout the world who answered the Comintern's call to fight in Spain were repaid subsequently by Soviet assistance in their attempts to seize power in their respective countries."
When the journalist, Ray Tucker, hinted at Hoover's homosexuality in an article for Collier's Magazine, he was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Information about Tucker's private life was leaked to the media and when this became known, other journalists were frightened off from writing about this aspect of Hoover's life.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed a good relationship with Hoover. Roosevelt's attorney general, Robert Jackson commented, "The two men liked and understood each other." Roosevelt asked Hoover to investigate Charles Lindbergh, one of the leaders of the American First Committee. He willingly did so for he had been upset by Lindbergh's critical comments about the failures of the FBI investigation into the kidnapping and murder of his infant son. He also provided detailed reports on isolationists such as Burton K. Wheeler, Gerald Nye and Hamilton Fish.
Roosevelt wrote to Hoover thanking him for this information. "I have intended writing you for some time to thank you for the many interesting and valuable reports that you have made to me regarding the fast moving situations of the last few months." Hoover replied on 14th June, 1940: "The letter is one of the most inspiring messages which I have ever been privileged to receive; and, indeed, I look upon it as rather a symbol of the principles for which our Nation stands. When the President of our country, bearing the weight of untold burdens, takes the time to express himself to one of his Bureau heads, there is implanted in the hearts of the recipients a renewed strength and vigor to carry on their tasks."
Hoover persuaded Franklin D. Roosevelt to give the FBI the task of investigating both foreign espionage in the United States. This included the collection of information on those with radical political beliefs. After Elizabeth Bentley, a former member of the American Communist Party, provided the FBI with information about a Soviet spy ring in 1945, Hoover became convinced that that their was a communist conspiracy to overthrow the United States government.
When checked, much of the information provided by Elizabeth Bentley was found to be untrue. However, by intimidating the people that Bentley had named, the FBI were able to obtain the information needed to convict Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg of spying.
Hoover believed that several senior officials in the government were secret members of the Communist Party. Unhappy with the way Harry S. Truman, responded to this news, Hoover began leaking information about officials such as Alger Hiss to those politicians that shared his anti-communist views. This included Joseph McCarthy, John S. Wood, John Parnell Thomas, John Rankin and Richard Nixon. Hoover was a great supporter of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), an organisation that relieved heavily on information provided by the FBI.
Hoover was particularly concerned with the political influence that television and the cinema was having on the people of the United States. He encouraged the House of Un-American Activities Committee investigation into the entertainment industry and the decision by the major media networks to blacklist artists who were known to hold left of centre political views.
In June, 1950, three former FBI agents published Red Channels, a pamphlet listing the names of 151 writers, directors and performers who they claimed had been members of subversive organizations before the Second World War but had not so far been blacklisted. The names had been compiled from FBI files and a detailed analysis of the Daily Worker, a newspaper published by the American Communist Party.
A free copy of Red Channels was sent to those involved in employing people in the entertainment industry. All those people named in the pamphlet were blacklisted until they appeared in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and convinced its members they had completely renounced their radical past. By the late 1950s it was estimated that over 320 artists had been blacklisted and were unable to find work in television and the cinema.
Hoover became friends with Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson, became friends of J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was the start of a long friendship. According to Anthony Summers, the author of The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1993): "Recognizing Edgar's influence as a national figure, the oilmen had started cultivating him in the late forties-inviting him to Texas as a houseguest, taking him on hunting expeditions. Edgar's relations with them were to go far beyond what was proper for a Director of the FBI."
Hoover and Clyde Tolson were regular visitors to Murchison's Del Charro Hotel in La Jolla, California. The three men would visit the local racetrack, Del Mar. Allan Witwer, the manager of the hotel at the time, later recalled: "It came to the end of the summer and Hoover had made no attempt to pay his bill. So I went to Murchison and asked him what he wanted me to do." Murchison told him to put it on his bill. Witwer estimates that over the next 18 summers Murchison's hospitality was worth nearly $300,000. Other visitors to the hotel included Richard Nixon, John Connally, Lyndon B. Johnson, Meyer Lansky, Santos Trafficante, Johnny Rosselli, Sam Giancana and Carlos Marcello.
In 1952 Hoover and Murchison worked together to mount a smear campaign against Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic Party candidate for the presidency. Hoover and Tolson, also invested heavily in Murchison's oil business. In 1954 Murchison joined forces with Sid Richardson and Robert Ralph Young to gain control of the New York Central Railroad. This involved buying 800,000 shares worth $20 million.
In 1953 Hoover asked one of his senior agents, Cartha DeLoach to join the American Legion to "straighten it out". According to the journalist, Sanford J. Ungar, he took the assignment so seriously that he became national vice-commander of the organization: "DeLoach became chairman of the Legion's national public relations commission in 1958 and in that position and in his other Legion offices over the years, he exercised a great deal of influence over the organization's internal policies as well as its public positions."
DeLoach became an important figure in Hoover's FBI. This included working closely with Lyndon B. Johnson. It was DeLoach who arranged with Johnson, who was the Senate majority leader, to push through legislation guaranteeing Hoover a salary for life. DeLoach later recalled: “There was political distrust between the two of them, but they both needed each other." However, he denied that the two men worked together to blackmail politicians. In his book, Hoover's FBI (1995), DeLoach argued: "The popular myth, fostered of late by would-be historians and sensationalists with their eyes on the bestseller list, has it that in his day J. Edgar Hoover all but ran Washington, using dirty tricks to intimidate congressmen and presidents, and phone taps, bugs, and informants to build secret files with which to blackmail lawmakers." According to DeLoach this was not true.
In 1958 Clint Murchison purchased the publishers, Henry Holt and Company. He told the New York Post: "Before I got them, they published some books that were badly pro-Communist. They had some bad people there.... We just cleared them all out and put some good men in. Sure there were casualties but now we've got a good operation." One of the first book's he published was by his old friend, J. Edgar Hoover. The book, Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America (1958), was an account of the Communist menace and sold over 250,000 copies in hardcover and over 2,000,000 in paperback. It was on the best-seller lists for thirty-one weeks, three of them as the number one non-fiction choice.
William Sullivan was ordered to oversee the project, claimed that as many as eight agents worked full-time on the book for nearly six months. Curt Gentry, the author of J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (1991) points out Hoover claimed that he intended to give all royalties to the FBI Recreational Association (FBIRA). However, he claims that the "FBIRA was a slush fund, maintained for the use of Hoover, Tolson, and their key aides. It was also a money-laundering operation, so the director would not have to9 pay taxes on his book royalties." Gentry quotes Sullivan as saying that Hoover "put many thousands of dollars of that book.... into his own pocket, and so did Tolson."
Ronald Kessler, the author of The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (2002) DeLoach was involved in blackmailing Senator Carl T. Hayden, chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, into following the instructions of Hoover. In April 1962, Roy L. Elson, Hayden's administrative assistant, questioned Hayden's decision to approve the $60 million cost of the FBI building. When he discovered what Elson was saying, DeLoach "hinted" that he had "information that was unflattering and detrimental to my marital situation... I was certainly vulnerable that way... There was more than one girl... The implication was there was information about my sex life... I interpreted it as attempted blackmail."
FBI Special Agent Arthur Murtagh also testified that Cartha DeLoach was involved in the blackmail of politicians on government committees. He claimed that DeLoach told him: "The other night, we picked up a siuation where this senator was seen drunk, in a hit-and-run accident, and some good-looking broad was with him. We got the information, reported it in a memorandum, and by noon the next day, the senator was aware that we had the information, and we never had trouble with him on appropriations since."
Hoover and the FBI carried out detailed investigations into any prominent person who he thought held dangerous political views. This included leaders of the civil rights movement and those opposed to the Vietnam War. At the same time Hoover virtual ignored organized crime and his investigations into political corruption was mainly used as a means of gaining control over politicians in powerful positions. In 1959 Hoover had 489 agents spying on communists but only 4 investigating the Mafia. As early as 1945 Harry S. Truman complained how Hoover and his agents were "dabbling in sex life scandals and plain blackmail when they should be catching criminals".
J. Edgar Hoover received information that President John F. Kennedy was having a relationship with Ellen Rometsch. In July 1963 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents questioned Romesch about her past. They came to the conclusion that she was probably a Soviet spy. Hoover actually leaked information to the journalist, Courtney Evans, that Romesch worked for Walter Ulbricht, the communist leader of East Germany. When Robert Kennedy was told about this information, he ordered her to be deported.
The FBI had discovered that there were several women at the Quorum Club who had been involved in relationships with leading politicians. This included both John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. It was particularly worrying that this included Mariella Novotny and Suzy Chang. This was a problem because they both had connections to communist countries and had been named as part of the spy ring that had trapped John Profumo, the British war minister, a few months earlier. President Kennedy told J. Edgar Hoover that he "personally interested in having this story killed".
Hoover refused and leaked the information to Clark Mollenhoff. On 26th October he wrote an article in The Des Moines Register claiming that the FBI had "established that the beautiful brunette had been attending parties with congressional leaders and some prominent New Frontiersmen from the executive branch of Government... The possibility that her activity might be connected with espionage was of some concern, because of the high rank of her male companions". Mollenhoff claimed that John Williams "had obtained an account" of Rometsch's activity and planned to pass this information to the Senate Rules Committee.
Hoover developed a close relationship with Lyndon B. Johnson. The two men shared information that they had on senior politicians. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Hoover helped Johnson to cover-up the assassination and the Bobby Baker scandal. In an interview Cartha DeLoach gave in 1991 he claimed: "Mr. Hoover was anxious to retain his job and to stay on as director. He knew that the best way for the F.B.I. to operate fully and to get some cooperation of the White House was for him to be cooperative with President Johnson... President Johnson, on the other hand, knew of Mr. Hoover’s image in the United States, particularly among the middle-of-the-road conservative elements, and knew it was vast. He knew of the potential strength of the F.B.I. - insofar as being of assistance to the government and the White House is concerned. As a result it was a marriage, not altogether of necessity, but it was a definite friendship caused by necessity.”
William Sullivan was the FBI's third-ranking official behind Hoover and Clyde A. Tolson. Sullivan was placed in charge of FBI's Division Five. This involved smearing leaders of left-wing organizations. Sullivan was a strong opponent of the leadership of Martin Luther King. In January, 1964, Sullivan sent a memo to Hoover: "It should be clear to all of us that King must, at some propitious point in the future, be revealed to the people of this country and to his Negro followers as being what he actually is - a fraud, demagogue and scoundrel. When the true facts concerning his activities are presented, such should be enough, if handled properly, to take him off his pedestal and to reduce him completely in influence." Sullivan's suggested replacement for King was Samuel Pierce, a conservative lawyer who was later to serve as Secretary of Housing under President Ronald Reagan.
FBI agent Arthur Murtagh was involved in the campaign against the civil rights movement: "He was brought up in a culture... in that society there was a real sense of belief, a religious belief, political belief, that there was no such thing as equality between blacks and whites, and that's the way he viewed them... Hoover did so many things to discredit the civil rights movement that I hardly know where to start. In the first place, he put about the same emphasis... much more of the facilities of the Bureau toward keeping the Klan... keeping the blacks in place and let the Klan run wild. He was friendly with people in the South, and ... when a situation came up, he would always make his decisions in favor of the local people."
William Sullivan disagreed with J. Edgar Hoover about the threat to national security posed by the American Communist Party and felt that the FBI was wasting too much money investigating this group. On 28th August, 1971, Sullivan sent Hoover a long letter pointing out their differences. Sullivan also suggested that Hoover should consider retirement. Hoover refused and it was Sullivan who had to leave the organization.
The FBI under Hoover collected information on all America's leading politicians. Known as Hoover's secret files, this material was used to influence their actions. It was later claimed that Hoover used this incriminating material to make sure that the eight presidents that he served under, would be too frightened to sack him as director of the FBI. This strategy worked and Hoover was still in office when he died, aged seventy-seven, on 2nd May, 1972.
Clyde Tolson arranged for the destruction of all Hoover's private files. A senate report in 1976 was highly critical of Hoover and accused him of using the organization to harass political dissidents in the United States.