History’s Actors Part 2: The FBI Sets the Stage

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The majority of information in this portion of History’s Actors comes from Anthony Summers biography of J. Edgar Hoover Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. Other sources are noted as such.

Read Part 1 of History’s Actors here.


The ascent of J. Edgar Hoover to the top of the FBI in 1924 inaugurated a clandestine regime that would, along with that of Alan Dulles’s reign over the CIA, set standards for US “law enforcement” and “national security” which have outlived their origins in the two Red Scares and Cold War. Hoover’s rise, which preceded that of the Dulles brothers by roughly 20 years, was itself rooted in his tenure as a Bureau grunt during the first Red Scare. To understand the evolution of law enforcement into national security and the entrenchment of an aggressively anticommunist consensus within Western State machinery, it would behoove us to start at this point in Hoover’s career.

Hoover, who came from the upper crust of Washington D.C.’s elite, found his way into the FBI in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. On his way to work one day, then-head of the Bureau Bruce Bielaski struck up a conversation with the manager of the Justice Department’s mail room, George Michaelson. Michaelson spoke of an enthusiastic and highly efficient mail room worker by the name of John Edgar Hoover. Impressed by Michaelson’s portrayal of Hoover, then 23, Bielaski recruited him to work for the Bureau as It was preparing to execute what would become the first Red Scare.

A niece of Hoover, Dorothy, once spoke of an obsessive-compulsive streak within her family. “All the family had that horrible thing about organization,” Dorothy said. “Everything had to be organized and catalogued, and the pictures had to be straight on the wall-it sounds crazy but we were all like that.” These tendencies explain Hoover’s preoccupation with efficiency and record keeping, tendencies which would behoove the rising National Security apparatus of American capital.

After being assigned to the so called “Radical Division,” created on behalf of Attorney General Mitchell Palmer, in 1919, Hoover constructed a card index of potential subversives and dissidents which rivaled more technological indexes of the era, such as the IBM census machine’s which would later become infamous for their role in the Nazi extermination of European Jews. An agent using Hoover’s system, a database of half a million names and 60,000 biographical notes, could find a name and cross references within minutes.

Hoover honed his skills as a ruthless hunter of real and imagined enemies of the State over his previous two years in the Bureau. As head of the War Emergency Division’s Alien Enemy Bureau, authorized by President Woodrow Wilson and given further power by the draconian Espionage Act, Hoover oversaw the arrest of 98 “suspicious” Germans. A further 1,172 Germans were dubbed “arrestable” by Hoover’s Alien Enemy Bureau out of a list of 1,400. This penchant for repression would only accelerate as Hoover and his two assistants in the Radical Division, George Ruch and Thomas F. Baughman,  aided Palmer in his crackdown on supposed communists plotting to destroy the USA from within.

The anticommunism of Hoover’s clique was almost pathological, rather than practical. Ruch once spoke of his disgust that America allowed Leftists “to speak and write all they wish against the government.” Hoover himself, after studying Marx, Engels, and Lenin to better know his enemy, concluded that anyone critical of capitalism was an intrinsic threat “to the happiness of the community, the safety of every individual,” insisting “They would destroy the peace of the country.”

Here, we have an example of how Western capital enables reactionaries who have a fundamentally unscientific view of political economy so long as this idealism benefits those at the top who are indifferent to it. Historian Michael Parenti, in his work on European fascism in the 20th Century, has referred to this phenomenon as, “The rational use of irrational ideology.”  This trend would repeat itself many times during the Cold War, with perhaps the most striking examples being the CIA’s shepherding of fascist terrorists during Operation GLADIO and Operation Condor, the FBI’s use of both reactionary occult groups and ultraleftist wreckers during its COINTELPRO campaign, and the inter-department operation to train and arm jihadist “rebels” in Afghanistan as a way to destabilize the Soviet Union which would become as Operation Cyclone. Indeed, to this day the FBI regularly pushes young, apolitical but mentally unstable Muslim men into a jihadist worldview and hands them the weaponry to carry out their own act of terror.


The gang of committed anticommunists in the Radical Division would make a name for itself through its contrived plot to arrest and deport anarchist organizer Emma Goldman, her husband, and hundreds of their comrades. Goldman had lived in the United States longer than Hoover had been alive and her father had obtained official citizenship. But in the midst of the Palmer raids and anticommunist hysteria whipped up by the Radical Division’s friends in the media, this was irrelevant.

Hoover was able to convince his superiors of Goldman’s treason by connecting her to Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist behind the assassination of President McKinley which had prompted the Bureau’s creation a decade earlier. Goldman, who Czolgosz revered, had met with him briefly a handful of times and wrote a defense of him after the assassination. At the time, Goldman was arrested as a suspected conspirator, but was released due to insufficient evidence.

However tenuous the connections, that they existed at made it possible for Hoover to storm the residence of Goldman, her lover Alexander Berkman, and 247 other ostensible subversives on the morning of December 21, 1919. “Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman,” Hoover said, “are, beyond doubt, two of the most dangerous anarchists in this country and if permitted to return to the community will result in undue harm.”

A few months later, Hoover became a Master Mason at D.C’s Federal Lodge No. 1. Hoover’s initiation into Freemasonry wasn’t his first experience with infamous fraternal organizations. While attending college at the George Washington University Law School, Hoover had been a member of the Kappa Alpha Order, a college fraternity founded on behalf of Robert. E Lee at Washington College during Lee’s tenure as President of the University.

John Lester, one of the “Immortal Six” founders of the Ku Klux Klan claimed that the Klan’s initiation rites were inspired by a popular college frat, which scholar Allen Trelease speculated to be Kuklos Adelphon. Kappa Alpha’s own documents read, “The popular old antebellum society, Kuklos Adelphon, founded at the University of North Carolina in 1812, had all but perished during the recent war, but its reputation was well known in the South. Kuklos Adelphon was more than a mere college fraternity. Its “Circles” met in communities long after its members left college campuses. Wood was aware of this and the concept of a lifelong “Circle of Brothers” had great appeal to him.” In 1915, reviewing the cinematic testament to the Klan The Birth of a Nation in the Kappa Alpha journal, two Kappa Alpha brothers wrote:

“The Ku Klux Klan came and grew and served its purpose . . . [KA] came and grew and it embraced all the Southland . . . and still serves and cherishes those same ideals which the clan came forward to preserve…The actions and the membership of the Klan are shrouded in mystery… But its members wore upon their breast the circled cross of the Kappa Alpha Order…the Klan served, by militant, warlike means, those same ideals which our Order was organized to cherish.”

In 1975, three years after Hoover’s death, James B. Adams the Deputy Associate Director of the FBI would admit into testimony before the Church Committee, that by 1971, 1/5th of the Klan’s membership were Bureau agents. Adams portrayed this as an attempt to curtail the power of the Klan which failed due to the federal government being “ineffective” in such a capacity, recommending local law enforcement should handle the KKK instead. Not only is this proposition asinine due to the long history of Klan infiltration of local law enforcement, but because Adams himself conceded that local cops were “participating in Klan violence” and that “the information being received” by the cops from Bureau informants was “not being acted upon.”

In 1924, three years after his initiation into the Freemasons, Hoover became the deputy head of the FBI. He proceeded to build a massive database of fingerprints from criminals and suspects across the nation. While Hoover’s dream of “Universal Fingerprinting”-an index of every citizen’s fingerprints whether innocent or guilty-would not manifest in his lifetime, the FBI Crime Laboratory would quickly emerge as the most advanced in the world and transform the Bureau from an agency with limited jurisdiction to the central hub of American law enforcement. Local police departments began to ship thousands of their print records to the FBI every day, concentrating the early surveillance regimes of 20th Century America into one monopolistic force.

Following the fingerprint database came the Law Enforcement Bulletin, a centralized Wanted list which soon became a magazine which broadcast the rhetoric of Hoover’s FBI to police forces across the country. In 1935 the ties between the FBI and local cops were deepened once more with the creation of the FBI National academy, which was the first real attempt to forge elite policeman. Capital’s use of Hoover’s irrational idealism led to the creation of a very rational apparatus for the reproduction of class hierarchy.

While the Cold War has been over, officially anyway, for almost 20 years, the FBI’s obsessive accumulation of data on citizens regardless of their criminal status has only progressed. Indeed, the Bureau has come closer to achieving Hoover’s original dream of a universal index of all American citizens then ever with its ““Next Generation Identification System.” The NGIS was developed by the FBI during the late 90s as, to quote the Bureau itself, “the world’s largest and most efficient electronic repository of biometric and criminal history information.” Biometrics refers to the documentation and measurement of human characteristics, such as fingerprints, irises, palm prints, and facial traits. This is the backbone of modern law enforcement’s data collection regime.

Included in the Next Generation Identification System is a program known as “Rap Back.” This service, created by the FBI but operating within local police departments as well as at the federal level, keeps tabs on an individual’s encounters with law enforcement, even if such activities do not result in an arrest. Employers who enroll in the program then receive up to date notifications on their workers. As communities of color are disproportionately affected by run ins with the police, “Rap Back” reproduces not only the general surveillance of workers and the poor on which all law enforcement was constructed, but also its most racist dimensions as well.
During the era of Prohibition, as the FBI was consolidating its power over the general law enforcement infrastructure of American capitalism, bootlegging grew the National Crime Syndicate’s wealth and power considerably. A New York state legislative investigation revealed a “consortium” of underground individuals who, “bought liquor in Canada” from the likes of Samuel Bronfman, one of the biggest liquor magnates in North America.  One of Bronfman’s “middlemen” was Lewis Rosenstiel, who would later go on to build his own liquor empire.

Rosenstiel grew close to notorious mob kingpin Meyer Lansky during his time in this network. He later foraged a friendship with Hoover, along with several other high-level members of the intelligence community. Louis Nichols, Hoover’s longtime assistant was made the Vice President of Schenley in 1957.

Susan Kaufman, Rosenstiel’s fourth wife, alleged during divorce proceedings that Rosenstiel would throw lush parties that featured “boy prostitutes” obtained for “for the enjoyment” of the guests, largely prominent businessmen and organized crime figures. Rosenstiel bugged the venues of these parties and kept the recordings for the purpose of blackmail. Kaufman’s claims about Rosenstiel’s bugging of the parties were made under oath during the hearing of the New York’s State Joint Legislative Committee on Crime in the early 1970s, and were deemed credible by the former chief counsel of the Crime Committee, Judge Edward McLaughlin, and committee investigator William Gallinaro. Aspects of Kaufman’s testimony would later be corroborated by two separate witnesses who were unknown to Kaufman.

Lanksy adopted Rosenstiel’s “sexual blackmail” tactics, using them to become one of the only high profile career criminals of the era to never see a prison cell. Ed Reed, author of the Virginia Hill biography The Mistress and the Mafia, dates Lansky’s experiments with entrapment as early as 1939, when the Kingpin sent Hill to Mexico to seduce, “top politicians, army officers, diplomats and police officials.”

Sometime in the 1940s, Lansky would obtain compromising photos of J. Edgar Hoover via similar means. According to Summers, the photos in question showed Hoover in a compromising “gay situation” with agent Clyde Tolson. William Donovan, Chief of the Office of Strategic Services, was in a feud with Hoover at the time over who would control foreign intelligence. Summers believes that Donovan uncovered the photos to put an end to this conflict.

In documents obtained by Summers, Susan Kaufman alleges that she sometimes saw Hoover at her husband’s parties wearing women’s clothing. Lansky’s wife has also said that her husband showed her photos of Hoover in drag. It is very likely that the compromising material held by the Mob is what led Hoover to delay acknowledging organized crime as an issue for federal investigation until 1963.

By then, American intelligence, particularly the CIA, was knee deep in organized crime. During World War 2 Lanksy and associate “Bugsy” Siegel, worked with Naval intelligence in the highly classified “Operation Underworld.”

 According to Douglas Valentine:

In return for services rendered during the war, Mafia bosses were protected from prosecution for dozens of unsolved murders. […]

The Mafia was a huge problem in 1951 [when the Kefauver Committee was convened], equivalent to terrorism today. But it was also a protected branch of the CIA, which was co-opting criminal organizations around the world and using them in its secret war against the Soviets and Red Chinese. The Mafia had collaborated with Uncle Sam and had emerged from World War II energized and empowered. They controlled cities across the country.”

The CIA later enlisted various mob figures during its many failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro in exchange for aiding them reestablish casinos or other illicit activities which had been appropriated by Castro’s government.

The fusion of organized crime with the National Security apparatus shows that the standard liberal differentiation of the “market” from “the black market” is a fabrication. Illegal markets reinforce those which are aboveground and vice versa; capital can not circulate to its fullest potential within the bounds of official jurisprudence. In fact, as we will see later in this series, the illegal nature of certain markets itself behooves the clandestine operations of American intelligence. If a portion of the market must be relegated to the underground, it becomes easier to hide the origins of dirty money for dirty activities.


During the so-called “crime wave” of the 1920s, Attorney General Homer Cummings consulted a roundtable of journalists. Columnist Drew Pearson says that Cummings, “believed the best cure for kidnapping was to build up the FBI, not only in actual strength but in the strength of public opinion behind it … He asked our opinion about the appointment of a top-notch public relations man.” Henry Suydam, the man selected by Cummings panel, was a former head of the State Department Information Service, late became an aide to John Foster Dulles.

Eventually, Hoover decided to remove Suydam and replace him with Louis “Nick the Greek” Nichols, a man even more committed to pushing the Bureau’s narrative. Nichols formed the FBI’s “Division 8”, also known as Crime Records, a cultural production factory which Hoover as, “the blood plasma of the Bureau.” Division 8 fed information to Hollywood, biographers, the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst, Ira Clifton Copley, and Frank Gannett, along with many major radio stations.

The Bureau then got in good with Jack Warner, President of Warner Bros, who soon produced The FBI Story. In 1935, Hoover was able to acquire total control oof the G-Men radio series. That same year he was on the cover of Time magazine. Across the nation millions were consuming media and news about the FBI produced directly under its control.

In testimony to the Church Committee, Frederic AO Schwarz Jr. revealed a secret meeting between Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt in 1938. During this meeting, arranged by FDR to figure out how to best deal with political subversives in the lead up to World War 2, Hoover urged the President to allow the FBI to spy on American citizens. This resulted in an expansion “of the present structure of intelligence work,” which Hoover believed must “be proceeded with the utmost degree of secrecy in order to avoid criticism or objections which might be raised…by either ill-informed persons or individuals having some ulterior motive…Consequently, it would seem undesirable to seek special legislation which would draw attention to the fact of what is being done.”  

The number of agents in the FBI swelled from 1,000 in 1937 to 4,000 by the end of World War 2. Hoover used his new mandate from Roosevelt to once again crusade against Leftists and liberal reformers. An investigation into the NAACP was launched, as was a joint effort to monitor Detroit unions with Ford’s Mafia-linked righthand man Harry Bennett. In 1939 the FBI prepared a list of individuals who could potentially be detained, which included just as many people with “communist sympathies” as it did overt fascists.

Hoover’s focus on communists over fascists despite the US being allied with the Soviet Union in World War 2 isn’t surprising.  In his book Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, historian Robert Gellately reveals that in 1938, J. Edgar Hoover sent his sidekick, Edmund Coffey, to an event organized by Nazi Germany’s Gestapo. Gellately writes:

In 1980, Justice Department “Nazi hunters” asked FBI officials what they knew about 16 suspected Nazis living in the USA. The FBI refused to speak on the issue. This silence was due to these 16 individuals’ status as FBI informants. At the time of the Justice Department’s inquiry, five of them were still on the Bureau payroll. In an internal memo, a Bureau official stressed the importance of “protecting the confidentiality of such sources of information to the fullest possible extent.”

These men came from the ranks of at least 1,000 Nazis who American intelligence agencies sheltered after World War 2, some of whom had formally held positions right at the top of the Nazi command. SS officer Otto von Bolschwing, the “architect” of the Final Solution and mentor to Adolf Eichman, was hired as a spy by the CIA in Europe. In 1954, the Agency relocated Bolshcwing’s family to New York City as “a reward for his loyal postwar service and in view of the innocuousness of his [Nazi] party activities.”

In 1968, J. Edgard Hoover authorized the wiretapping of Charles Allen, a journalist penning critical stories about former Nazis hiding in America. Officially, Hoover considered Allen a threat to “national security.” It is far more likely that Hoover feared Allen would expose his personal approval of ex-Nazis as informants after the war and his dismissal of Nazi atrocities as Soviet propaganda. Official FBI historian John Fox later stated, “In hindsight, it is clear that Hoover, and by extension the F.B.I., was shortsighted in dismissing evidence of ties between recent German and East European immigrants and Nazi war crimes. It should be remembered, though, that this was at the peak of Cold War tensions.”


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