FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s plan to round up and imprison thousands of “disloyal” American citizens, details of which were revealed in a New York Times article last Sunday, Dec. 23, 2007, goes back many years further than the 1950 letter Hoover sent to President Truman.
According to documents I obtained from the FBI in 2003, Hoover was maintaining a list of “dangerous” U.S. citizens in the early 1940s. In 1943, however, Hoover was told by then-U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle that the classification was “unreliable, is hereby cancelled, and should not be used as a determination of dangerousness or of any other fact.”
But Hoover kept his list, and, according to the NYT report, in 1946 he asked Biddle’s successor for permission to resurrect it. Hoover was granted permission to do just that in 1948.
The FBI file I have is that of anti-war radical Scott Nearing (1883-1983). Several documents in that 794-page file pertain to Nearing’s classification on Hoover’s list, as well as AG Biddle’s memo ordering the suspension of the entire program.
Using newly declassified documents, Tim Weiner reported in the Dec. 23, 2007 NYT that Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, informed the CIA and the National Security Council (of which Truman was a member) in July 1950, days after the Korean War began, that he “had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty,” should the President decide to issue such an order.
“In September 1950, Congress passed...a law authorizing the detention of ‘dangerous radicals’ if the president declared a national emergency. Truman did declare such an emergency in December 1950, after China entered the Korean War. But no known evidence suggests he or any other president approved any part of Hoover’s proposal.”
Also according to that NYT report, Hoover was getting ready to write that letter to the White House years before he actually did. Hoover had sought authorization to implement what he called a “security index” in March 1946, a request that was granted in August 1948 by then-Attorney General Tom Clark.
But that was not when Hoover’s list first appeared. Based on the Nearing FBI file (which I requested in 1996 and finally received, only partially redacted, in 2003), Hoover’s detention plan for U.S. citizens was in operation long before 1946, and may have survived the ordered cancellation of that list in 1943.
Scott Nearing, pacifist and author of dozens of books and pamphlets ranging from the anti-war pamphlet “The Great Madness” (which got him charged under the Espionage Act in 1918) to “Living the Good Life,” (the back-to-the-land bible of the hippie generation of the 1970s), was on Hoover’s list at least as early as July 1941, when a note from Hoover to a Philadelphia PA Special Agent in Charge informs him that “a photostatic copy of the custodial detention card prepared on one Scott Nearing has been forwarded to the Newark Field Division.”
In a confidential memorandum dated Feb. 4, 1942, Hoover notified the Special Agent in Charge in Newark, NJ that, based on a memo from Lawrence M. C. Smith, Chief of the Special Defense Unit of the Department of Justice, “information has now been received” sufficient to “tentatively” place Nearing on the custodial detention list.
Nearing was placed in Group B, “Individuals believed to be somewhat less dangerous but whose activities should be restricted.” In Group A were “Individuals believed to be the most dangerous and who in all probability should be interned in event of war.” Group C folks were “believed to be the least dangerous and who need not be restricted in absence of additional information, but should be subjected to general surveillance.”
The second page of the memo has check boxes for the value of the evidence, and the citizen status of the individual.
The evidence relating to Subject [Nearing] has been classified by the Special Defense Unit as:
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X 1. Sufficient to establish the charges upon which the dangerous classification was made.
2. Not satisfactory to substantiate the charges.
No details of that “evidence” are listed on that document.