A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.
Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.
Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to â€œprotect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.â€ The F.B.I would â€œapprehend all individuals potentially dangerousâ€ to national security, Hooverâ€™s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under â€œa master warrant attached to a list of namesâ€ provided by the bureau.
The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. â€œThe index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,â€ he wrote.
â€œIn order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus,â€ it said. …
… Hooverâ€™s plan called for â€œthe permanent detentionâ€ of the roughly 12,000 suspects at military bases as well as in federal prisons.
There is no evidence suggesting that President Truman approved any part of this proposal.
Reaction from the Power Tools was predictable: “Hoover was too quick to judge people disloyal–it would be interesting to get a look at the list of 12,000–but some may feel nostalgic for a time when disloyalty was at least acknowledged to be a bad thing.”
I feel nostalgic for a time when shredding the Bill of Rights was at least acknowledged to be a bad thing.
Regarding the 12,000 — from 1950 to 1953 J. Edgar Hoover leaked copious amounts of information and names to Sen. Joe McCarthy, who then “investigated” and held “hearings” in which he bullied and smeared his targets. McCarthy’s sidekick, the infamous Roy Cohn, also had contacts in the bureau, who gave him access to confidential FBI reports.
Much of what [McCarthy] got came directly from the FBI, which had a habit of leaking information to favored politicians. Not only was Joe friendly with J. Edgar Hoover, but several of his aides had either worked for the Bureau or built up good contacts there. Roy Cohn, for example, was very close with Lou Nichols, the assistant director. One source said that Cohn knew
… all about FBI lists of supect Communists and has a fantastic memory for the names and backgrounds of practically all the important ex-Communists in the country. My friend has frequently been with Cohn when he picks up the phone, calls the FBI and demands to know the whereabouts of some ex-Communist or suspect Communist. Within a half hour or so the Bureau will call him back and give him the name of the special agent who is riding herd on the particular individual and Cohn will shortly thereafter get a call from the agent.
Despite his repeated denials, Cohn also had access to confidential FBI reports. One agent revealed that his colleagues “put in long hours poring over Bureau security files, abstracting them for Roy Cohn.” And Ruth Watt, chief clerk of the Government Operations Committee [chaired by McCarthy], recalled that “we had a lot of FBI reports because we could get them, you see.” Watt added that “Roy and J. Edgar Hoover knew each other pretty well, so it was not too difficult to get these things.” [David Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy [Free Press, 1983], p. 257]
One suspects that if J. Edgar Hoover were seriously concerned about these 12,000 people, then information on at least some of them ended up with McCarthy and Cohn. And McCarthy and Cohn held investigations and hearings pretty much nonstop until the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. But not one of McCarthy’s investigations resulted in a conviction of espionage. And none of the many charges McCarthy brought against individuals were ever proved, even by the release of the Venona files. So it’s a good bet that the bulk of those 12,000 people that Hoover wanted to detain permanently were innocent.