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John Edgar Hoover

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John Edgar Hoover

For other people named John Hoover, see John Hoover (disambiguation).

J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover in 1961
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
In office
March 22, 1935 – May 2, 1972
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
Deputy Clyde Tolson
Preceded by Office created (was BOI director)
Succeeded by L. Patrick Gray (Acting)
6th Director of the Bureau of Investigation
In office
May 10, 1924 – March 22, 1935
President Calvin Coolidge
Herbert Hoover
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by William J. Burns
Succeeded by Himself (as FBI Director)
Personal details
Born John Edgar Hoover
(1895-01-01)January 1, 1895
Washington, D.C.
United States
Died May 2, 1972(1972-05-02) (aged 77)
Washington, D.C.
United States
Alma mater Georgetown University
Religion Presbyterian
Signature

John Edgar Hoover (January 1, 1895 – May 2, 1972) was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation—predecessor to the FBI—in 1924, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972 at age 77. Hoover is credited with building the FBI into a larger crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

Late in life and after his death Hoover became a controversial figure, as evidence of his secretive actions became known. His critics have accused him of exceeding the jurisdiction of the FBI.[1] He used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders,[2] and to collect evidence using illegal methods.[3] Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power and was in a position to intimidate and threaten sitting Presidents.[4]

According to President Harry S. Truman, Hoover transformed the FBI into his private secret police force; Truman stated that "we want no Gestapo or secret police. FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him".[5]

Early life and education

J. Edgar Hoover was born on New Year's Day 1895 in Washington, D.C., to Anna Marie (née Scheitlin; 1860–1938), who was of German Swiss descent, and Dickerson Naylor Hoover, Sr. (1856–1921), of English and German ancestry. The uncle of Hoover's mother was a Swiss honorary consul general to the United States. Hoover did not have a birth certificate filed, although it was required in 1895 Washington. Two siblings had certificates. Hoover's was not filed until 1938, when he was 43.[6]

Hoover grew up near the Eastern Market in Washington's Capitol Hill neighborhood. At Central High, he sang in the school choir, participated in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, and competed on the debate team,[7] where he argued against women getting the right to vote and against the abolition of the death penalty.[8] The school newspaper applauded his "cool, relentless logic".[9]

Hoover was a stutterer as a boy, which he overcame by teaching himself to talk fast - a style he carried through his adult career. He would eventually speak with such ferocious speed that stenographers had a hard time following him.[10]

He obtained a law degree from The George Washington University Law School in 1916 where he was a member of the Alpha Nu Chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order and an LL.M., a Master of Laws degree, in 1917 from the same university.[11][12] While a law student, Hoover became interested in the career of Anthony Comstock, the New York City United States Postal Inspector, who waged prolonged campaigns against fraud and vice, and also was against pornography and birth control. Hoover lived in Washington, D.C., for his entire life.[9]

Department of Justice

Immediately after getting his LL.M degree, Hoover was hired by the Justice Department to work in the War Emergency Division. He soon became the head of the Division's Alien Enemy Bureau, authorized by President Wilson at the beginning of World War I to arrest and jail disloyal foreigners without trial.[9] He received additional authority from the 1917 Espionage Act. Out of a list of 1400 suspicious Germans living in the U.S., the Bureau arrested 98 and designated 1,172 as arrestable.[13]

In August 1919 Hoover became head of the Bureau of Investigation's new General Intelligence Division—also known as the Radical Division because its goal was to monitor and disrupt the work of domestic radicals.[13] America's First Red Scare was beginning, and one of Hoover's first assignments was to carry out the Palmer Raids.[14]

Hoover and his chosen assistant, George Ruch[15] monitored a variety of U.S. radicals with the intent to punish, arrest, or deport them. Targets during this period included Marcus Garvey;[16] Rose Pastor Stokes and Cyril Briggs;[17] Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman;[18] and future Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter, whom Hoover maintained was "the most dangerous man in the United States".[19]

In 1921, he rose in the Bureau of Investigation to deputy head, and in 1924, the Attorney General made him the acting director. On May 10, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Hoover as the sixth director of the Bureau of Investigation, following President Warren Harding's death and in response to allegations that the prior director, William J. Burns, was involved in the Teapot Dome scandal. When Hoover took over the Bureau of Investigation, it had approximately 650 employees, including 441 Special Agents.

Hoover was noted as sometimes being capricious in his leadership. He frequently fired FBI agents, singling out those he thought "looked stupid like truck drivers," or that he considered "pinheads."[20][page needed] He also relocated agents who had displeased him to career-ending assignments and locations. Melvin Purvis was a prime example; he was one of the most effective agents in capturing and breaking up 1930s gangs and received substantial public recognition, but a jealous Hoover maneuvered him out of the FBI.[21]

Hoover often hailed local law-enforcement officers around the country and built up a national network of supporters and admirers in the process. One that he often commended was the conservative sheriff of Caddo Parish, Louisiana, J. Howell Flournoy, for particular effectiveness.[22]

Gangster wars

File:Depression era gangsters.ogg

In the early 1930s criminal gangs carried out large numbers of bank robberies in the Midwest. They used their superior firepower and fast getaway cars to elude local law enforcement agencies and avoid arrest. Many of these criminals, particularly John Dillinger, who became famous for leaping over bank cages and repeatedly escaping from jails and police traps, frequently made newspaper headlines across the United States. The gangsters enjoyed a level of sympathy in the Midwest, as banks and bankers were widely seen as oppressors of common people during the Great Depression. Since the robbers operated across state lines, their crimes became federal offenses, giving Hoover and his men the authority to pursue them. Initially, the FBI suffered some embarrassing foul-ups, in particular with Dillinger and his conspirators. A raid on a summer lodge named "Little Bohemia" in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, left an FBI agent and a civilian bystander dead, and others wounded. All the gangsters escaped. Hoover realized that his job was now on the line, and he pulled out all stops to capture the culprits. In late July 1934 Special Agent Melvin Purvis, the Director of Operations in the Chicago office, received a tip on Dillinger's whereabouts that paid off when Dillinger was located, ambushed, and killed by FBI agents outside the Biograph Theater.[23]

In the same period there were numerous Mafia shootings as a result of Prohibition, while Hoover continued to deny the very existence of organized crime.[24] Frank Costello helped encourage this view by feeding Hoover, "an inveterate horseplayer" known to send Special Agents to place $100 bets for him,[25] tips on sure winners through their mutual friend, gossip columnist Walter Winchell.[25] Hoover said the Bureau had "much more important functions" than arresting bookmakers and gamblers.[25]

Even though he was not there, Hoover was credited with several highly publicized captures or shootings of outlaws and bank robbers. These included that of Dillinger, Alvin Karpis, and Machine Gun Kelly, which led to the Bureau's powers being broadened and it was given its new name in 1935: the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 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 to date.[26][27] Hoover also helped to expand the FBI's recruitment and create the FBI Laboratory, a division established in 1932 to examine and analyze evidence found by the FBI.

Investigation of subversion and radicals


Hoover was concerned about subversion, and under his leadership, the FBI spied upon tens of thousands of suspected subversives and radicals. According to critics, Hoover tended to exaggerate the dangers of these alleged subversives and many times overstepped his bounds in his pursuit of eliminating that perceived threat.[28]

The FBI investigated rings of German saboteurs and spies starting in the late 1930s, and had primary responsibility for counterespionage. The first arrests of German agents were made in 1938, and continued throughout World War II.[29] In the Quirin affair during World War II German U-boats set two small groups of Nazi agents ashore in Florida and Long Island to cause acts of sabotage within the country. The two teams were apprehended after one of the men contacted the FBI, and told them everything. He was also charged and convicted.[30] During the war and for many years afterward, the FBI maintained a fictionalized version of the story in which it had preempted and caught the saboteurs solely by its own investigations and had even infiltrated the German government. This story was useful during the war to discourage the Germans by making the FBI seem more invincible than it really was, and perhaps afterward to similarly mislead the Soviets; but it also served Hoover himself in his efforts to maintain a superhero-style image for the FBI in American minds.

The FBI participated in the Venona Project, a pre–World War II joint project with the British to eavesdrop on Soviet spies in the UK and the United States. They did not initially realize that espionage was being committed, but Soviet multiple use of one-time pad ciphers, which are normally unbreakable, created redundancies. This let some intercepts be decoded, which established the espionage. Hoover kept the intercepts—America's greatest counterintelligence secret—in a locked safe in his office, choosing not to inform President Truman, Attorney General J. Howard McGrath, or two Secretaries of State—Dean Acheson and General George Marshall—while they held office. He informed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the Venona Project in 1952.

In 1946, U.S. Attorney General Tom C. Clark authorized Hoover to compile a list of potentially disloyal Americans who might be detained during a wartime national emergency. In 1950, at the outbreak of the Korean War, Hoover submitted to President Truman a plan to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and detain 12,000 Americans suspected of disloyalty. Truman did not act on the plan.[31]

COINTELPRO

Main article: COINTELPRO

In 1956 Hoover was becoming increasingly frustrated by Supreme Court decisions that limited the Justice Department's ability to prosecute people for their political opinions, most notably communists. Some of his aides reported that he purposely exaggerated the threat of communism to "ensure financial and public support for the FBI."[32] At this time he formalized a covert "dirty tricks" program under the name COINTELPRO.[33]

This program remained in place until it was revealed to the public in 1971, after the theft of many internal documents stolen from an office in Media, Pennsylvania, and was the cause of some of the harshest criticism of Hoover and the FBI. COINTELPRO was first used to disrupt the Communist Party, where Hoover went after targets that ranged from suspected everyday spies to larger celebrity figures such as Charlie Chaplin who were seen as spreading Communist Party propaganda,[34] and later organizations such as the Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and others. Its methods included infiltration, burglaries, illegal wiretaps, planting forged documents and spreading false rumors about key members of target organizations.[35] Some authors have charged that COINTELPRO methods also included inciting violence and arranging murders.[36] In 1975 the activities of COINTELPRO were investigated by the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, called the Church Committee after its chairman, Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho), and these activities were declared illegal and contrary to the Constitution.[37] 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, FBI 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.

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 wrote an open letter to the press singling out these statements as "irresponsible."

Response to Mafia and civil rights groups

While Hoover had fought bank-robbing gangsters in the 1930s, anti-communism was a bigger focus for him after World War II, as the cold war developed. During the 1940s through mid-1950s, he seemed to ignore organized crime of the type that ran vice rackets such as drugs, prostitution, and extortion. He denied that any mafia operated in the U.S. In the 1950s evidence of Hoover's unwillingness to focus FBI resources on the Mafia became grist for the media and his many detractors. The Apalachin Meeting of late 1957 changed this; it embarrassed the FBI by proving on newspaper front pages that a nationwide mafia syndicate thrived unimpeded by the nation's "top cops". Hoover immediately changed tack, and during the next five years, the FBI investigated organized crime heavily. Its concentration on the topic fluctuated in subsequent decades, but it never again merely ignored this category of crime.

Hoover's moves against people who maintained contacts with subversive elements, some of whom were members of the civil rights movement, also led to accusations of trying to undermine their reputations. The treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr. and actress Jean Seberg are two examples. Jacqueline Kennedy recalled that Hoover told President John F. Kennedy that King tried to arrange a sex party while in the capital for the March on Washington and told Robert Kennedy that King made derogatory comments during the President's funeral.[38] After trying for a while to trump up evidence that would smear King as being influenced by communists, he discovered that King had a weakness for extramarital sex, and switched to this topic for further smears.

Hoover personally directed the FBI investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In 1964 just days before Hoover testified in the earliest stages of the Warren Commission hearings, President Lyndon B. Johnson waived the then-mandatory U.S. Government Service Retirement Age of seventy, allowing Hoover to remain the FBI Director "for an indefinite period of time." The House Select Committee on Assassinations issued a report in 1979 critical of the performance by the FBI, the Warren Commission, and 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.[39]

Late career and death


Presidents Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy each considered dismissing Hoover as FBI Director, but ultimately concluded that the political cost of doing so would be too great.[40]

Hoover's FBI investigated Jack Valenti, a special assistant and confidant of President Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. Despite Valenti's two-year marriage to Johnson's personal secretary, the investigation focused on rumors that he was having a gay relationship with a commercial photographer friend.[41]

Hoover maintained strong support in Congress until his death at his Washington, D.C., home on May 2, 1972, from a heart attack attributed to cardiovascular disease.[42] His body lay in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, where Chief Justice Warren Burger eulogized him.[43] President Richard Nixon delivered another eulogy at the funeral service in the National Presbyterian Church. Nixon called Hoover "one of the giants. His long life brimmed over with magnificent achievement and dedicated service to this country which he loved so well."[44] Hoover was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., next to the graves of his parents and a sister who died in infancy.[45]

Operational command of the Bureau passed to Associate Director Clyde Tolson. On May 3 Nixon appointed L. Patrick Gray, a Justice Department official with no FBI experience, as Acting Director, with W. Mark Felt remaining as Associate Director.[46]

Legacy

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

In 1979, there was a large increase in conflict in the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) under Senator Richard Schweiker, which had re-opened the investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy, reported that Hoover's FBI "failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the President". The HSCA further reported that Hoover's FBI "was deficient in its sharing of information with other agencies and departments".[47]

Because Hoover's actions came to be seen as an abuse of power, FBI directors are now limited to one ten-year term,[48] subject to extension by the United States Senate.[49]

The FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC is named after Hoover. Because of the controversial nature of Hoover's legacy, there have been periodic proposals to rename it by legislation proposed by both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. In 2001 Senator Harry Reid sponsored an amendment to strip Hoover's name from the building. "J. Edgar Hoover's name on the FBI building is a stain on the building", Reid said.[50] However, the Senate never adopted the amendment.

Sexuality



Since the 1940s, rumors have circulated that Hoover was homosexual.[51] The historians John Stuart Cox and Athan G. Theoharis speculated that Clyde Tolson, who became an associate director of the FBI and Hoover's primary heir, may have been his lover.[52]

Hoover hunted down and threatened anyone who made insinuations about his sexuality.[53] He also spread unsubstantiated rumors that Adlai Stevenson was gay to damage the liberal governor's 1952 presidential campaign.[53] His extensive secret files contained surveillance material on Eleanor Roosevelt's alleged lesbian lovers, which some speculate was for the purpose of blackmail—as well as material on presidents' liaisons, including those of John F. Kennedy.[53]

Some associates and scholars dismiss rumors about Hoover's sexuality, and his relationship with Tolson in particular, as unlikely,[54][55][56] while others have described them as probable or even "confirmed".[57][58][page needed] Still other scholars have reported the rumors without expressing an opinion.[59][60]

Hoover described Tolson as his alter ego: the men worked closely together during the day and, both single, frequently took meals, went to night clubs, and vacationed together.[52] This closeness between the two men is often cited as evidence that they were lovers, though some FBI employees who knew them, such as W. Mark Felt, say that the relationship was "brotherly." The former FBI official Mike Mason suggested that some of Hoover's colleagues denied that he had a sexual relationship with Tolson in an effort to protect his image.[61]

Hoover bequeathed his estate to Tolson, who moved into the house. He accepted the American flag that draped Hoover's casket. Tolson is buried a few yards away from Hoover in the Congressional Cemetery.

Hoover's biographer Richard Hack does not believe that the director was gay. Hack notes that Hoover was romantically linked to actress Dorothy Lamour in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and that after Hoover's death, Lamour did not deny rumors that she had had an affair with Hoover in the years between her two marriages.[62] Hack reported that, during the 1940s and 1950s, Hoover so often attended social events with Lela Rogers, the divorced mother of dancer and actress Ginger Rogers, that many of their mutual friends assumed the pair would eventually marry.[62]

In his 1993 biography Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, the journalist Anthony Summers quoted "society divorcee" Susan Rosenstiel as claiming to have seen Hoover engaging in cross-dressing in the 1950s at homosexual parties.[58][page needed][63][64] Summers also said that the Mafia had blackmail material on Hoover, which made Hoover reluctant to aggressively pursue organized crime. Although never corroborated, the allegation of cross-dressing has been widely repeated. 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."[65]

Skeptics of the cross-dressing story point to Susan Rosenstiel's poor credibility (she pled guilty for attempted perjury in a 1971 case and later served time in a New York City jail).[66][67] Recklessly indiscreet behavior by Hoover would have been totally out of character, whatever his sexuality. Most biographers consider the story of Mafia blackmail unlikely in light of the FBI's investigations of the Mafia.[68][69] Truman Capote, who helped spread salacious rumors about Hoover, once remarked that he was more interested in making Hoover angry than determining whether the rumors were true.[40]

The attorney Roy Cohn, a top aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy who assisted Hoover during the 1950s investigations of Communists[70] and known to be a closeted homosexual,[70] opined that Hoover was too frightened of his own sexuality to have anything approaching a normal sexual or romantic relationship.[40] During the Lavender Scare, Cohn and McCarthy further enhanced anti-Communist fervor by suggesting that Communists overseas had convinced several closeted homosexuals within the U.S. government to leak important government information in exchange for the assurance that their sexual identity would remain a secret;[70] A federal investigation that followed convinced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to sign an Executive Order on April 29, 1953, that barred homosexuals from obtaining jobs at the federal level.[70] In his 2004 study of the event, historian David K. Johnson attacked the speculations about Hoover's homosexuality as relying on "the kind of tactics Hoover and the security program he oversaw perfected—guilt by association, rumor, and unverified gossip." He views Rosenstiel as a liar who was paid for her story, whose "description of Hoover in drag engaging in sex with young blond boys in leather while desecrating the Bible is clearly a homophobic fantasy." He believes only those who have forgotten the virulence of the decades-long campaign against homosexuals in government can believe reports that Hoover appeared in compromising situations.[71]

Some people associated with Hoover have supported the assertion of his homosexual tendencies.[72] Actress and singer Ethel Merman, who was a friend of Hoover's since 1938, said in a 1978 interview, "Some of my best friends are homosexual. Everybody knew about J. Edgar Hoover, but he was the best chief the FBI ever had."[73] Hoover often frequented New York City's Stork Club. Luisa Stuart, a model who was 18 or 19 at the time, told Summers that she had seen Hoover holding hands with Tolson as they all rode in a limo uptown to the Cotton Club in 1936.[73]

The novelist William Styron told Summers that he once saw Hoover and Tolson in a California beach house, where the director was painting his friend's toenails.[73] Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights organizations, said Hoover and Tolson sat in boxes owned by and used exclusively by gay men at the Del Mar racetrack in California.[73] One medical expert told Summers that Hoover was of "strongly predominant homosexual orientation," while another medical expert categorized him as a "bisexual with failed heterosexuality."[72] Cox and Theoraris also alleged that "the strange likelihood is that Hoover never knew sexual desire at all."[56]

Freemasonry

Hoover was a devoted Freemason, being raised a Master Mason on November 9, 1920, in Federal Lodge No. 1, Washington, DC, just two months before his 26th birthday. During his 52 years with the Masons, he received many medals, awards and decorations. Eventually in 1955, he was coroneted a Thirty-Third Degree Inspector General Honorary in the Southern Scottish Rite Jurisdiction. He was also awarded the Scottish Rite's highest recognition, the Grand Cross of Honor, in 1965.[74] Today a J. Edgar Hoover room exists within the House of the Temple. The room contains many of Hoover's personal papers and records.

Honors

Portrayals

J. Edgar Hoover has been portrayed by numerous actors in films and stage productions featuring him as FBI Director. Some notable[by whom?] portrayals include:

See also

Writings

J. Edgar Hoover was the nominal author of a number of books and articles. Although it is widely believed that all of these were ghostwritten by FBI employees,[84][85][86] Hoover received the credit and royalties.

References

Sources

  • Frontline ; The Secret File on J. Edgar Hoover (#11.4) 1993

External links

  • StraightDope.com – 'The Straight Dope: Was J. Edgar Hoover a crossdresser?'
  • FBI file on J. Edgar Hoover
  • Time.com – 'The Truth about Hoover', December 22, 1975
  • Wall Street Journal – 'Hoover's Institution', Laurence H. Silberman, July 20, 2005
  • Assassination Records Review Board – Final Report: 1998
  • Zpub.com – 'J. Edgar Hoover Biography'
Government offices
Preceded by
William J. Burns
as Director of the Bureau of Investigation
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(Bureau of Investigation until 1935)

1924–1972
Succeeded by
L. Patrick Gray
Acting
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Everett Dirksen
Persons who have lain in state or honor
in the United States Capitol rotunda

May 3–4, 1972
Succeeded by
Lyndon B. Johnson

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