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Edgar Hoover

By Brandie Schulz

August 8, 2014

Introduction to Policing
CJ 2300-400-SU14

J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover was a lawyer, criminologist and the Director of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) from 1924 to 1972. During the 48 year as Director he transformed the FBI
into a world famous crime fighting organization and was known at the time as the nations top
law enforcement officer. He dedicated his life to the FBI and as a result many of his
achievements have been long lasting. However near the end of his career a different light was
cast on the FBI and what it revealed was not the positive by the book law enforcement agency
it was known to be. Despite the creation of a reputable FBI and Hoovers reputation as an
authority on crime detection, in the end Hoovers prestige was destroyed
Before J. Edgar Hoover became director of the FBI agents were often given a job as a
reward for political favors, resulting in untrained and unethical FBI agents. His first priority as
Director was to upgrade the personnel and initiate proper training procedures. He fired agents
that had criminal records or questionable character. Some quit because they did not want to work
under the new, strict guidelines. Others who were qualified but unwanted were purposely given
repeated short-notice transfers until they resigned. Those that remained were retrained, and
specific requirements of an FBI agent were instated. Eligible applicants had to be a citizen of the
United States, male, between the ages of 25 and 40, in good health, have 20/20 vision, have good
hearing and pass an FBI entrance exam. Applicants with a law or accounting degrees were given
preference since Hoover believed having educated agents would lead to more convictions in
court. After passing the written exam applicants then went to a sixteen week FBI training course
which consisted of classroom work and practical application. Once hired, agents were expected
to maintain and live up to high standards on and off the job. They were not allowed to drink

alcohol, had to behave professionally, and improper behavior was not tolerated. Agents were
required to be clean shaven, well groomed, wear suits and keep their cars clean. He wanted the
public to look upon the FBI as a prestigious agency and its agents as gentlemen.
In addition to changing the requirements of becoming an FBI agent, Hoover was
responsible in creating several facilities and programs to help fight crime.

In 1930 he persuaded Congress to approve the creation of the Division of

Identification and Information, an internationally known crime-fighting resource
that stores fingerprints. By creating an efficient, well-organized system of
fingerprints, suspects were less likely to get away by using an alias.

In 1932, he created the FBIs Criminal Laboratory in 1932. Used by both the FBI
and police across the nation, the facility could analyze a wide variety of physical

In 1935, he created the FBI Police Training School. The purpose was not only to
train police officers but to create a closer working relationship between the FBI
and local police departments. Proper police procedure, investigative techniques,
firearms use, scientific criminology, modern crime fighting were taught by
experienced FBI agents and outside specialists.

In 1950 Hoover created the FBIs Ten Most Wanted List, which proved to be an
effective tool for apprehending criminals. Pictures of the fugitives were posted on
post office wall, ran in magazines, and in almost every newspaper in the country.

Not only did J. Edgar Hoover transform the FBI into one of the governments most
prestigious divisions, he introduced scientific law enforcement to the American public.

And in the years to come the FBI would be synonymous with the precise, skilled,
painstaking and, in some cases, near magical analysis of clues and evidence (44). This
perception of the FBI was enforced through a television show called The FBI. Premiering
in 1965, the show portrayed FBI agents always getting their man and easily solving cases
with efficiency and ease. Agents were shown as they were seen in reality, clean cut white
men in suits, who did not drink or smoke. On the TV show they were shown as polite,
patient, honest and trustworthy men who obeyed and operated within the law and could
do no wrong. All of this of course was manipulated by Hoover. He was given complete
approval of the shows scripts and would not allow any content that would portray the
FBI in a negative light. For five years the American public thought the T.V. show was an
accurate representation of how the FBI operated. Unfortunately, the show was not true.
It was no secret J. Edgar Hoover had anti-communist and anti-subversive views.
What was a secret was how much power he had and how he abused that power during the
48 years as Director. Take for instance Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent credited for killing
Pubic Enemies No. 1, John Dillinger and then Pretty Boy Floyd. Soon after, Little
Mel Purvis began receiving a lot of attention as the man who got Dillinger. Hoover,
who was egotistical and considered himself the one and only Mr. FBI, did not like the
attention Purvis was receiving and decided to force him to resign. First he kept Purvis
away from reporters, and downplayed Purviss role in cases he was famous for. Then he
sent inspectors to check up on Purvis who recommended he be moved to a smaller office
because apparently Purvis spent more time on personal business, ignored bureau
business, and the office was in bad shape. Even though Purvis denied the allegations he
resigned within a year; and even though he no longer worked for the FBI, Hoover made it

difficult for him to get a job. Hoover spread the word that no law enforcement agencies
should work with Purvis, and when Purvis applied for a job, Hoover provided a negative
report about his performance with the FBI.
Purvis was not the only one subject to Hoovers unethical behavior and tactics.
Anyone who Hoover felt was a communist, had different opinions than he did, or was
considered a threat to Hoover, was a target. Before the World War II, President Roosevelt
instructed Hoover to investigate and gather information on any potential acts of sabotage
or espionage. After Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, President Roosevelt gave
Hoover the go ahead to monitor suspected enemy agents. Which gave the FBI (Hoover)
the power to violate the rights of private citizens. Law enforcement and citizens were
encouraged to report to the FBI any suspicious activity they witnessed, which meant the
FBI would not be investigating what people did, but what they believed and thought.
Even though not one of the 20,000 espionage or sabotage investigations was successful,
the FBI (Hoover) was given credit for preventing Nazi spies and saboteurs from doing
any damage in the U.S. during World War II.
During the Cold War there was an exaggerated fear and threat that the
communists were going to take over the United States. This of course justified the FBI
investigation of anyone who agreed with the communists on any issue. People were
considered traitors if they belonged to an organization or socialized with people that were
considered communist. No proof was necessary only suspicion and it was enough to ruin
peoples careers. The fear of communist spies was so great that President Harry S.
Truman signed an Executive Order 9835 that initiated the Federal Employees Loyalty
and Security Program. If any federal employee was thought to be disloyal could not work

for the federal government, any employee could be dismissed and any applicant turned
down since disloyal was never defined. Out of the 14,000 people investigated by the
FBI, only 212 were dismissed.
The FBI also helped the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC)
investigate alleged communist activities. The committee believed communists were
trying to control the movie industry and therefore performed hearings of actors and
actresses that provided names of people in the industry who they thought were
communists. Even though the committee had no evidence, and not one conviction was
made; a blacklist was created with the names of known and suspected communists that
could no longer be hired by the studios.
The FBI continued to gather information on anyone suspected of being subversive
and no one was immune. Including investigating Alger Hiss, a State Department Official
and the highest ranking government official to be accused of being a communist spy.
After the successful prosecution and conviction of Mr. Hiss, Senator Joseph McCarthy
and his anti-communist crusade gained credibility which led to the creation of the
McCarthy Committee. With no supporting evidence, the McCarthy Committee accused
the United Nations, State Department, U.S. Army and other federal agencies of being
under the influence of subversives. He considered liberal Americans to be communist
sympathizers and often made false accusations backed up by questionable evidence.
HUAC and McCarthy could not function without the help of J. Edgar Hoover.
Hoover created and provided the Custodial Detention list or Security Index which
contained the names of people Hoover felt would be a risk to the United States, and
should be detained if war with the Soviet Union should occur. Hoover provided a list of

artists to the HUAC who were suspected of being communists and people in Hollywood
who would testify against them. Hoover and the FBI led the investigation against Harry
Gold, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and David Greenglass who were all accused of being
spies and providing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. The
Rosenbergs maintained their innocence throughout the trial but were found guilty and
sentenced to death. At the trial the judge thanked Hoover for the FBIs excellent work,
thereby reinforcing the FBIs policy of investigating suspicious people.
Because praise was constantly being given to the FBI for its successful attacks
against criminals, extremists, and spies, critics of Hoover were seldom heard. It wasnt
until the late 1950s and into the 1970s when critics of Hoover and his FBI were starting
to be heard. Journalists, authors, professors, congressman, and ex-FBI agents claimed the
FBI did not protect the principles in which America stood for, but violated them. They
accused the FBI of improperly arresting people and deporting people without due
process. They questioned Hoovers conviction statistics which led to a federal study of all
federal law agencies. The study found that the bureau had a 72.5 percent conviction rate
instead of Hoovers reported 98 percent. They accused Hoover or inflating statistics in
order to maintain budget increases, and discovered that the FBI was claiming credit for
recovering stolen vehicles instead of the local law enforcement agencies that actually
found them.
Opponents described Hoover as a dictator, who encouraged agents to report on
each other and established fear within the department. To Hoover, sweaty palms were a
sign of bad character and personal appearances seemed to be more important than
performance. Congressmen eventually became concerned with the power Hoover had.

Hoover had always had powerful friends in Congress, which some say is the reason he
held the position as director for 48 years. Former FBI assistant, William C. Sullivan
claims Hoover was a master blackmailer who would let politicians know when the FBI
found out information that would jeopardize their career (120).
The fact the FBI had information on politicians was obvious when President John
F. Kennedy asked Hoover to continue being the director of the FBI the day after the
election. Kennedy knew Hoover had embarrassing personal information on Kennedy and
dismissing him would create enemies. Hoover and the Kennedys clashed right from the
beginning. Hoover still believed communism and subversion were a real and immediate
threat, whereas Kennedy was more concerned with domestic problems such as poverty,
health, education, race, and crime. Hoover did not like the casual style of the Kennedys,
who would drop by unexpectedly to meet with him and would sometimes bring their
children to run free in the halls of the Justice Department. Hoover especially did not like
his new boss, attorney general Robert Kennedy.
Two areas in which Robert Kennedy and Hoover disagreed on was organized
crime and racism. Robert Kennedys number one priority was organized crime. However,
the FBI only had twelve agents assigned to organized crime. Since the beginning of
Hoovers career he had never taken seriously and even denied the rise of criminal
organizations. Because Hoover was obsessed with maintaining the FBIs high conviction
rate, he focused most of the FBIs resources on catching bank robbers and kidnappers.
Members of organized crime were hard to prosecute because members of organized
crime were also not likely to snitch on each other and they had high priced lawyers. The
media was also more likely to report on a bank robbery shoot-out than a long drawn out

trial, which helped maintain the positive crime busting image of the FBI. Hoover was
afraid organized crime might corrupt his agents with money and threats which might lead
to scandals within the bureau, something the bureau had not seen since Hoover had taken
over. Even when an organized crime ring was uncovered in 1957 by a New York Police
sergeant, Hoover still denied its existence.
Civil rights was also something Hoover had a problem with. For 43 years Hoover
attended white schools and churches. Segregation had been a part of most of his life and
he did not sympathize with Americas black citizens. Hoover believed communists were
secretly behind the civil rights movement and it was going to destroy the United States
government. Civil rights leaders claimed the FBI was not doing their job to protect and
come to the aid of blacks, Hoover did not want to be involved in civil rights cases
1. Civil rights cases were difficult to prove in court. Which would bring down
the bureaus conviction rate.
2. FBI agents were being asked to view the police as law breakers not law
enforcers, because they were not protecting the rights of blacks.
3. Hoover had powerful Democratic congressmen friends in the south who
also believed troublemakers and communists were responsible for the civil
rights movement.
In 1964, three civil rights workers disappeared after being arrested for speeding. At first
the FBI claimed they had no authority to act, but Robert Kennedy ordered the case be
treated as a kidnapping, forcing the FBI to become involved. The high profiled case made

national news and President Johnson pressured Hoover to open a FBI field office in
Hoover was obsessed with Martin Luther King, Jr. and was determined to get him
to leave the political scene. He began investigating Dr. King and added his name to the
Emergency Detention List, convinced he was a threat and associated with the Communist
party of the United States. He had all of the phones tapped at the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference as well as Dr. Kings home phone. The FBI attempted to disrupt
and confuse the leader with the intention of affecting his ability to lead. They bugged his
hotel rooms and created highlight tapes that circulated among Hoovers supporters in
the FBI and Congress which included details of Dr. Kings personal life. Dr. King made a
statement claiming FBI agents were often southern born and incapable of viewing
blacks impartially, and that civil rights workers were not bothering to report violations
because FBI agents were prejudiced. Hoover was upset Dr. King was chosen to receive
the Nobel Peace Prize and reacted to this statement during a press conference in which he
called Dr. King the most notorious liar and one of the lowest characters in the country
(161). The FBI continued to harass Dr. King and placed an undercover agent to report his
activity to the FBI. Tragically, on April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated
when he stepped out on to his motel balcony. When his assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was
apprehended, Hoover delayed the media release until the middle of Robert Kennedys
televised funeral so it would interrupt the broadcast.
Other black leaders began to emerge advocating weapons and force in selfdefense. They called for blacks to stand up to their white oppressors. To no longer ask for
their rights but to demand them. To Hoover all black power groups were extreme,

especially the Black Panthers, so he created a Counter Intelligence Program

(COINTELPRO). The program was intended to disrupt the organizations and prevent
them from forming coalitions. The FBI used radical and illegal tactics in attempts to
destroy them. They tapped their phones, intercepted and opened their mail, burglarized
their offices, stole items and planted illegal ones, fabricated letters designed to create
distrust within the organization, and arrested leaders for minor or made up charges. Even
when the Black Panthers became less violent and started organizing tenant strikes, day
care centers, health clinics and a free breakfast for children program, the FBI still tried to
disrupt and destroy their programs.
Finally on March 9, 1971 the polished image of the FBI Hoover had successfully
created came to an end. A field office in Media, Pennsylvania was broken into and
thousands of FBI files were stolen. Soon after documents began surfacing that showed
how the FBI used illegal tactics towards American citizens that were not accused of any
crimes, and how the FBI used a lot of its resources to do battle with Americans whose
opinions were considered a threat by J. Edgar Hoover. All COINTELPRO activities were
suspended and pressure was put on the bureau to fully disclose all of the FBIs illegal
There is no doubt that J. Edgar Hoover transformed the FBI into a well-organized
agency that successfully fought crime, and is personally responsible for the prestige of
the agency today. Unfortunately Hoover abused his power causing a lot of pain and
misery to many innocent Americans. Fortunately the truth came to light and all of the
FBIs illegal and unethical activities were exposed, and hopefully the FBI has more
integrity today because of it.


Denenberg, Barry. The True Story of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. New York: Scholastic, 1993.
"John Edgar Hoover." Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2014. Web. 08 Aug. 2014.