1943 July 16

Attorney General Biddle Orders FBI to End Detention List – J. Edgar Hoover Ignores Order, Renames List


FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1940 had established a semi-secret program that listed people for custodial detention in the event of war or  a national emergency. The list reflected Hoover’s anti-liberal, anti-left, anti-civil rights bias. ACLU Director Roger Baldwin, for example, was listed for detention. On this day, Attorney General Francis Biddle ordered him to end the program. Hoover disobeyed the order by simply changing the name from “Detention” to “Security” list.

This action was a classic example of Hoover’s policy of keeping some of the Bureau’s major actions secret from his nominal boss, the attorney general (not to mention the President of the United States, who appoints the direct of the FBI).

The FBI’s secret list was in existence on September 22, 1950, when the McCarran Act created a procedure for detaining people who were alleged threats to the U.S. in the event of a national emergency. Reconciling the two procedures involved some difficulty within the Justice Department among those who were knowledgeable about the secret FBI list.

Read Custodial Detention Index Files on the FBI FOIA web site:

Learn more about the history of the FBI: Athan Theoharis, The FBI and American Democracy: A Brief Critical History (2004)

Learn more: Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (1991)

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