1936 August 24

FDR Authorizes FBI to Resume Political Spying


In a meeting at the White House on this day, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the FBI to renew intelligence gathering on domestic political groups. The authorization launched more than 30 years of political spying by Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI.

Political spying by the Bureau of Investigation (as it was then known) had been ended by Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone on May 13, 1924. Hoover complied with this order and other reforms ordered by Stone for 12 years. The size of the Bureau shrank, personnel standards rose, and the Bureau maintained a relatively low visibility. That began to change when Roosevelt became president and Hoover embarked on an aggressive publicity campaign promoting both the Bureau and himself. Hoover was probably responsible for more violations of civil liberties over a longer period of time than any single government official in American history.

Given a green light by FDR, Hoover went on the conduct the greatest violations of civil liberties by any single person in American history. Two of the Bureau’s most notorious activities under Hoover were the COINTELPRO program (approved on March 8, 1956), and its effort to “neutralize” Dr. Martin Luther King, which was launched on December 23, 1963.

The full extent of Hoover’s violations of the rights of Americans was not known until the Senate Church Committee investigation in 1975–1976 (see below). The COINTELPRO program was exposed when a group of anti-Vietnam War activists burglarized the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, on March 8, 1971, and stole over 1,000 documents, which they released to the press.

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

Read a collection of official FBI documents: Athan Theoharis, From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1991)

Read some of the FBI files on noted people released under the Freedom of Information Act: http://vault.fbi.gov/

Watch a pro-FBI, pro-Hoover documentary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrqf9lOnDUY

Read the Church Committee report on abuses by the FBI: http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/church/reports/book3/contents.htm

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