1919 August 1

J. Edgar Hoover Appointed Head of General Intelligence Division; Prepares for Palmer Raids


Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer on this day appointed John Edgar Hoover, then 26 years old, to head the General Intelligence Division (GID) within the Bureau of Investigation (the original name of the Federal Bureau of Investigation). The appointment set the stage for the infamous Palmer Raids of November 7, 1919, and January 2, 1920, which involved the indiscriminate round-up of thousands of alleged radical labor union members. The Palmer Raids were the most notorious events of the Red Scare, which involved many other attacks on alleged radicals, Communists, and labor unions in 1919 and 1920.

The Palmer Raids marked the beginning of Hoover’s long career as the most anti-civil libertarian government official in American history. Although Palmer’s name became permanently associated with the raids of 1919–1920, Hoover managed to avoid any similar taint, despite his direct involvement in them. He continued as a Bureau of Investigation official and was appointed Director of the Bureau of Investigation on May 10, 1924, and served until his death, on May 2, 1972. In that capacity, Hoover probably perpetrated more violations of civil liberties over a longer period of time than any other U.S. government official.

The full story of FBI abuses under Hoover did not become known until the Senate Church Committee investigations of 1975-76 (established January 27, 1975), after his death. Hoover died in 1972.

Arguably, the most notorious FBI program was COINTELPRO (for COunterINTELligencePROgram), which was approved on March 8, 1956, and involved burglaries, wiretapping, the forging of documents, and other illegal actions. The COINTELRO program was exposed when a group of activists burglarized the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, on March 8, 1971, and stole about 1,000 documents, one of which contained a cryptic reference to “Cointelpro.”

Read: Kenneth Ackerman, Young J. Edgar: Hoover and the Red Scare, 1919–1920 (2011)

And learn about Hoover’s full career: Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (1991)

And about the notorious COINTELPRO program: Betty Medsger, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI (2014)

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