1895 January 1

J. Edgar Hoover, Longtime Head of FBI, is Born


Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1924 to 1972, J. Edgar Hoover was born in Washington, D.C., on this day As head of the FBI, he ran what is arguably the longest-running attack on civil liberties by any government official in American history.

Hoover was appointed head of the Bureau of Investigation’s General Intelligence Division (GID) on August 1, 1919, , and in that position played a major role in organizing the notorious Palmer Raids (November 7, 1919 and January 2, 1920), in which thousands of alleged radicals were rounded up without warrants, many of whom were held incommunicado for days or weeks, and some of whom were soon deported. Hoover was appointed head of the Bureau of Investigation (the name was later changed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation) on May 10, 1924.

By the 1950s, if not sooner, it was politically impossible for any president to remove him from office. Through his extensive wiretapping and use of listening devices (“bugs”), it was widely believed that Hoover had derogatory information on innumerable politicians.

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

Explore the FBI’s Secret Files at the FBI FOIA Vault: http://vault.fbi.gov/reading-room-index/

Read: Betty Medsger, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI (2014)

Read the Senate Church Committee report on COINTELPRO (pp. 1-77): http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/contents/church/contents_church_reports_book3.htm

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