1946 July 17

President Truman Authorizes FBI Wiretapping


President Harry Truman on this day approved a memo from Attorney General Tom Clark that authorized wiretapping by the FBI. Clark’s memo continued secret FBI spying on political dissidents that had been authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on May 21, 1940.

This incident reveals that while many of the FBI’s actions under J. Edgar Hoover were secret and unknown to his superiors, many others were directly authorized or passively approved by the attorney general or the president. The notorious COINTELPRO program, for example, which arguably involved the most abusive FBI actions, was approved by the National Security Council on March 8, 1956, with both the president and the attorney general giving their silent assent.

The full scope of FBI abuses were not known until the investigations and reports by the Senate Church Committee in 1975-1976 (see January 27, 1975)

Read Truman’s Memo and many related documents: Athan Theoharis, From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1991)

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

View the collection of FBI files on people on organizations: http://vault.fbi.gov/reading-room-index

Learn more: Athan Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy: A Brief Critical History (2004)

Learn more about wiretapping from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: https://ssd.eff.org/wire/govt/wiretapping-protections

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




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