Official Blog of Author MICHAEL THOMAS BARRY.
A blog which discusses varied topics that are related to the authors many books. Michael is a columnist for CrimeMagazine.com and a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books.
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Wednesday, May 2, 2012
J Edgar Hoover Dies - 1972
On this date in 1972, after nearly five decades as
director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), J. Edgar Hoover dies.
He leaves the powerful government agency without the
administrator who had been largely responsible for its existence and shape. Educated
as a lawyer and a librarian, Hoover joined the Department of Justice in 1917
and within two years had become special assistant to Attorney General A.
Mitchell Palmer. Deeply anti-radical in his ideology, Hoover came to the
forefront of federal law enforcement during the so-called “Red Scare” of 1919
to 1920. The former librarian set up a card index system listing every radical
leader, organization, and publication in the United States and by 1921 had
amassed some 450,000 files. More than 10,000 suspected communists were also
arrested during this period, but the vast majority of these people were briefly
questioned and then released. Although the attorney general was criticized for
abusing his authority during the so-called "Palmer Raids," Hoover
emerged unscathed, and on May 10, 1924, he was appointed acting director of the
Bureau of Investigation, a branch of the Justice Department established in
During the 1920s with Congress' approval, Director Hoover
drastically restructured and expanded the Bureau of Investigation. He built the
corruption-ridden agency into an efficient crime-fighting machine, establishing
a centralized fingerprint file, a crime laboratory, and a training school for agents.
In the 1930s the Bureau of Investigation launched a dramatic battle against the
epidemic of organized crime brought on by Prohibition. Notorious gangsters such
as George "Machine Gun" Kelly and John Dillinger met their ends
looking down the barrels of Bureau-issued guns, while others, like Louis
"Lepke" Buchalter, the elusive head of Murder, Incorporated, were
successfully investigated and prosecuted by Hoover's "G-men." Hoover,
who had a keen eye for public relations, participated in a number of these
widely publicized arrests, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations, as it was
known after 1935, became highly regarded by Congress and the American public.
With the outbreak of World War II, Hoover revived the
anti-espionage techniques he had developed during the first Red Scare, and
domestic wiretaps and other electronic surveillance expanded dramatically.
After World War II, Hoover focused on the threat of radical, especially
communist, subversion. The FBI compiled files on millions of Americans
suspected of dissident activity, and Hoover worked closely with the House
Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Senator Joseph McCarthy, the
architect of America's second Red Scare. In 1956, Hoover initiated Cointelpro,
a secret counterintelligence program that initially targeted the U.S. Communist
Party but later was expanded to infiltrate and disrupt any radical organization
in America. During the 1960s the immense resources of Cointelpro were used
against dangerous groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, but also against African
American Civil Rights organizations and liberal anti-war organizations. One
figure especially targeted was civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who
endured systematic harassment from the FBI.
By the time Hoover entered service under his eighth
president in 1969, the media, the public, and Congress had grown suspicious
that the FBI might be abusing its authority. For the first time in his
bureaucratic career, Hoover endured widespread criticism, and Congress
responded by passing laws requiring Senate confirmation of future FBI directors
and limiting their tenure to 10 years. On May 2, 1972, with the Watergate
affair about to explode onto the national stage, J. Edgar Hoover died of heart
disease at the age of 77. The Watergate affair subsequently revealed that the
FBI had illegally protected President Richard Nixon from investigation, and the
agency was thoroughly investigated by Congress. Revelations of the FBI's abuses
of power and unconstitutional surveillance motivated Congress and the media to
become more vigilant in future monitoring of the FBI.