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Context of 'November 1940-1943: FBI Maintains ‘Custodial Detention Program’ for Emergencies'

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Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover orders the bureau to begin preparing a list of individuals to be closely monitored and/or detained in the event of a national emergency or war. The list is to be comprised of persons considered to have strong “Nazi” and “Communist tendencies.” The FBI is ordered to collect information on suspected individuals from employment records, school records, newspapers, and “confidential sources of information.” The list will become part of the FBI’s Custodial Detention Program in 1940 (see November 1940-1943). [New York Times, 10/23/1975; Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 5/1976, pp. 412]

Entity Tags: J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The FBI maintains a list of individuals that are to be closely monitored and/or detained in the event of a national emergency or war. The index of names, known officially as the “Custodial Detention Program,” is spawned from a list established in 1939 by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (see November 1939). The updated list is composed of persons thought to have a “Communistic, Fascist, Nazi, or other nationalistic background.” The list includes individuals that distribute “literature and propaganda favorable to a foreign power and opposed to the American way of life,” as well as “agitators who are adherents of foreign ideologies.” The names on the list are divided into two categories: those who are to be immediately detained in the event of war and those who are to be subject to close surveillance in the event of war. The program will be criticized for being unreliable and potentially illegal (see 1943). [Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 5/1976, pp. 417]

Entity Tags: J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General Francis Biddle abolishes the FBI’s Custodial Detention Program, which is designed to round up suspected dissidents in times of national emergency or war (see November 1940-1943). However, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover secretly re-establishes the list under a new name: the Security Index (see Early 1943-1971). Biddle clearly informs the FBI: “There is no statutory authorization or other present justification for keeping a ‘custodial detention’ list of citizens.… [I]t is now clear to me that this classification system is inherently unreliable.” The attorney general comments: “The evidence used for the purpose of making the classifications was inadequate; the standards applied to the evidence for the purpose of making the classifications were defective; and finally, the notion that it is possible to make a valid determination as to how dangerous a person is in the abstract and without reference to time, environment, and other relevant circumstances, is impractical, unwise, and dangerous.” But Hoover does not comply with the attorney general’s order. He instead changes the name of the list from the Custodial Detention Program to the Security Index. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will later report, “The attorney general and the Justice Department were apparently not informed of the FBI’s decision to continue the program.” FBI headquarters informs its field offices, “The fact that the Security Index and Security Index Cards are prepared and maintained should be considered strictly confidential, and should at no time be mentioned or alluded to in investigative reports, or discussed with agencies or individuals outside the bureau other than duly qualified representatives of the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Military Intelligence Division, and then only on a strictly confidential basis.” [Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 5/1976, pp. 420-421]

Entity Tags: J. Edgar Hoover, Francis Biddle, Office of Naval Intelligence, Senate Intelligence Committee, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The FBI, led by director J. Edgar Hoover, begins to “accumulate the names, identities, and activities” of American citizens who are regarded as suspect. The information is gathered in a “security index,” which rapidly expands. In a letter to the White House during the Truman administration, Hoover will state that in the event of certain emergency situations, suspect individuals would be held in detention camps overseen by “the National Military Establishment.” By 1960, a congressional investigation will later reveal, the FBI list of suspicious persons will include “professors, teachers, and educators; labor-union organizers and leaders; writers, lecturers, newsmen, and others in the mass-media field; lawyers, doctors, and scientists; other potentially influential persons on a local or national level; [and] individuals who could potentially furnish financial or material aid” to unnamed “subversive elements.” [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), tells the House Appropriations Committee that the FBI is prepared to arrest 14,000 purported communists inside the US in the event of war with Russia. James M. McInerney, assistant attorney general, refuses to provide the committee with details regarding those on the list, but says they are “either out-and-out Communists” or are “sympathetic toward the Communist cause.” The officials are apparently referring to the FBI’s Security Index, which was established in 1943 (see 1943 and Early 1943-1971). [New York Times, 4/28/1951]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, House Committee on Appropriations, J. Edgar Hoover, James M. McInerney, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress revokes emergency detention provisions within the 1950 Subversive Activity Control Act in an attempt to ban the FBI’s controversial “Security Index” program. The decades-old Security Index lists thousands of citizens that are to be targeted for surveillance and/or detention in the event of a national emergency or war (see Early 1943-1971 and 1943). The FBI will still maintain the list in anticipation of the program’s reactivation. The FBI and the Justice Department will evade the Congressional ban by allowing the FBI to reestablish the list under a new name in late 1971 (see Late 1971). [New York Times, 8/3/1975]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

July 1, 1971: Felt Becomes #3 FBI Official

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover promotes W. Mark Felt to be the #3 official in the bureau. Though Hoover’s longtime assistant and confidante Clyde Tolson is putatively the #2 man at the bureau, Tolson is seriously ill and does not often come to work, so Felt essentially becomes the FBI’s deputy director, in charge of day-to-day operations. Felt has access to virtually every piece of information the FBI possesses. Felt will become the celebrated “Deep Throat,” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s inside source for the Watergate investigations (see May 31, 2005). [Woodward, 2005, pp. 35]

Entity Tags: Bob Woodward, Clyde Tolson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, W. Mark Felt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The FBI, acting against the will of Congress, maintains a secret list of citizens to be monitored and/or detained in the event of a national emergency. Congress recently attempted to ban the FBI’s secret “Security Index” by revoking the Emergency Detention Act of the 1950 Subversive Activity Control Act (see 1971). The FBI, in an apparent attempt to subvert the repeal, changes the title of the detention list to the “Administrative Index,” or “ADEX” for short. A source from the FBI will say the change is in “name only.” Another FBI official acknowledges that the new index could be “interpreted as a means to circumvent [the] repeal of the Emergency Detention Act.” The Justice Department secretly decides that Congress has not restricted the FBI’s authority. In a memo to J. Edgar Hoover, Attorney General John N. Mitchell says the repeal by Congress does “not alter or limit” the FBI’s authority to “record, file, and index” names of purportedly subversive individuals. According to Mitchell, the FBI maintains plans for a national emergency that are “prepared on the basis of authority other than” the provisions revoked by Congress. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will later report that the FBI “continued to evade the will of Congress, partly with Justice Department approval, by maintaining a secret administrative index of suspects for round-up in case of a national emergency.” The FBI will maintian control of the list until 1985, when it will be transferred to FEMA (see Late 1971-1985 and 1985). [Associated Press, 12/18/1975; New York Times, 4/29/1976; Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 5/1976, pp. 542-548; Chicago Tribune, 3/2/1986]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, J. Edgar Hoover, Senate Intelligence Committee, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, writhing under harsh questioning in his Senate confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973), has displayed a candor and a willingness to reveal information that the White House has found disturbing. But that comes to an end; after Gray’s early offer to let senators examine the FBI’s files on the Watergate investigations, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst overrules that offer. Kleindienst insists that Gray has no authority to make such an offer, and instead proposes that only the chairman of the Judiciary Commiteee, James Eastland (D-MS), and its ranking member Roman Hruska (R-NE), be allowed to view the files. Gray is privately ordered by Kleindienst to stop talking about the FBI investigation. Gray reluctantly obeys, and begins responding to questions about the investigation by saying, “I respectfully decline to answer that question.” Towards the end of the hearings, Gray will inform the committee about Kleindienst’s “gag order.” Kleindienst may have issued the order because of Gray’s testimony that he was pressured by White House aides John Dean and John Ehrlichman to find and close media leaks they believed were coming from within the FBI, requests that Gray resented “because I don’t think there were those leaks within the FBI.” [Time, 4/2/1973; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]
Gray's Partisanship Questioned - Committee members also question Gray’s open advocacy of the Nixon administration, a position they find unbecoming in a supposedly nonpartisan FBI director. They want to know why in September 1972 he abandoned the agency’s nonpartisan tradition and ordered 21 field offices to file expert advice on how best Nixon and his aides could handle campaign issues related to criminal justice. And they are disturbed that during the 1972 campaign, Gray himself stumped for Nixon in three separate speeches, in what Time magazine calls “blatantly political activity his predecessor [J. Edgar Hoover] would never have undertaken.” Committee member Robert Byrd (D-WV) said before the hearings: “In the nine months that Mr. Gray has held the post of acting director, there has been increasing criticism of that bureau as becoming more and more a political arm of the administration. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI had always been a nonpolitical bureau, and Mr. Hoover meticulously avoided partisanship in campaigns.” Confirmation of Gray, Byrd continued, “would be damaging to the proficiency and morale of the agency.” Many senators also question Gray’s lack of law enforcement experience. [Time, 3/5/1973]
'Twist[ing] in the Wind' - During the hearings, Nixon aide John Ehrlichman privately proposes that the White House not support Gray, and instead leave him to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” until he resigns (see April 5, 1973). Shortly before his death in 2005, Gray will say, “I made the gravest mistake of my 88 years” in going to work for Nixon. “I put the rudder in the wrong direction.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, James O. Eastland, J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Dean, L. Patrick Gray, Senate Judiciary Committee, John Ehrlichman, Roman Hruska, Robert C. Byrd, Richard Kleindienst

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The FBI Administrative Index, known as ADEX for short (see Late 1971-1985), is transferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The index contains the names and background information of approximately 12,000 individuals considered to be potential threats in times of crisis. Citizens on the list are to be closely monitored and/or detained in the event of a national emergency. Documents later obtained by the Austin American-Statesman will reveal an internal struggle between FBI Director William Webster, who recommends the FBI maintain control of the list, and Attorney General Edwin Meese, who, along with Reagan adviser Robert McFarlane, demands the list be handed over to FEMA. The list ultimately ends up under the control of FEMA. [Texas Observer, 5/15/1987]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US Representative Henry B. Gonzalez (D-TX) claims the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is prepared to detain 400,000 Central Americans residing in the United States in the event of an emergency. According to the Texas Observer, Gonzalez says reliable intelligence sources have informed him that the plan, if implemented, would also include a certain number of US citizens, noting that the agency maintains a list of “subversive” individuals to be monitored and/or apprehended in the event of a national emergency, a possible reference to the FBI’s Administration Index (see 1985). [Texas Observer, 5/15/1987; Miami Herald, 7/5/1987]

Entity Tags: Henry Gonzalez, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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