Another aspect of the power of advice was the volunteering of political intelligence to superiors. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is in the Executive Branch of government and relies on executive authority to carry out its functions. By giving information, the bureau is providing a valuable service. All users benefit. Each knows that the information can be terminated and given to other political participants. It is also implied that the Bureau has information on the primary beneficiary the President. Bureaus can expect favorable political treatment for this service!
Thus, the Bureau has an interest in maintaining a strong executive in the American political system. It appears ironic that a bureau that seeks power and independence also desires that its controlling agent be powerful. Nonetheless, the authori¬tarian subculture demanded this consistency, and their need for swiftness and discretion can only be achieved through a strong executive. However, if the executive felt the bureau to be loyal and helpful, then there would be little desire on the executive’s part to control it further. The bureau would volunteer political intelligence and cooperate on questionable directives.
An early example of the Bureau’s willingness to co¬operate occurred during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Administration. On May 18, 1940, Stephen Early, Secretary to President Roosevelt, sent the following memorandum to J. E. Hoover:
I am sending you, at the President’s direction, a number of telegrams he has received since the delivery of his address on the subject of national defense before the joint session of Congress yesterday. These telegrams are all more or less in opposition to national defense. It was the President’s idea that you might like to go over these, noting the names and addresses of the senders.
On May 21, 1940, President Roosevelt sent the following memorandum to Stephen T. Early: “Here are some more telegrams to send to Edgar Hoover.” These historical illustrations of the F.B.I.’s practice of volunteering political intelligence to its superiors appear in virtually every administration. President Roosevelt’s Attorney General Francis Biddle stated that J. Edgar Hoover shared with him some of the “intimate details of what his fellow Cabinet members did and said, their likes and dislikes, their weaknesses and their associations.”
President Truman and his aides received regular letters from Hoover labeled Personal and Confidential which contained tidbits of political intelligence. Sometimes they reported on possible communist influence behind various lobbying efforts, such as activities in support of civil rights legislation.
One letter reported that a former Roosevelt aide was trying to influence the Truman Administration’s appointments. Another advised that the F.B.I. had learned from a confidential source that a “scandal” was brewing and that it would be “very embarrassing to the Democratic Administration.”
During the Eisenhower Administration, White House requests and F.B.I. initiatives were sometimes mixed together. President Eisenhower asked Director Hoover to brief the Cabinet on racial tensions in early 1956. What the Cabinet received was a report not only on the incidents of violence but also the activities of southern governors and congressmen in groups opposing integration, as well as the role of communists in civil rights lobbying efforts and the NAACP‘s plans to push for legislation.
In November of 1969, Director Hoover established a new program, code name Intelligence Letter (I.N.L.E.T.). Its purpose was to furnish high level intelligence to the president and the attorney general on a continual basis. This letter would include, among other things, information of national or international significance which is security related; important current or pending developments in major security areas; inside information concerning demonstrations, disorders or other civil disruptions which is more than local significance; items with an unusual twist or concerning prominent personalities which may be of special interest to the president or the attorney general.
During the Nixon Administration, the Bureau, thus, established a formal program to provide political intelligence to the president.
Presidents also abused the investigative powers of the F.B.I. with little or no resistance from the Bureau. During the Kennedy Administration, when U.S. Steel attempted to raise its prices over the administration’s objections, there were late night and early morning interviews to harass the steel company executives and reporters who had written stories about the subject by F.B.I. agents.
In 1962, Attorney General Robert Kennedy authorized wiretaps on New York Times reporter Hanson Baldwin and his secretary to investigate leaks of classified information.
In 1966, President Johnson‘s assistant Marvin Watson requested that the F.B.I. monitor the televised hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Vietnam, and prepare a memorandum comparing the statements of Senators Fulbright and Morse with the Communist Party line.
President Johnson directly requested Cartha DeLoach, an F.B.I. executive, that the F.B.I. pass to the White House purely political intelligence about United States senators, which was obtained as a by-product of otherwise legitimate national security electronic surveillance of foreign intelligence targets. This practice was continued under the Nixon Administration at the request of H. R. Haldeman. Perhaps the greatest abuse of the F.B.I.’s powers occurred under the Johnson Administration. The abuse was the surveillance of the 1964 Democratic National Convention at Atlantic City.
According to Theodore H. White’s account of the 1964 campaign, the most important single issue that might have disturbed President Johnson at the Atlantic City Convention was the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party‘s challenge. According to one agent’s recollection, one purpose of the Bureau’s operation was “to help avoid embarrassment to the President.” According to a memorandum from C. D. DeLoach:
Through our counterintelligence efforts, Jenkins, et al., were able to advise the President in advance regarding major plans of the MFDP delegates. The White House considered this of prime importance. Through our highly confidential coverage of Martin Luther King … with similar coverage on the headquarters of CORE-SNCC, we were in a position to advise the White House in advance of all plans made by these two sources in an effort to disrupt the orderly progress of the Convention … we disseminated 44 pages of intelligence data to Walter Jenkins. I kept Jenkins and Moyers constantly advised by telephone of minute to minute developments. This enabled them to make spot decisions to adjust Convention plans to meet potential problems before serious trouble developed.
The F.B.I. was aware of the political nature of its coverage. In a letter to William D. Moyers, DeLoach states,
“I’m certainly glad that we were able to come through with vital tidbits from time to time, which were of assistance to you and Walter.”
In May of 1970, Vice-President Spiro Agnew requested derogatory public information and other allegations about Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The vice president said he thought he was going to have to start destroying Abernathy‘s credibility. G. C. Moore prepared a memorandum to the vice president, that included derogatory information about Abernathy‘s private life and his support of the Black Panther Party … [and that] on May 18, 1970, Abernathy announced a march against violence, brutality and killing to be held in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday, May 23, 1970. Abernathy said that the names of the nation’s ten most unwanted politicians will be revealed during this march.
Another manner in which the F.B.I. did the president’s bidding was through the name check. An examination of these “name check” reports shows the peculiarly damaging nature of the Bureau’s practice. No new investigation was done to verify the allegations stored away for years in F.B.I.’s files. Anything anyone ever told the F.B.I. about the individual was pulled together, including charges that the Bureau may never have substantiated. F.B.I. files inevitably include misinformation or mistakes.
President Johnson asked for name check reports on at least seven other journalists, including NBC commentator David Brinkley, Associated press Reporter Peter Arnett, and columnist Joseph Kraft. Also, Richard Nixon’s White House requested a name check on CBS correspondent Daniel Shorr, which the F.B.I. turned into a full field investigation.
In the closing days of the 1964 campaign, Bill Moyers, Johnson’s Press Secretary, asked the Bureau to report on all persons employed in Senator Goldwater‘s office.
President Johnson also requested and received name checks on dozens of persons who signed telegrams critical of U.S. Vietnam policy in 1965. The names of the president’s other critics were also sent to the Bureau to be checked and reported on, as were the names of critics of the Warren Commission. The F.B.I. also volunteered reports on presidential critics.
ip and power was respected by the Bureau; however, its vast control over expertise and information allowed the Bureau to secure its major objectives and interests.
The volunteering of political information proved very valuable to the FBI over many administrations!