FBI Chief Planned Mass Jailing

NY Times, December 23, 2007

Hoover Planned Mass Jailing in 1950

(See Ellsberg: Attacking Iran will complete the US conversion to a police state.)

(Also see KBR awarded Homeland Security contract worth up to $385M)


A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Amer-icans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.

“In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus,” it said.

Habeas corpus, the right to seek relief from illegal detention, has been a fundamental principle of law for seven centuries. The Bush administration’s decision to hold suspects for years at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has made habeas corpus a contentious issue for Congress and the Supreme Court today.

The Constitution says habeas corpus shall not be suspended “unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.” The plan proposed by Hoover, the head of the F.B.I. from 1924 to 1972, stretched that clause to include “threatened invasion” or “attack upon United States troops in legally occupied territory.”

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush issued an order that effectively al-lowed the United States to hold suspects indefinitely without a hearing, a lawyer, or formal charges. In September 2006, Congress passed a law suspending habeas corpus for anyone deemed an “unlawful enemy combatant.”

But the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the right of American citizens to seek a writ of habeas corpus. This month the court heard arguments on whether about 300 foreigners held at Guan-tánamo Bay had the same rights. It is expected to rule by next summer.

Hoover’s plan was declassified Friday as part of a collection of cold-war documents concerning intelligence issues from 1950 to 1955. The collection makes up a new volume of “The Foreign Relations of the United States,” a series that by law has been published continuously by the State Department since the Civil War.

Hoover’s plan called for “the permanent detention” of the roughly 12,000 suspects at military bases as well as in federal prisons. The F.B.I., he said, had found that the arrests it proposed in New York and California would cause the prisons there to overflow.

So the bureau had arranged for “detention in military facilities of the individuals apprehended” in those states, he wrote.

The prisoners eventually would have had a right to a hearing under the Hoover plan. The hear-ing board would have been a panel made up of one judge and two citizens. But the hearings “will not be bound by the rules of evidence,” his letter noted.

The only modern precedent for Hoover’s plan was the Palmer Raids of 1920, named after the attorney general at the time. The raids, executed in large part by Hoover’s intelligence division, swept up thousands of people suspected of being communists and radicals.

Previously declassified documents show that the F.B.I.’s “security index” of suspect Americans predated the cold war. In March 1946, Hoover sought the authority to detain Americans “who might be dangerous” if the United States went to war. In August 1948, Attorney General Tom Clark gave the F.B.I. the power to make a master list of such people.

Hoover’s July 1950 letter was addressed to Sidney W. Souers, who had served as the first di-rector of central intelligence and was then a special national-security assistant to Truman. The plan also was sent to the executive secretary of the National Security Council, whose members were the president, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and the military chiefs.

In September 1950, Congress passed and the president signed a law authorizing the detention of “dangerous radicals” if the president declared a national emergency. Truman did declare such an emergency in December 1950, after China entered the Korean War. But no known evidence suggests he or any other president approved any part of Hoover’s proposal.

2 Responses to “FBI Chief Planned Mass Jailing”

  1. 1 S. A. Weiss December 28, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    It is most fascinating that the NY Times chose to write about Hoover’s plan for mass jailing in 1950 but refuses to write about the actual execution of Hoover’s mass jailing in 1941 isn’t it? Does the NY Times believe the public is more interested in Hoover’s PROPOSED plans to intern American citizens and legal residents than the actual reality of interning 15,000 European American citizens and legal residents that occurred during WWII? The mechanics of Hoover’s proposed plan during the cold war was identical to the actual plan that was carried out on European Americans, labor leaders, communists and so called radicals just a decade earlier. A custodial index was compiled as early as 1936 to supposedly “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security. The arrests were carried out all over the country under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau. There were over 50 Department of Justice internment camps during WWII. These camps are different than the relocation camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated.

    For over 60 years, internees, family, friends and constitutional defenders, have pushed for a congressional examination of “selective internment” policies used against mostly innocent citizens and immigrants during WWII. But how do you influence legislators to investigate a program cloaked in secrecy, when there are only a few hundred victims alive and they are dispersed across political districts throughout the US? Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that both political parties are complicit in the cover up of WWII “selective” internment. Honestly, neither party wants to expose this chapter of history, which is more concerning than the actual event because it confirms the collaboration between the parties. That coupled with total media silence demonstrates there is a lot to hide from the public. Ask the question, why is the NY Times more interested in writing about a plan not executed than one that was?

    Even with actual FBI records obtained through FOI requests we can not get the media to expose this story. Unfortunately,without exposure we do not have the political clout to influence legislators to establish a commission to investigate this chapter of American history. Why is this 60 year old history important? Rendition, black sites,Guantanamo are all modeled after earlier programs but modified to become more secretive, these programs are not designed for public safety but for control of populations.

    For more information on European American internment during WWII visit the following websites:


  1. 1 Obama: Where do you stand on Civil Liberties? « SF Gray Panthers Trackback on February 1, 2008 at 5:33 pm

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