America: 1945 - 1960's
February 1946 Stalin gave a public address in which
he implied that future wars were inevitable until
Communism replaced capitalism worldwide. Events in
Europe and North America convinced Congress that
Stalin was well on his way to achieving his goal.
The Russian veto prevented the United Nations from
curbing Soviet expansion under its auspices.
feared Communist expansion was not limited to Europe.
By 1947, ample evidence existed that pro-Soviet individuals
had infiltrated the American Government. In June,
1945, the FBI raided the offices of Amerasia, a magazine
concerned with the Far East, and discovered a large
number of classified State Department documents.
Several months later the Canadians arrested 22 people
for trying to steal atomic secrets. Previously, Americans
felt secure behind their monopoly of the atomic bomb.
Fear of a Russian bomb now came to dominate American
thinking. The Soviets detonated their own bomb in
the Communist threat became a paramount focus of
government at all levels, as well as the private
sector. While U.S. foreign policy concentrated on
defeating Communist expansion abroad, many U.S. citizens
sought to defeat the Communist threat at home. The
American Communist Party worked through front organizations
or influenced other Americans who agreed with their
current propaganda ("fellow travelers").
1917, the FBI and its predecessor agencies had investigated
suspected acts of espionage and sabotage. In 1939
and again in 1943, Presidential directives had authorized
the FBI to carry out investigations of threats to
national security. This role was clarified and expanded
under Presidents Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Any public or private agency or individual with information
about subversive activities
was urged to report it to the FBI. A poster to that
effect was distributed to police departments throughout
the country. At the same time, it warned Americans
to "avoid reporting malicious gossip or idle
rumors." The FBI's authority to conduct background
investigations on present and prospective government
employees also expanded dramatically in the postwar
years. The 1946 Atomic Energy Act gave the FBI "responsibility
for determining the loyalty of individuals ...having
access to restricted Atomic Energy data." Later,
executive orders from both Presidents Truman and
Eisenhower (pictured right, presenting National Security
Medal to J. Edgar Hoover) gave the FBI responsibility
for investigating allegations of disloyalty among
federal employees. In these cases, the agency requesting
the investigation made the final determination; the
FBI only conducted the investigation and reported
the results. Many suspected and convicted spies,
such as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, had been federal
employees. Therefore, background investigations were
considered to be just as vital as cracking major
the threats to the United States of subversion and
espionage, the FBI's extended jurisdiction, and the
time-consuming nature of background investigations,
the Bureau did not surpass the number of Agents it
had during World War II--or its yearly wartime budget--until
the Korean War in the early 1950s. After the Korean
War ended, the number of Agents stabilized at about
6,200, while the budget began a steady climb in 1957.
factors converged to undermine domestic Communism
in the 1950s. Situations like the Soviet defeat of
the Hungarian rebellion in 1956 caused many members
to abandon the American Communist Party. However,
the FBI also played a role in diminishing Party influence.
The Bureau was responsible for the investigation
and arrest of alleged spies and Smith Act violators,
most of whom were convicted. Through Hoover's speeches,
articles, testimony, and books like Masters of Deceit,
the FBI helped alert the public to the Communist
The FBI's role in fighting
crime also expanded in the postwar period through
its assistance to state and local law enforcement
and through increased jurisdictional responsibility.
On March 14, 1950, the FBI began its "Ten Most
Wanted Fugitives" List to increase law enforcement's
ability to capture dangerous fugitives. Advances
in forensic science and technical development enabled
the FBI to devote a significant proportion of its
resources to assisting state and local law enforcement
dramatic example of aid to a state occurred after
the midair explosion of a plane over Colorado in
1955. The FBI Laboratory examined hundreds of airplane
parts, pieces of cargo, and the personal effects
of passengers. It pieced together evidence of a bomb
explosion from passenger luggage, then painstakingly
looked into the backgrounds of the 44 victims. Ultimately,
Agents identified the perpetrator and secured his
confession, then turned the case over to Colorado
authorities who successfully prosecuted it in a state
the same time, Congress gave the FBI new federal
laws with which to fight civil rights violations,
racketeering, and gambling. These new laws included
the Civil Rights Acts of 1960 and 1964; the 1961
Crimes Aboard Aircraft Act; an expanded Federal Fugitive
Act; and the Sports Bribery Act of 1964.
to this time, the interpretation of federal civil
rights statutes by the Supreme Court was so narrow
that few crimes, however heinous, qualified to be
investigated by federal agents.
turning point in federal civil rights actions occurred
in the summer of 1964, with the murder of voting
registration workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman,
and James Chaney near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
At the Department of Justice's request, the FBI conducted
the investigation as it had in previous, less-publicized
racial incidents. The case against the perpetrators
took years to go through the courts. Only after 1966,
when the Supreme Court made it clear that federal
law could be used to prosecute civil rights violations,
were seven men found guilty. By the late 1960s, the
confluence of unambiguous federal authority and local
support for civil rights prosecutions allowed the
FBI to play an influential role in enabling African
Americans to vote, serve on juries, and use public
accommodations on an equal basis.
civil rights investigations included the assasination
of Martin Luther King, Jr., with the arrest of James
Earl Ray, and the murder of Medger Evers, Mississippi
Field Secretary of the NAACP, with the arrest of
Byron De La Beckwith who, after two acquittals, was
finally found guilty in 1994.
of the FBI in organized crime investigations also
was hampered by the lack of possible federal laws
covering crimes perpetrated by racketeers. After
Prohibition, many mob activities were carried out
locally, or if interstate, they did not constitute
major violations within the Bureau's jurisdiction.
impetus for federal legislation occurred in 1957
with the discovery by Sergeant Croswell of the New
York State Police that many of the best known mobsters
in the United States had met together in upstate
New York. The FBI collected information on all the
individuals identified at the meeting, confirming
the existence of a national organized-crime network.
However, it was not until an FBI Agent persuaded
mob insider Joseph Valachi to testify that the public
learned firsthand of the nature of La Cosa Nostra,
the American "mafia."
the heels of Valachi's disclosures, Congress passed
two new laws to strengthen federal racketeering and
gambling statutes that had been passed in the 1950s
and early 1960s to aid the Bureau's fight against
mob influence. The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe
Streets Act of 1968 provided for the use of court-ordered
electronic surveillance in the investigation of certain
specified violations. The Racketeer Influenced and
Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Statute of 1970 allowed
organized groups to be prosecuted for all of their
diverse criminal activities, without the crimes being
linked by a perpetrator or all-encompassing conspiracy.
Along with greater use of Agents for undercover work
by the late 1970s, these provisions helped the FBI
develop cases that, in the 1980s, put almost all
the major traditional crime family heads in prison.
the end of the 1960s, the Bureau employed 6,703 Special
Agents and 9,320 Support Personnel in 58 field offices
and twelve Legal Attache offices.
national tragedy produced another expansion of FBI
jurisdiction. When President Kennedy was assassinated,
the crime was a local homicide; no federal law addressed
the murder of a President. Nevertheless, President
Lyndon B. Johnson tasked the Bureau with conducting
the investigation. Congress then passed a new law
to ensure that any such act in the future would be
a federal crime.