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Headline Archives
 
A BYTE OUT OF FBI HISTORY:
FDR Charges The FBI In 1936 to Gather National Security Intelligence

08/25/03

"Mr. President," Director J. Edgar Hoover said to FDR sixty-seven years ago, on August 24, 1936, "there is no government agency compiling such general intelligence [about dangerous organizations in the U.S. with international connections]. Of course, it is not a violation of law to be a member of the Communist Party and we have had no specific authority to make such general investigations."

The President said, "It seems to me there must be some way this could be done, Edgar. Have you any suggestions?"

"Yes, there is a way," Hoover said. "In the Appropriation Act under which we operate, the FBI has authority to undertake an investigation for the Department of State when requested to do so by the Secretary of State. We could make the investigation should the Secretary request it of the Attorney General."

Roosevelt frowned. He said it seemed rather odd to him that the President couldn't make such a request himself…

"I want you to come back tomorrow and talk this over with Cordell [Secretary of State Hull] and me," Roosevelt said.

This conversation, reconstructed by historian Don Whitehead in The FBI Story: A Report to the People (New York: Random House, 1956), captures President Roosevelt’s response to potential threats to national security posed by communist and fascist groups in the U.S.—each of which claimed more that a million members—as well the activities of diplomats like Constantin Oumansky, a Soviet Official.

Hoover returned the next day and received Secretary Hull’s request that the FBI investigate the foreign connections of domestic communist and fascist groups. And on September 1, the President, Secretary of State and Director reached final agreement on the request and related matters. Hoover issued orders to make such an investigation and, upon the Attorney General’s return from vacation, informed him of the President’s directive.

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