Government Agency

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

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Known as the Bureau of Investigation until 1935, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was created within the Department of Justice in 1908, in defiance of a prior refusal by Congress to fund it. One lawmaker had predicted that the Bureau would become a “central police or spy system in the federal government” and said there would be a “great blow to freedom and free institutions if there should arise in this country any such great central secret-service bureau as there is in Russia.” J. Edgar Hoover became director of the Bureau in 1924, remained at the job until 1972, and is credited in an official FBI history with turning it into an “organized, professional, and effective force.” 1 2

Until the mid-1970s, the FBI routinely made use of illegal intelligence-gathering tactics, such as breaking and entering, stealing documents, and warrantless wiretapping. These tactics and more were used in the Bureau’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO). A 1976 U.S. Senate investigation concluded that COINTELPRO was a “sophisticated vigilante operation” using techniques that were “adopted wholesale from wartime counterintelligence.” The Senate reported that COINTELPRO actions included harassment that was both “degrading (sending anonymous poison-pen letters intended to break up marriages)” and “dangerous (encouraging gang warfare and falsely labeling members of a violent group as police informers).” Targets of COINTELPRO included Martin Luther King, Jr., the Ku Klux Klan, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA),, and the Weather Underground. 3 4

From the birth of the Soviet Union through the end of the Cold War, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) was a directly controlled appendage of Soviet espionage. Then-FBI Director Hoover’s preference was always to place Soviet spying and CPUSA assistance at the center of the Bureau’s counterintelligence work. According to the historians who wrote Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, the Bureau was able to “shatter Soviet intelligence in America” when permitted to turn its full attention to the CPUSA and Soviet spies. However, according to the FBI’s official historian, Hoover’s priorities were frustrated in the years prior to and during most of World War II by “a lack of concern in the Roosevelt administration towards Soviet spying.” The spy networks that ultimately stole atomic-bomb secrets on behalf of the Soviets grew during the Roosevelt-directed hiatus. The Spies historians estimated that the Soviet Union acquired atomic weapons 2-4 years sooner because of the stolen shortcuts and that it was “reasonably certain” this changed history because the first Soviet atomic weapons were controlled by dictator Joseph Stalin rather than “one of his less aggressive successors.” 5 6

Until 1978, the FBI did not prioritize investigating and eradicating organized-crime syndicates. The reason, according to New York Times organized-crime reporter Selwyn Raab, was FBI Director Hoover’s fear that agents could be too easily corrupted by the riches of the criminals they would be pursuing. A sustained FBI effort to attack organized crime was implemented after 1978, and by 1990, the Bureau had inflicted major damage on the leadership and effectiveness of what until then had been the nation’s most-powerful mafia groups. 7 8

Terrorism, both foreign and domestic, became a major FBI priority during the 1980s. Federal legislation passed in 1984 granted the FBI authority to pursue terrorism suspects who had attacked Americans outside the United States. 9 The FBI’s centennial history characterized the period before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a “failure of imagination” that demonstrated the Bureau “needed to become adept at preventing terrorist attacks, not just investigating them after the fact.” 10  On July 26, 2001, an FBI counterterrorism official told a U.S. House committee that “FBI investigation and analysis indicates that the threat of terrorism in the United States is low.” 11 Beginning less than a month before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, FBI agents at the field office in Minneapolis attempted and failed dozens of times to persuade FBI headquarters to obtain search warrants against Zacarias Moussaoui, a suspect who was seeking flying lessons under suspicious circumstances. Moussaoui was later revealed to be part of the September 11 terror plots. In one memo, a frustrated Minneapolis agent told FBI headquarters she did not want Moussaoui to “take control of a plane and fly it into the World Trade Center.” An FBI headquarters official replied: “That’s not going to happen.” 12

Examples of additional recent major controversies involving the FBI include the investigation of baseless allegations that former President Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign team colluded with the Russian government; 13 14 15 the Bureau’s failure to investigate sexual-assault complaints made by USA Gymnastics in 2015 against former team physician Larry Nassar; 16 17 trial evidence of FBI entrapment that led to the acquittal of two suspects in an alleged 2020 plot to kidnap the Michigan governor; 18 19 20 and revelations from the Twitter Files regarding the Bureau’s role in suppression of users and content on Twitter. 21 22

Early History


The Bureau of Investigation was created within the U. S. Department of Justice in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt administration Attorney General Charles Bonaparte, in defiance of a refusal by Congress to fund it. It was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935. 23

According to journalist and independent FBI historian Tim Weiner, President Theodore Roosevelt had asked for an investigative division within the Justice Department that was answerable directly to the attorney general. The attorney general requested funding for a “small” and “carefully selected” detective force from Congress, though it refused to appropriate the money. 24

Weiner wrote that many lawmakers feared the creation of a “secret police.” A U.S. Representative from Kentucky believed the force would engage in “spying on men and prying into what would ordinarily be considered their private affairs” and violating the “American ideas of government.” One New York lawmaker warned it would become a “central police or spy system in the federal government” and said there would be a “great blow to freedom and free institutions if there should arise in this country any such great central secret-service bureau as there is in Russia.” 25

The attorney general waited until Congress went into recess for the summer and then used his existing budget to hire 34 agents, some from the U.S. Secret Service, to begin building the investigative force that Congress had opposed. 26

Early Years

The Bureau was a “shadow of its future self” during its first 15 years, according to an official FBI history published on the Bureau’s website: 27

It was not yet strong enough to withstand the sometimes corrupting influence of patronage politics on hiring, promotions, and transfers. New agents received limited training and were sometimes undisciplined and poorly managed. The story is told, for example, of a Philadelphia agent who was for years allowed to split time between doing his job and tending his cranberry bog. 28

Scandal was also a frequent affliction: 29

In the early twenties, the agency was no model of efficiency. It had a growing reputation for politicized investigations. In 1923, in the midst of the Teapot Dome scandal that rocked the Harding Administration, the nation learned that Department of Justice officials had sent Bureau agents to spy on members of Congress who had opposed its policies. 30

Edgar Hoover joined the Department of Justice in 1917 and two years later, was placed in charge of the newly created “General Intelligence Division,” colloquially known as the “Radical Division.” An official FBI online biography of Hoover states that the purpose of the division “was to gather intelligence about terrorist threats and determine whether or not they were connected to foreign revolutionary movements.” 31

The centennial history of the FBI describes various violent left-wing groups and individuals at large during the era: 32

The Bolsheviks had taken over Russia in 1917, and Americans soon became nervous about its talk of worldwide revolution, especially in the face of its own widespread labor and economic unrest. A wave of intolerance and even injustice spread across the nation not only against communists but also against other radicals like the “Wobblies,” a sometimes violent labor union group called the Industrial Workers of the World. When anarchists launched a series of bombing attacks on national leaders in 1919 and 1920, a full-blown “Red Scare” was on. 33

Independent historian Tim Weiner wrote that in August 1919, responding to a series of bombings by left-wing anarchists targeting government officials during the year, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer ordered Hoover to “crush the Communist conspiracy against the United States.” Hoover’s response, according to Weiner, consisted of “the biggest mass arrests in American history,” which began on January 2, 1920. 34

“They went down in history as the Palmer raids,” wrote Weiner. “But Palmer neither organized nor directed them. Hoover did.” 35

Weiner estimated that between 6,000 to 10,000 members of the Communist Party USA and other suspected subversives were arrested during the ensuing week. Many arrests and raids of private premises were conducted without warrants or probable cause of criminal wrongdoing. 36

According to the FBI’s history of the Palmer Raids: “The constitutionality of the entire operation was questioned, and Palmer and Hoover were roundly criticized for the plan and for their overzealous domestic security efforts.” The Bureau concluded, “The ‘Palmer Raids’ were certainly not a bright spot for the young Bureau.” 37

J. Edgar Hoover Era Begins

Edgar Hoover was promoted to assistant director of the Bureau in 1921 and to director in 1924, remaining in that position until his death in May 1972. 38

The official centennial history of the FBI credits Hoover with professionalizing the Bureau: 39

At the outset, the 29-year-old Hoover was determined to reform the Bureau, quickly and thoroughly, to make it a model of professionalism. He did so by weeding out the “political hacks” and incompetents, laying down a strict code of conduct for agents, and instituting regular inspections of Headquarters and field operations. He insisted on rigorous hiring criteria, including background checks, interviews, and physical tests for all special agent applicants, and in January 1928, he launched the first formal training for incoming agents, a two-month course of instruction and practical exercises in Washington, D.C. Under Hoover’s direction, new agents were also required to be 25 to 35 years old, preferably with experience in law or accounting.

When Hoover took over in 1924, the Bureau had about 650 employees, including 441 special agents. In five years, with the rash of firings it had just 339 special agents and less than 600 total employees. But it was beginning to become the organized, professional, and effective force that Hoover envisioned. 40

Collecting fingerprints from crime scenes and using the evidence to identify (or exonerate) suspects was a still-new science in the 1920s and the Hoover-led Bureau of Investigation became a central national repository for fingerprint files. By 1946, the FBI had amassed more than 100 million fingerprint file cards. Additional Bureau functions added throughout the late 1920s and 1930s include the creation of a crime lab to examine evidence and the collection and dissemination of national crime statistics. The Bureau’s training academy was also opened during this period. 41 42

“By 1933,” according to the FBI’s history, “an assortment of dangerous and criminally prolific gangsters was wreaking havoc across America, especially in the Midwest.” The violent crime sprees of bank robbers and kidnappers such as John Dillinger, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were sometimes being glamorized in the media. 43

The FBI history recounts this as a turning point for the Bureau’s crime fighting agenda: 44

Using whatever federal laws it could hang its hat on, the Bureau turned its full attention to catching these gangsters. And despite some stumbles along the way, the successes began to add up. By the end of 1934, most of these public enemies had been killed or captured. 45

President Franklin Roosevelt and Attorney General Homer Stille Cummings made the national crime spree their own priority in 1934. They asked for, and Congress approved, new legislation making offenses such as racketeering, kidnapping, extortion, and bank robbery into federal crimes. To investigate and enforce these new federal offenses, FBI agents were empowered to make arrests based on those new federal offenses and to carry firearms. In 1935, the Bureau of Investigation was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 46

World War II

Counterintelligence Against Axis Powers

Though the United States would not enter World War II until December 1941, an official FBI history reported that the “intelligence arms of the Army and Navy had noticed increased activity by German and Japanese spies in the late 1930s and began working with the Bureau to disrupt it.” 47

In May 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the FBI to build a counterintelligence program targeting spies and domestic allies of what would become the Axis powers. One organization that attracted the FBI’s attention was the German-American Bund, an avowedly pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic group that operated openly during the late 1930s and claimed a membership of 100,000. The New York Times reported in February 1939 that a Bund rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City had drawn 20,000 attendees and that the Bund had chapters in 80 cities. According to the Times account, speakers at the Madison Square Garden rally referred to Roosevelt as “President Rosenfeld” and called his “New Deal” economic policies the “Jew Deal.” 48 49

The Bureau’s official history claims 50 Axis spies were apprehended before the United States went to war against Germany and Japan in December 1941. 50 FBI historian Tim Weiner wrote that by the summer of 1943, German espionage outside of the war theater in Europe was “dying out.” Allied forces successfully invaded Italy in 1943 and began to threaten Nazi control of Europe. 51

Duquesne Spy Ring

In September 1939, German-American citizen William Sebold visited Germany to see his mother. Sebold had been living in the United States since 1921. During his visit, Nazi intelligence agents repeatedly confronted Sebold to convince him to return to America and become a courier for their espionage network. Fearing for the safety of his mother and other family still living in Germany, Sebold told the German agents he would help them. 52

Instead, he alerted American authorities to the plot and offered to become a double agent for the FBI. Working together on the ruse during a period of 16 months, Sebold and the FBI’s efforts ultimately led to the arrest and successful prosecution of 33 members of a Nazi espionage cell colloquially known as the Duquesne Spy Ring after its leader, Frederick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne. Described by the FBI as “vehemently anti-British,” Duquesne was a native South African who became a naturalized American citizen in 1913 and then a spy for Germany. Thanks to the investigation set in motion by Sebold, Duquesne was convicted on espionage charges and received an 18-year prison sentence. 53

While in Germany, Sebold had been taught spy tradecraft by the Nazis, including the codes necessary to send secret messages from the United States. After his return in early 1940, the FBI established a headquarters for Sebold in New York City and conducted extensive surveillance of both his personal meetings with members of the spy ring and the messages passed back and forth between them and German intelligence. 54

The FBI history credits Sebold with “masterful acting” in his role as a double agent. With the FBI’s help, Sebold established a supposedly secure short-wave radio contact with the Nazis. For more than two years, the unwitting targets in Germany and the FBI (impersonating Sebold) exchanged hundreds of messages back and forth in the furtherance of what the Germans mistakenly believed to be a very successful espionage penetration of the United States. 55

The operation allowed the FBI to interdict attempts to steal American military secrets and bomb plots to sabotage American infrastructure. After building its case and establishing the size of the Duquesne Spy Ring, the FBI made 33 arrests and obtained either guilty pleas or convictions against all of them. The average prison sentence was more than 9 years. 56

All 33 members were sentenced by January 2, 1942, less than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II. The FBI’s own assessment of the event is that the busting of the Duquesne Spy Ring allowed the United States to begin the war with the assurance that “no major German espionage network” was “hidden in U.S. society.” 57

Interdiction of Nazi Saboteurs

In late May and June 1942, two German submarines dropped a pair of four-man sabotage teams off the coasts of Florida and New York. All eight were Germans who had lived in the United States. Their mission was to destroy American war materiel production and the transportation necessary to bring it to the battlefield. They brought with them equipment and more than $175,000 ($3.1 million in 2022 dollars). 58

All eight were captured before the end of June and before committing any acts of sabotage. The plan was foiled shortly after the teams landed when George Dasch, the team leader for one of the four-man groups, decided to turn himself in to the FBI and help the Bureau round up the rest of the German agents. 59

Initially sentenced to death by a military tribunal, Dasch was later given a 30-year prison sentence. Dasch had consulted with a subordinate member of his team about his plan to speak to the FBI. The subordinate received a sentence of life in prison. The other six agents exposed by Dasch were executed on August 8, 1942. 60

An official FBI history claims that this case put an end to German sabotage attempts before they began: “Although many allegations of sabotage were investigated by the FBI during World War II, not one instance was found of enemy-inspired sabotage.” 61

Independent FBI historian Tim Weiner, author of Enemies: A History of the FBI, wrote that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover initially concealed the assistance of Dasch from both President Franklin Roosevelt and the American people, and exaggerated the contribution of the Bureau: 62

Hoover shaped the story of the Nazi saboteurs. The way he told it to the president and, eventually, the press, Dasch never defected, Dasch never walked into FBI headquarters. Dasch never told all. Writing to Roosevelt, Hoover claimed that Dasch had been apprehended by the FBI on June 22, which was four days after he turned himself in. 63

At their secret military tribunal, all eight men confessed and claimed they had no intent to complete their mission. President Roosevelt approved the death sentences for all of them but was persuaded by the attorney general to reduce the penalties for Dasch and his collaborator. Dasch, according to Weiner, was then locked up in solitary confinement “where no one could hear his story.” 64

Weiner wrote that the secrecy of the judicial process and the FBI’s ability to control the story led to positive public relations for the Bureau: “The publicity was great: the American people universally believed that the Bureau had broken the case by itself. They knew nothing about the defection and confession of George Dasch.” 65

In April 1948, President Harry Truman granted clemency to Dasch and the other would-be saboteur, on the condition that they not return to the United States. They were freed and deported to Germany. 66

Special Intelligence Service

By 1940, a large diaspora of Germans had settled in Central and South America, more than 500,000 in Brazil and Argentina alone, according to an official FBI history. The Bureau history alleged that “many” of them were “supporters of the Third Reich.” FBI historian Tim Weiner reported that a combined one million citizens from the two major Axis powers of Germany and Japan were residing in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru during this era. Many of them ran mines that produced important war materials or controlled means of transporting those resources. 67 68

In May 1940, using secret funding from President Roosevelt, the FBI created the Special Intelligence Service (SIS) program to gather intelligence on and interdict Axis espionage in the Western Hemisphere. Through the end of World War II, SIS placed hundreds of undercover agents in Central and South America. Cover aliases used by agents in Latin America included magazine reporters, stockbrokers, and executives of several large American firms such as U.S. Steel and the United Fruit Company. 69 70

An official FBI history claimed SIS “served the nation well,” and was “one of the least well known success stories in Bureau history.” 71

According to the FBI: 72

By 1946, it [SIS agents] had identified 887 Axis spies, 281 propaganda agents, 222 agents smuggling strategic war materials, 30 saboteurs, and 97 other agents. It had located 24 secret Axis radio stations and confiscated 40 radio transmitters and 18 receiving sets. And the FBI had even used some of these radio networks to pass false and misleading information back to Nazi Germany. 73

The FBI history also conceded that in the beginning, SIS experienced a “significant learning curve” because “it took some time for the FBI to get undercover operatives in place and to master the languages.” 74

Weiner cited evidence and direct quotes from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and an earlier, secret FBI history of the SIS to demonstrate the program’s early challenges endured rather than resolved. 75

Noting an 80 percent overall increase in total FBI staffing during World War II, Weiner wrote that “the number whose training and experience qualified them to serve in the Special Intelligence Service was vanishingly small.” During his first year on the job, the manager of the SIS program identified only 25 truly qualified agents. 76

Weiner quoted the reaction of a disappointed FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: “We certainly picked some fine lemons in our original selection for SIS.” 77

In February 1941, according to Weiner, the head of SIS returned from a tour of his stations in Latin Americas and handed Hoover a “dismal” assessment of agents “floundering” and with “no idea of where they were, or what they were supposed to do.” The next month, the FBI director unsuccessfully attempted to offload the program to the two military intelligence services (the CIA had not yet been created). Weeks later, in a subsequent attempt to get rid of SIS, Hoover said “the Bureau is marking time in so far as any extension of its coverage in the Latin Americas is concerned.” 78

According to the secret FBI history of the SIS, quoted by Weiner, “substantial payments” provided to local informants in Latin America led to a “thriving trade” of selling a wide variety of true, totally false, and embellished stories to a seller’s market of both American SIS and British intelligence agents. The secret history observed that “quite early in the game,” the paid informants discovered that they “could increase their earnings and the sale price of their information, the more startling its nature.” Even though much of the information provided to the SIS turned out to be “based on considerable truth,” the known presence of bad intelligence mixed with good meant it sometimes took months or more before the truth was verified and put to use. 79

In January 1943, the head of SIS died in a plane crash in South America. By that point, wrote Weiner, SIS had “583 FBI agents but was still struggling to achieve its mission.” 80

In response to the loss of his SIS chief, Hoover renewed his effort to transfer responsibility for the program away from his FBI. Writing to the head of U.S. Army intelligence, Hoover offered to give it to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS): “I am most anxious and willing to withdraw entirely and completely from the Latin Americas.” 81

The OSS was created and headed by General William “Wild Bill” Donovan. Hoover and Donovan had disliked one another since the 1920s, wrote Weiner, and their bureaucratic animosity continued beyond the conclusion of World War II. 82

Quoting the FBI’s later history that claimed hundreds of Axis agents arrested and dozens of Nazi spy ring radio stations had been compromised, Weiner wrote: “Hoover stole the credit that rightfully belonged to the Radio Intelligence Division (RID) of the Federal Communications Commission.” 83

The FBI disbanded the Special Intelligence Service in July 1946. 84

Illegal Intelligence Gathering

Through most of the 48 years that J. Edgar Hoover led the FBI, it routinely made use of illegal and secret intelligence gathering tactics such as breaking and entering, stealing documents, and warrantless wiretapping. Most presidents Hoover worked for tacitly endorsed these methods. Some, such as Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, were more skeptical, but did not stop them or remove Hoover. 85

At Hoover’s direction, the FBI drew a distinction between its work as a law-enforcement agency (that built cases against those who committed crimes) and an intelligence agency (that aimed to interdict espionage and violence before it occurred). 86

Because it was unlawfully obtained, information from break-ins and wiretaps could not be used in a prosecution. Its value was rather in adding to the Bureau’s extensive records on those it considered to be espionage or subversive threats against the nation. 87

The illegal intelligence was compiled in raw files that were kept secret from the public. These files contained both substantiated allegations and unsubstantiated gossip. The information was obtained through illegal surveillance, reports from agents and informants, public documents, and whatever else the Bureau could use to keep tabs on suspected subversives. 88

Illegal intelligence gathering was used against targets such as the Communist Party USA, embassies and consulates of the Soviet Union, organized-crime figures, the Ku Klux Klan, family members of the Weather Underground, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his allies, political dissidents, and every other major investigative priority the Bureau adopted. 89

Break-ins and illegal wiretaps

For most of the Hoover era, the FBI illegally obtained intelligence by placing warrantless wiretaps on telephones and recording devices (“bugs”) in buildings. Placing these listening devices usually required the FBI to illegally enter the premises where the device was to be placed. Illegal entries were also used by the FBI to steal or photograph documents possessed by the targets of the Bureau’s investigations. 90

The Communications Act of 1934 established a prohibition on the use of electronic surveillance by law enforcement. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1940 established to the satisfaction of then-U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson that the FBI was no longer permitted to use wiretaps. Over the objections of J. Edgar Hoover, Jackson ordered the FBI to stop using wiretaps. 91

The FBI director argued intelligence gathering through wiretaps was essential for protecting national security. Hoover launched a bureaucratic battle in the spring of 1940 to reestablish the FBI’s permission to continue electronic surveillance, and won the support of Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, a close advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt. The president reversed Jackson’s decision and ordered the FBI to continue using “listening devices” to investigate suspects the Bureau believed could be involved in subversion and espionage against the government. In a separate note to the attorney general, Roosevelt wrote that he was “convinced” by his own reading of the Supreme Court ruling that it was “never intended” for “grave matters involving the defense of the nation.” 92

FBI historian Tim Weiner wrote that Hoover operated as if this order remained valid until Roosevelt or some other president rescinded it, despite the Supreme Court ruling. As a result, Roosevelt’s signed wiretap authorization in 1940 remained FBI policy “for the next quarter of a century,” leading the Bureau to operate at least 8,500 bugs or wiretaps during the era. Weiner wrote that many additional listening devices were likely placed by the FBI, the records of which were later destroyed to protect their secrecy. 93

During March 1956, according to Weiner, Hoover personally briefed President Dwight Eisenhower and the National Security Council on the full range of the FBI’s extra-legal intelligence gathering operations against suspected Soviet spies and American subversives. The briefing explicitly referenced the use of “surreptitious entry” by Bureau agents, a euphemism for an illegal break-in. The meeting notes indicated that the president complimented Hoover on the work and that no further concerns were raised regarding the legality of the FBI’s conduct. 94

Hoover died in 1972. After resigning from office in 1974, former President Richard Nixon gave a formal statement to Congress regarding what he knew of the conduct of the FBI. Nixon stated that shortly after his election, Hoover told him the Bureau had engaged in “warrantless” break-ins and electronic surveillance on behalf of every president from Roosevelt forward. 95

Under oath, Nixon also revealed that Hoover confessed to routinely discontinuing all electronic surveillance prior to his annual testimony before Congress. This allowed the FBI director to prevent public discovery of the policy and avoid lying to Congress when asked if the Bureau was using wiretaps. With the taps shut off for weeks, Hoover could answer with technical sincerity that the Bureau had no wiretaps in place of any kind. After testifying, the director would order all the taps restarted. 96

Nixon stated that Hoover “stonewalled” on questions about wiretaps and was always “technically truthful.” 97

Opening first-class mail

The FBI also opened hundreds of thousands of first-class mail items and packages at post offices in eight large cities. The program was started in 1940, and FBI historian Tim Weiner wrote that, like the break-ins and wiretapping, the mail opening continued uninterrupted for more than 25 years. But unlike warrantless wiretapping, where Hoover had solicited legally dubious permission from presidents for the authority, there is no evidence Hoover ever asked for or was granted permission to open the mail. 98

Weiner wrote that the mail-opening program ultimately allowed the Bureau to identify four Soviet spies and two Americans attempting to sell military secrets to the Soviets. 99

Security Index

In September 1939, following the start of World War II in Europe, the FBI created an index of groups and persons alleged to be participating in “subversive activities, or espionage activities, or any activity that was possibly detrimental to the internal security of the United States.” Agents were ordered to “discreetly” gather information of this nature regarding persons of “German, Italian and Communist sympathies.” According to The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide, the “controlling criteria for these listings was not conduct, but anticipated conduct.” Initially named the “Custodial Detention Index,” the FBI intended for the list to be used by the president as a reference tool to detain alleged subversives. 100

The individuals included in the detention index were sorted into two classes by the FBI. The first group included: “Those to be apprehended and interned immediately upon the outbreak of hostilities between the government of the United States and the Government they service, support, or owe allegiance to.” The second class was: “Those who should be watched carefully at and subsequent to the outbreak of hostilities because their previous activities indicate the possibility but not the probability that they will act in a manner adverse to the best interests of the Government of the United States.” 101

In 1942, following American entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the detention of German, Italian, and Japanese resident aliens determined to be security risks, as well as Japanese citizens regardless of risk assessment. 102

Due to the American alliance with the Soviet Union during the conflict, communists were excluded from the 1942 detention orders. In 1943, U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle declared the FBI list to be “inherently unreliable” and ordered the Bureau to terminate it. 103

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover technically complied with the order by terminating the list that had been used and ceasing to add to it. However, the FBI director also gave the following instruction to his staff: “Henceforth, the cards known as Custodial Detention cards will be known as Security Index.” The agents were instructed to continue the same policy of investigating and adding names to the renamed list, and to keep “strictly confidential” the new name for the old policy. 104

In 1944, an FBI report estimated the Bureau had identified “almost 1,000,000 people” who “knowingly or unknowingly had been drawn into Communist-Front activity.” A history of counterintelligence produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported the FBI’s definition of “Communist-Front activity” was broad, and also “covered entirely lawful domestic political activities.” Examples of lawful political groups investigated as potentially subversive included the NAACP, the right-leaning anti-interventionist “America First” movement, and “left-liberal groups.” 105

The Internal Security Act of 1950 required all Communist-affiliated groups to register with a government control board and expanded the definition of subversion to allow for the imprisonment of those who fit the description. Attorney General J. Howard McGrath retroactively approved the legality of the FBI’s Security Index as a list of suspects to be rounded up for preventive detention. 106

By 1955, the Security Index contained the names of more than 26,000 persons defined as “potentially or actually dangerous.” It was in use until the early 1970s. 107

Responsibilities program

The FBI began giving its raw files alleging leftist inclinations to the leadership of local governments, K-12 schools, and public universities in 1951. Local officials sympathetic to the program used the information to remove faculty and employees reported by the FBI. The program continued for four years until its confidentiality was compromised by some of the officials using the information. 108

Sex Deviates program

LGBT individuals were considered potential security and subversive threats by J. Edgar Hoover. Beginning in 1951, the Bureau began a so-called “Sex Deviates” program aimed at identifying and purging sexual minorities from employment by the federal government, local police, and universities. According to FBI historian Tim Weiner, the FBI’s Sex Deviates files alone grew to more than 300,000 pages. The file contained gossip of this nature regarding 1952 Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson that was leaked by Hoover to political journalists. 109

In 1953, the FBI expanded the Sex Deviates program in response to an order from President Dwight Eisenhower that banned LGBT individuals from government employment. Hoover’s notes from a meeting with Eisenhower on this topic stated they had discussed “the setting up of a list of homosexuals in order that there be some central place to which inquiries might be directed concerning individuals who may apply for government employment or be in government employment ….” The FBI’s registry of suspected “homosexuals” was kept until the mid-1970s. 110

Hoover’s political gossip

Edgar Hoover used FBI intelligence to provide political gossip and opposition research for many of the presidents for whom he worked. FBI historian Tim Weiner wrote that Hoover sent a “steady stream of political intelligence and innuendo about people who opposed the president’s policies” to President Franklin Roosevelt. Some of Roosevelt’s opponents in Congress were included in these reports. In early 1940, Roosevelt sent a note to Hoover, thanking him for the “many interesting and valuable reports” the FBI director had provided. 111

After Roosevelt’s death, Hoover offered similar services to President Harry Truman, including an FBI security review of former Roosevelt staffers and their level of loyalty to the new president. Truman asked for and received a dossier on one White House official suspected of leaking to the media. A wiretap of the aide resulted in the FBI picking up a conversation with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. The investigation led to further wiretaps targeting a major newspaper reporter and a powerful political lawyer, all of whom were discovered to be sources of derogatory gossip regarding Truman. 112

According to Weiner, Truman reported back to Hoover that he was “impressed” by the assistance but took from this a lesson that he couldn’t trust Hoover and began to fear the FBI was “building up a Gestapo.” 113

In July 1960, after John F. Kennedy secured the Democratic presidential nomination, Hoover requested FBI file reports on the nominee. The reports included multiple allegations of infidelity, plus unproven accusations of organized-crime connections. A woman suspected of being a Nazi spy had been under FBI surveillance in 1942 when she was allegedly having an affair with Kennedy, whose voice was heard on calls he made to her wiretapped phone. FBI surveillance later established that Kennedy was having an affair with a woman known to also be having a relationship with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. 114

Presidents Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon also received Hoover’s opposition research on their political opponents. McGeorge Bundy, National Security Advisor to both Kennedy and Johnson, accused Hoover of providing a “sewer” of salacious information flowing to and eagerly read by Johnson. 115


The FBI’s extra-legal intelligence gathering tactics and more were used in its Counter-intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which began in 1956 and continued until its public exposure in 1971. According to FBI historian Tim Weiner, COINTELPRO was created to “instill hate, fear, doubt, and self-destruction within the American Left.” Weiner judged COINTELPRO projects to be “the most ambitious and destructive operations in the history of the FBI.” 116

A sentence on the first page of a 1976 U.S. Senate committee report analyzing the abuses of COINTELPRO summarized the FBI behavior: “The techniques were adopted wholesale from wartime counterintelligence, and ranged from the trivial (mailing reprints of Reader’s Digest articles to college administrators) to the degrading (sending anonymous poison-pen letters intended to break up marriages) and the dangerous (encouraging gang warfare and falsely labeling members of a violent group as police informers).” 117

The Church Committee, named for its chairman, Senator Frank Church (D-ID), produced a report showing there were at least 2,370 individual COINTELPRO operations launched over 15 years by the Bureau against “perceived threats to domestic tranquility.” The thousands of operations fell under five general types of targets: the Communist Party USA and what the Bureau perceived as its allies; the Socialist Workers Party; white hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan; Black Nationalist hate groups such as the Nation of Islam; and New Left groups such as Students for a Democratic Society and its terrorist offshoot, the Weather Underground. 118

The Church Committee report described COINTELRPO generally as “a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence.” 119

The Church Committee found that the Bureau had focused not merely on targets “involved in violent activity” but also attacked “perceived threats to the existing social and political order.” 120

As one example, the committee report noted a COINTELPRO operation wherein “two student participants in a ’free speech’ demonstration was targeted because they defended the use of the classic four-letter-word.” The FBI had made the students COINTELPRO targets because their behavior showed “obvious disregard for decency and established morality.” 121

The report found that some COINTELPRO operations went beyond mere intelligence gathering and included tactics that ranged from harassment to violence. 122

In one example, the Bureau sent an anonymous letter to a violent Chicago street-gang leader informing him that the Black Panther Party had targeted him for an assassination plot. The Church Committee quoted the FBI’s analysis that the letter was intended to “intensify the degree of animosity between the two groups” and cause “retaliatory action which could disrupt the [Black Panther Party] or lead to reprisals against its leadership.” 123

Examples of COINTELPRO harassment included instigating IRS audits to intimidate outspoken university instructors and “contacting an employer to get a target fired.” 124

Cessation of illegal programs

Beginning in 1966, a series of controversies severely curtailed the FBI’s secret intelligence-gathering tactics. This had a significant impact on the Bureau’s effectiveness, according to FBI historian Tim Weiner, who wrote that “from 1966 until 1976 the FBI did not make a single major case of espionage against a Soviet spy.” 125

Congressional and criminal investigations of illegal conduct by the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency began in the mid-1970s, following the Watergate political scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. These probes both exposed past behavior and led to legal and policy prohibitions designed to end future abuses. 126

The systematic illegal behavior by the FBI began to abate in the summer of 1966. An illegal FBI bug was exposed because of a U.S. Supreme Court case involving a powerful lobbyist appealing his conviction for tax evasion. The FBI had illegally broken into the residence of the lobbyist, placed a listening device, and then captured conversations between the lobbyist and his lawyer discussing the case. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tried but failed to prevent disclosure of the bug to the Supreme Court. 127

In July 1966, less than a week after the bug and the FBI’s conduct in the case were publicly revealed, Hoover ordered FBI agents to terminate the Bureau’s use of break-ins and opening first class mail, both of which were intelligence-gathering methods that had been used for decades. The CIA, which had also benefitted from the FBI’s mail-opening program, unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Hoover to revive it. 128

In March 1971, a group of politically motivated thieves operating under the name “Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI” stole documents from an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania. Without providing context to the information, and likely without knowing the context, the Citizens’ Commission forwarded the documents to congressional offices and reporters. 129

Six weeks later, Hoover ended all operations of the still-secret COINTELPRO. Within a year of receiving the stolen FBI documents, a reporter unraveled what the previously mysterious “COINTELPRO” acronym meant and some of the operations involved. 130

Political intelligence gleaned from break-ins, electronic surveillance, and the FBI’s other intelligence-gathering tactics had been used for the benefit of most of President Richard Nixon’s predecessors dating back to Franklin Roosevelt. In particular, FBI investigations had been used to discover the identities of government officials who were leaking information to the media. 131

In the late spring of 1971, following Hoover’s decision to shut down COINTELPRO, Nixon put in motion an effort to revive the discontinued break-ins for the benefit of the White House. Staffers involved in this program were nicknamed the White House “Plumbers,” because it was their job to stop leaks. 132

Edgar Hoover died in May 1972 while in a dispute with President Nixon over whether and when he would be replaced. In June 1972, staffers from the White House Plumbers were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, setting in motion the investigations and revelations that would lead to Nixon’s resignation in August 1974. 133

One of the FBI’s top Soviet espionage specialists later asserted: “Hoover put us out of business in 1966 and 1967 when he placed sharp restrictions on intelligence collection.” The Bureau agent concluded: “I didn’t give a damn about the Black Panthers myself, but I did about the Russians.” 134

Journalist Tim Weiner also reported that the “relentless focus” on non-espionage political dissidents—the work of COINTELPRO—had “drained time and energy away from foreign counterintelligence.” 135

Counterintelligence Against the Soviet Union Before the Cold War


The FBI’s counterintelligence operations against Soviet spies were inseparably and by necessity entwined with the Bureau’s anti-subversive operations directed at the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). According to Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America: “Without the CPUSA, Soviet espionage rings in the United States would have been far, far less effective and widespread. The weakening of Soviet intelligence operations went hand in hand with the weakening of the CPUSA.” 136

Published in 2009, Spies was written by Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, two historians of American communism, and former KGB officer Alexander Vassiliev. The authors source their conclusions to counter-espionage documents released by the U.S. government known as the “Venona” archives, FBI counter-espionage records, and access to declassified KGB archives provided by Russia during a brief period after the fall of the Soviet Union. Klehr and Haynes were the first American historians after the end of the Cold War to examine Communist International (Comintern) and CPUSA materials held in Russian archives. 137

The American-produced Venona reports reveal the involvement of hundreds of people from the CPUSA in espionage activities, beginning in the late 1920s and continuing into the early Cold War. 138 According to Spies, the CPUSA was “an auxiliary service to Soviet intelligence” and its “leadership in the 1930s and 1940s willingly placed the party’s organizational resources and a significant number of its key cadres at the service of the espionage agencies of a foreign power.” 139

Because of this, the authors concluded that it “was no witch hunt that led American counterintelligence officials to investigate government employees and others with access to sensitive information for Communist ties after they became cognizant of the extent of Soviet espionage and the crucial role played in it by the CPUSA.” Once the FBI “turned its full attention” to this challenge, the “full-court press against the CPUSA” helped it temporarily “shatter Soviet intelligence in America.” 140

Maurice Isserman, another historian cited by Haynes and Klehr, wrote in 1999 that it was “abundantly clear that the Soviet Union recruited most of its spies in the United States in the years leading up to and during World War II from the ranks of the Communist Party or among its close sympathizers—an effort in which top party leaders were intimately involved.” 141

The CPUSA was implicated in activities such as recruiting potential spies and sources, running background checks on individuals the Soviets were targeting as potential sources, providing safe houses and forged passports, and creating businesses and jobs to provide cover stories for Soviet spies. 142

The most senior CPUSA official implicated was Earl Browder, a high-ranking CPUSA officer during most of the time that the CPUSA cooperated with Soviet espionage agencies. Browder was also the top leader (chairman) of the CPUSA from 1934-1945. A KGB memo from 1946 credits Browder with recruiting 18 agents for that Soviet espionage agency, and others for the GRU, the Soviet Union’s military intelligence branch. 143

In another KGB document from 1942, CPUSA officer Eugene Dennis sent a memo to the KGB that discussed placing CPUSA members into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Dennis was then the second in command to Browder at the CPUSA and would later replace Browder as the CPUSA general secretary. Separately and many years earlier, Louis Budenz implicated Dennis in a project to place communists within the OSS. Budenz was another CPUSA member who had spied for the Soviets and then in the late 1940s became an FBI informant. 144

“Earl Browder, Eugene Dennis and other senior CPUSA officials,” wrote Klehr and Haynes in 2006, “were not only aware of cooperation with Soviet intelligence but supervised it, promoted it, and ordered subordinate party officers to assist.” 145

Communist Party USA

See also: Communist Party USA (CPUSA)

The CPUSA was created at the behest of the Soviet Union in 1921 when the Comintern ordered the merger of two rival American communist factions. Though in theory an independent revolutionary arm of an international communist movement, the Comintern was entirely controlled by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the single-party regime that ruled the Soviet Union until 1991. (Russia’s communist Bolshevik Revolution occurred in November 1917; in 1922, the Bolsheviks announced that Russia and the Eurasian communist empire under its control would be known as the “Soviet Union.”) 146

From the beginning, the Soviet Union subsidized the CPUSA, though a full accounting of its support is not available. In his history of the FBI, author and former New York Times reporter Timothy Weiner wrote that unsealed Comintern archives showed that from the very beginning, “revolutionary Russia” smuggled gold and diamonds to support the American Communist Party movement. Weiner noted, however, that the total that got through to American communists is disputed because some of those transferring the wealth were not “honest brokers.” Weiner also cited FBI reports claiming the Bolshevik Russian government sent $50,000 ($792,000 in 2022 dollars) to the CPUSA at its founding in 1921. 147

In 1992, a Moscow newspaper estimated that CPUSA leader (and frequent presidential candidate) Gus Hall received subsidies totaling $40 million from the Soviet Union during the final two decades of the Cold War (1971-1990). The most-conservative inflation adjustment of this amount (assuming 1990-dollar value for all funds) would equate to $90 million in 2022 dollars. 148

Historian Guenter Lewy wrote that a 1920 “statement of principles” from the Comintern “imposed upon all member parties a system of strict discipline and subservience” and that the “national parties in the various countries were to be but separate sections of a worldwide revolutionary army led by a general staff in Moscow.” As such, the leadership of the American branch “took pride in their faithful adherence” to the “organizational center of the Communist movement” and exhibited a “slavish adherence” to the Comintern. Lewy quotes a 1925 statement from William Z. Foster, a long-time CPUSA executive, who proclaimed “if the Comintern finds itself criss-cross with my opinions there is only one thing to do, and that is to change my opinions and fit the policy of the Comintern.” 149

Early CPUSA and Soviet espionage suppression

In late 1919, J. Edgar Hoover was put in charge of the Radicals Division of what was then the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Investigation. The BOI was tasked with combatting communist groups and individuals suspected of seeking the violent overthrow of the federal government. Hoover used the Bureau’s agents, paid informers, local law enforcement, and information in the files of other federal agencies. Some of the information was stolen during break-ins against suspected subversives. Behavior such as attendance at radical political gatherings and reading left-wing publications was sufficient to for the Bureau to create a file on an individual. Within a few months the Bureau had files on more than 60,000 Americans. 150

In late 1920, Hoover revamped and renamed his domain the General Intelligence Division. The new division prioritized intelligence gathering and disruption of subversive groups as its highest priority. Hoover believed criminal prosecution, with its high burden of proof and investigative restrictions provided an inadequate tool for protecting the nation from foreign espionage and violent overthrow. The General Intelligence Division, according to journalist Tim Weiner, was built to “fight subversives in secret.” 151

In his book, Enemies: A History of the FBI, Weiner wrote that the Bureau already had an informant within the communist movement in place before the 1921 unity convention that led to the founding of the CPUSA. According to Weiner, declassified FBI documents show the informant was probably Clarence Hathaway, “a founding member of the Communist Party of the United States.” Whatever his identity, this informant correctly reported back that CPUSA leader William Z. Foster was planning to travel to Moscow to meet Vladimir Lenin. According to Weiner, Lenin found Foster “entrancing” and the American returned to the USA “as a dedicated Soviet agent” with financing from the Russian communists and the permanent attention of the Bureau of Investigation. 152

Another FBI informant within the CPUSA warned the Bureau of a large party conclave due to take place in Bridgeman, Michigan, in August 1922. The FBI and local law enforcement arrested more than 30 party members and charged them with violating a Michigan law against plotting to use violence to overthrow the federal government. Among the arrested were CPUSA leaders Earl Browder and William Z. Foster, identified by journalist Weiner as “dedicated lifelong Comintern agents.” 153

Of more than two dozen charged in the Bridgeman case, only CPUSA leader Charles Ruthenberg was convicted. The jury could not agree that any of the others advocated violent overthrow of the government. Ruthenberg died in prison, and his ashes were interred within the walls of the Kremlin in Moscow. 154

Despite the inability to win convictions against most of the Michigan defendants, the FBI’s general surveillance and prosecutions against the CPUSA in the early 1920s succeeded in suppressing it as a political and subversive force. In a letter to the Comintern following the Michigan cases, William Z. Foster asked for more funding and lamented that he was trying to grow the CPUSA with just two staffers on his payroll. 155

Shortly after the Bridgeman raid, J. Edgar Hoover wrote that the roundup had proven the existence of “the most colossal conspiracy against the United States in its history.” Writing of the period years later, Hoover wrote that the FBI’s work had made the CPUSA “virtually nonexistent” as a political force. 156

In March 1923, the U.S. Senate was considering formal diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union. The Bureau of Investigation, then headed by William J. Burns, responded by spying on several members of Congress suspected of supporting recognition and—by extension, it was assumed—possibly being under Soviet influence. 157

On paper, the General Intelligence Division was abolished in 1924 after Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone fired Burns and ordered Hoover to cease spying and political surveillance and focus strictly on law-enforcement investigations. Stone had been appointed by President Calvin Coolidge, who had ascended to the White House after the death of President Warren Harding in 1923. 158

Hoover’s acquiescence to Stone’s order helped secure his promotion to director of the Bureau of Intelligence, a job he held until his death in 1972. But Hoover retained the Bureau’s intelligence files on radicals, defying Stone’s order by continuing for the remainder of the decade the policy of secret surveillance against suspected enemies of the state. 159

Rise of Soviet espionage: 1930s

During the 1930s, the influence of the Communist Party USA increased alongside the political instability brought on by the Great Depression. This and American diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union in 1933 led to an expansion of Soviet espionage activities against the United States. 160 161

By 1936, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover thought the new Soviet Embassy in the United States and the growing strength of Communists within the labor movement were each “deeply ominous” developments. Though the FBI had not yet identified any Soviet spies nor their American accomplices, Hoover strongly suspected that they existed. Summarizing Hoover’s concerns, journalist Tim Weiner wrote: “where there were trade unions, there were Communists,” and “where there were diplomats, there were spies.” 162

Hoover’s concerns about American Communism and Soviet spying ultimately took a back seat to the growing espionage threat from the Axis powers of Germany and Japan in the years just prior to World War II. 163

Analyzing this period in Spies, the authors wrote: 164

With Washington policymakers indifferent, for years the FBI devoted scant resources to counterintelligence, and once it began to pay attention in the late 1930s, its initial emphasis was on German and Japanese espionage. It took several years to develop counterintelligence expertise, and not until the end of World War II did the Bureau focus significant resources on the Soviet challenge. 165

Investigations, arrests, and discoveries made years and decades later revealed that by the mid-1930s, Soviet espionage agents had created a network of American collaborators (including CPUSA members) and Soviet spies. Though unknown at the time, the Soviet infiltration included but was not limited to Americans who would be in position to pass secrets from the U.S. State Department, the wartime Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor to the CIA), and the Manhattan Project that invented the atomic bomb. 166

CPUSA labor-union infiltration

The Great Depression of the 1930s led to the Communist Party USA’s most-successful decade. Historians Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes characterized the CPUSA of the early 1930s as the “boldest and most visible opponent of American capitalism” and either the “only” or “most effective” protest outlet during the tough economic environment. CPUSA-directed International Unemployment Day demonstrations in March 1930 drew an estimated 1 million participants across many cities. Though subsequent demonstrations drew much smaller crowds, the CPUSA-led National Campaign Committee for Unemployment Insurance registered 1.4 million signatures for a petition demanding Congress enact the program. 167

In May 1929, William Z. Foster and other CPUSA leaders traveled to Moscow for a meeting of the Comintern. Addressing the American Communists, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin said: “The moment is not far off when a revolutionary crisis will develop in America. …  Every effort and every means must be employed in preparing for that, comrades.” 168

Testifying before the Senate in 1930, Foster answered “yes” when asked if he thought American workers considered the Soviet Union to be “their country.” Answering a follow-up question, Foster elaborated: “The workers of this country and the workers of every country have only one flag and that is the red flag.” 169

CPUSA infiltration of labor unions accompanied the Communist Party’s growth in membership during the 1930s. The biggest and most-important opportunity occurred in 1935 when a disgruntled American Federation of Labor executive resigned to form the rival Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) with strong assistance from a CPUSA front group. As a result of this collaboration, historians Klehr and Haynes estimate that by the end of the decade, 40 percent of CIO unions had “significant communist connections.” As an example, they wrote that at one point, more than 25 percent of the organizers at the Steelworkers Organizing Committee (SWOC) were CPUSA-affiliated, with one secret Communist official serving as SWOC counsel and later holding the same position with the CIO. SWOC was the precursor to the United Steelworkers. The CIO would live on into the 1950s and merge with the rival AFL to become the modern AFL-CIO. 170

Soviet embassy brings Soviet espionage

In November 1933, the United States extended formal recognition to the Soviet Union, ending almost 16 years of diplomatic estrangement dating to Russia’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. 171 Before the year was finished, Peter Gutzeit joined the staff of the new Soviet Embassy as the first legal station chief for Soviet espionage in America. 172

His role was not known to most of his fellow embassy employees, nor the United States. A legal station chief was a Soviet official who performed illegal espionage work, but under the cover of a recognized diplomat, which provided protection from arrest if his spying was discovered by the host nation. 173

Soviet intelligence officers, including the GRU military intelligence service as well as the NKVD (and later the KGB), were also operating from illegal stations. Spies under illegal cover operated with fake identities, posing as foreigners or even as Americans. Unlike legal station chiefs working under diplomatic cover, illegal station chief spies were harder to discover and more versatile to use. But without diplomatic immunity, they could be prosecuted if caught. 174

Soviet spy Mikhail Gorin entered the United States in 1936 as a staffer for the Amtorg Trading Company, a Soviet trade office sometimes used as the cover employment for spies working against the United States. After being reported to the FBI in 1938, Gorin became the first known Soviet spy captured by the Bureau. Gorin was caught stealing information from the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence with the assistance of a federal employee. Both men were prosecuted and convicted in 1939. Gorin was sentenced to six years in prison, but was returned to the Soviet Union in 1941. 175

Two years earlier, in August 1936, FBI Director Hoover requested an audience with President Roosevelt. Though he did not yet have proof of the extent of Soviet espionage, let alone the specific existence of Gorin at this point, Hoover argued for the authority to fully deploy the Bureau’s secret (and sometimes illegal) intelligence-gathering tools to find and interdict Soviet espionage. 176

While Roosevelt was agreeable, in February 1938, an 18-member Nazi spy ring was discovered to have been operating in the United States for more than a decade. The Roosevelt administration pushed the FBI to prioritize the search for Axis (Japanese and German) spies. In late 1941, the United States entered World War II on the side of the Soviet Union, leading to a further de-emphasis on investigating Soviet espionage. 177 178

World War II: Reduced coverage of Soviet espionage

The FBI’s official historian wrote in 2005 that while during the late 1930s through at least 1943 the Bureau was successful in its round up of Axis spies, it was “distinctly less successful in identifying the Soviet threat.” He wrote further: 179 Fox, John F. “In the Enemy’s House: Venona and the Maturation of American Counterintelligence.” Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2005 Symposium on Cryptologic History. October 27, 2005. Accessed April 1, 2022.[/note]

Many young leftists in the early 1930s had entered the government in the early throes of the New Deal and embraced a Communist siren under whose call significant numbers of them were willing to pass along valuable information to the Soviet Union during the war. A general leftist tilt in the government meant that these ideologues blended well into the Washington bureaucracy while keeping their strong Soviet sympathies largely hidden. The tradecraft of Soviet intelligence personnel, the well-honed Communist Party tradition of conspiracy, and a lack of concern in the Roosevelt administration towards Soviet spying meant that little of this growing Soviet intelligence web was found except by accident in the opening years of the war. 180

This corresponded with a period when the Soviets had severely harmed their own networks in America, forcing them to rebuild. Fearing rivals real and imagined, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin initiated a major purge of Soviet intelligence, beginning in 1937 and possibly lasting until 1940. The exile and execution of experienced spies meant that nearly all the most-experienced agents were recalled to the Soviet Union, with many of them imprisoned or killed. 181

By 1941, according to historian John Earl Haynes, there was only one experienced Soviet spy working in the United States. The need to rebuild their espionage networks, according to Haynes, required the Soviets to work through the home-grown political infrastructure established by the Communist Party USA. 182

In the fall of 1939, Whittaker Chambers met with Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle to warn that several dozen government employees, including seven officials in the Department of State, were hidden Communist Party members and possibly Soviet spies. Until shortly before the meeting, Chambers himself had been a CPUSA member and leader of a Soviet espionage ring. Chambers had defected and gone into hiding when the Stalinist purges began. 183

Historians Klehr and Haynes wrote that Berle “did not turn his notes of the meeting over to the FBI until 1943, after it had contacted him, having heard of the meeting from Chambers.” 184

According to Enemies, Hoover “watched in frustration as the membership of the Communist Party, buoyed by America’s alliance with Stalin, grew toward an all-time high of 80,000 card-carrying members during World War II.” 185

Journalist Tim Weiner also wrote that the relaxed attitude toward Soviet spying left the FBI knowing “very little about the workings of Moscow’s intelligence services” and with “no reliable Soviet sources.” Further, the FBI did not receive resources to fix the issue since the U.S. government was “not eager for a fight with the Soviets” because “Stalin was killing more Nazis than Roosevelt and Churchill combined.” 186

As much as he could, Hoover continued to resist these directives. Weiner wrote that the FBI director ordered agents to investigate all 80,000 card-carrying CPUSA members, concluding that: “Generals are often accused of fighting the last war. Hoover was preparing to fight the next one.” 187

Another missed opportunity to reemphasize investigations of Soviet espionage activities occurred just before American entry into World War II when a top Soviet spy commander was arrested by the FBI, but then released at the direction of the State Department.

Gayk Ovakimyan

In May 1941, the Bureau arrested Gayk Ovakimyan (alternate spelling Gaik Ovakimian), an employee of the Amtorg Soviet trade mission in New York City. The FBI began the Amtorg investigation because of a tip from the British regarding a London resident who was stealing and selling code-breaking secrets to both Axis and Soviet spies. The FBI followed the American end of the trail and found Ovakimyan’s name, so they arrested him and charged him under a law requiring foreign agents spreading propaganda to register with the U.S. government. 188

Keen to explore any leads, the Bureau arranged for Ovakimyan to be held on a steep $25,000 bond ($482,000 in 2022 dollars) until he could be questioned further. But before this could happen, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, violating the Nazi-Soviet Pact that had temporarily made allies of Stalin and Hitler. Correctly anticipating the future wartime alliance between the Americans and the Soviets, the Department of State ordered the FBI to release Ovakimyan and allow him to return home to the Soviet Union. 189

Enemies author Tim Weiner wrote that if the FBI had been permitted to interrogate Ovakimyan under the threat of a long prison term, it “would have changed history.” Unknown to the Bureau at the time, Ovakimyan had been a top Soviet intelligence agent operating in the United States since 1933. He had built or was knowledgeable about many of the most elaborate spy rings throughout North America. 190

While under surveillance before his arrest, Ovakimyan was followed by the FBI to a meeting with Jacob Golos. A member of the Communist Party USA and a Soviet spy, Golos was also the manager of what became a critical espionage ring. In June 1941, as the FBI and State Department were deciding what to do with Ovakimyan, future spy Julius Rosenberg was first introduced to Golos. By late 1942, Rosenberg had an official Soviet espionage cover name (“Liberal”) and had begun to build his own spy ring that would help steal the atomic bomb secrets. 191 192

After returning to the Soviet Union, Ovakimyan continued his work as a senior Soviet espionage officer supervising American and British operations. Until his death in 1948, Golos was the highly valued chief manager of the assistance that CPUSA members provided to Soviet espionage. 193

Abraham Glasser

Historians Klehr and Haynes, using documents obtained by co-author Vassiliev, identified former U.S. Department of Justice official (and CPUSA member) Abraham Glasser as a “an important Soviet espionage source” within the department during the late 1930s. Among other things, Glasser passed information to the Soviet Union regarding the status of FBI investigations of Soviet espionage agents working in the United States. A Soviet spy detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1940 identified Glasser as a Soviet agent. 194

The FBI investigated Glasser. What they discovered led to Glasser’s removal from his job at the Department of Justice, despite objections from Glasser’s superior and an attempt to have him reinstated. 195

Atomic-Bomb Secrets

Soviet espionage agents used the code name “Enormous” to refer to their ultimately successful effort to steal American atomic bomb research. According to historians Klehr and Haynes, writing in Spies, the Soviets did not receive “definitive word” of the existence of the Manhattan Project until March 1942. 196

In a 2017 interview, historian John Earl Haynes said that until 1944, Soviet spies working for the KGB experienced “barren years” in their attempts to turn an American source with access to Manhattan Project secrets. During the same period, according to Haynes, the GRU had only slightly better success with modest sources in George Koval and Clarence Hiskey. 197

Koval, according to Klehr and Haynes, had been a GRU asset since the 1930s. Koval was never suspected to be a spy while he was working on the atomic-bomb project, and he left before the Soviets acquired their first bomb. Klehr and Haynes wrote that the available evidence shows Koval’s value as an atomic spy has been “inflated” by the post-Soviet GRU and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and then repeated by a “credulous” American press. 198 199

Citing the research of their co-author, former KGB officer Vassiliev, Klehr and Haynes wrote that at the FBI’s “instigation” there were “several scientists” exposed as Manhattan Project security risks and removed from the program. 200 They were often not prosecuted because the FBI acted quickly on reasonable suspicion and did not wait until it could prove a case in court. John Earl Haynes explained: 201

Counterintelligence people are not really interested in arresting and prosecuting people. I mean, they do that, but they’re chiefly interested in trying to stop secrets from being lost. Their highest priority is not waiting until they have enough evidence for a criminal case. As soon as they have serious suspicions, they get rid of the person, so that if we’re losing secrets, this will stop it. 202

Examples of these atomic bomb security investigations include the cases of scientists Joseph Weinberg and Clarence Hiskey, and that of KGB officer Grigory Kheifets.

Joseph Weinberg

The FBI’s first successful interdiction of a Manhattan Project security threat occurred before the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and most everyone else even knew the bomb project existed. 203

The Bureau’s de-emphasis on Soviet espionage did not prevent it from noticing Steve Nelson, a California Communist Party leader. The FBI placed Nelson under surveillance in 1940, and then added a wiretap on his phone in February 1942. In March 1943, Nelson’s wife picked up the phone and — along with the FBI — heard a fellow CPUSA member named Joseph Weinberg tell her that he had an urgent matter he needed to discuss with Nelson. 204 205

Weinberg was a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a student of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the Manhattan Project. Weinberg was scheduled to take a new position at the secret atomic-bomb research facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico. At the ensuing meeting between Nelson and Weinberg, the FBI agents heard a discussion about the bomb, the project to build it, Oppenheimer, and planning for future contact between Weinberg and Nelson regarding these matters. The following day, the FBI followed Nelson to a meeting with a Soviet diplomat later identified as a GRU military intelligence officer. 206 207

Hoover reported the Weinberg matter to the White House and soon learned of the existence of the Manhattan Project. The FBI created two new counterintelligence projects with 125 dedicated agents to counteract Soviet espionage. One was CINRAD (Communist Infiltration of Radiation Laboratory), and its priority was protecting secrets rather than gathering enough evidence to make arrests. Klehr and Haynes wrote: “Their goal was to prevent any unauthorized leak from occurring, not to catch a spy after the deed was done.” 208 209

Weinberg’s contact with Nelson was reported to Oppenheimer. Weinberg was neither arrested nor accused of espionage, but he never worked on the Manhattan Project. 210

Grigory Kheifets

Following the Weinberg incident in March 1943, FBI agents were conscious of the need for coverage in the San Francisco Bay area, due to the Manhattan Project researchers working in Berkeley, California. 211

Grigory Kheifets was a KGB agent working under legal cover as a diplomat at the Soviet consulate in San Francisco. His status as a spy was discovered at some point in 1943 by the FBI and U.S. military security. Though his diplomatic immunity protected him from arrest and prosecution, Kheifets was placed under heavy surveillance. Kheifets never caught on to the redundant teams of American counterintelligence agents competing against each other to tail him closely. He was recalled to Moscow in August 1944 by frustrated superiors unhappy with this lack of progress in finding sources to pass him atomic-bomb secrets. 212

Kheifets believed he had found such a source in July 1944, shortly before his recall. With undercover FBI agents trying to secretly listen in from a nearby table, Kheifets and Grigory Kasparov, another KGB agent, met for lunch with Martin Kamen. Kamen was a scientist employed at the Manhattan Project facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and a member of the CPUSA. Kamen was also an associate of a woman (also a CPUSA member) with whom Kheifets was romantically involved. Through this mutual friend, Kamen passed word that he was willing to give “scientific” information to the Soviet Union. 213

Despite the noise in the restaurant obscuring the conversation, the FBI agents did discern a discussion regarding radiation and atomic research and witnessed Kamen passing documents to the KGB agents. In congressional testimony years later, Kamen claimed the documents pertained only to nuclear medicine advances and had nothing to do with his access to atomic bomb research. 214

Historians Klehr and Haynes wrote that the Soviet archives on the incident provide no evidence to contradict Kamen’s claim or establish an intent on his part to give up bomb secrets in the future. But from the KGB side of the relationship, it was clear they were hoping to cultivate Kamen as an atomic spy. In his debrief after returning to Moscow, Kheifets wrote a glowing report about the discovery of Kamen and the American scientist’s potential as a source. Kheifits also provided advice on how his KGB successor in San Francisco, Kasparov, could further the KGB relationship with Kamen. 215

Summarizing the incident, Klehr and Haynes wrote: “A scientist who met privately with Soviet diplomats, particularly KGB officers, and was motivated by pro-Soviet fervor to give them advanced technological information, even if it was unclassified, had acted in an irresponsible fashion and was a security risk.” 216

Kaman was fired from his work with the Manhattan Project ten days after the FBI listened in on his meeting with Kheifets and Kasparov. 217

Kasparov replaced Kheifets as the KGB officer in San Francisco charged with cultivating potential sources for atomic-bomb secrets. From at least the moment he sat down for lunch with Kaman, however, he was clearly known to the FBI as a KGB officer under diplomatic cover. Whether or not the exposure of Kasparov was known to the KGB, the Soviets soon transferred him to Mexico City. Soviet records show that he was replaced by a KGB agent who had less interest in stealing scientific secrets and more interest in political espionage. 218

Clarence Hiskey

In March 1942, Clarence Hiskey, a former CPUSA member working as a scientist at a Manhattan Project facility, met a former CPUSA associate for lunch. Possibly not realizing this friend was an American courier for the KGB, Hiskey shared detailed information about the atomic bomb and its potential. The KGB courier had never heard of atomic weapons and doubted what seemed at the time to be an outrageous story, but passed the information to his KGB handlers. 219

His report was one of two that arrived in the same week, giving Soviet intelligence its first warning that an atomic bomb was being jointly developed by the United States and the United Kingdom. The KGB began an aggressive, but unsuccessful two-year effort to recruit Hiskey as a source of atomic-bomb secrets. 220

The KGB failed because Hiskey was successfully recruited by Arthur Adams, a GRU (Soviet military intelligence) officer working undercover from Canada. As a matter of security and perhaps paranoia, the GRU and the KGB frequently refused to divulge their American assets to one another during this period. Klehr and Haynes wrote that Hiskey likely rebuffed the KGB approaches under orders to do so from his GRU handler. 221

By 1944, the FBI became aware of Adams’ activities and placed him under surveillance. In April 1944, the FBI witnessed a meeting between Adams and Hiskey, and it subsequently alerted military security overseeing the Manhattan Project. Army security arranged for Hiskey, then a reserve officer in the US Army not on active duty, to be called up to active duty and deployed to a remote base in Canada’s Northwest Territories. 222

Hiskey remained unaware of the true reason for his sudden deployment, and he subsequently forwarded two other scientific colleagues to meet with Adams. His GRU handler was also heedless of the FBI tail or that Hiskey had been exposed. Both of Hiskey’s friends were turned over to Army security, questioned about Adams, and prevented from working on the atomic bomb research. 223

Venona Project Era

Several major developments in American counterespionage during 1947 and 1948 demonstrated the extent of Soviet espionage during the prior 20 years. The Venona decryption program, and the defections of American CPUSA and Soviet assets such Whittaker Chambers, Elizabeth Bentley, Igor Gouzenko, Louis Budenz, and Hede Massing gave the Bureau the insights it needed to investigate and capture CPUSA spies and Soviet intelligence agents that had stolen atomic-bomb secrets and penetrated several important government agencies from the 1930s through the first half of the 1950s. 224

Venona decryptions

In 1943, the U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Service (the forerunner to the National Security Agency) launched an effort to decrypt a large trove of encoded messages being sent by cables from the Soviet Union to diplomats, intelligence agents under diplomatic cover, and other recipients all over the world. The NSA gave the project the codename “Venona.” 225

Venona became far more challenging than initially anticipated. The first message successfully decoded by cryptologist Merideth Gardner occurred at the end of 1946. The pace of codebreaking picked up through 1947, when the Army alerted the FBI to the existence of the top-secret program and asked if the Bureau had information regarding known codenames used by Soviet espionage agents. The FBI turned over 200 codes, beginning an exchange of information between the two counter-espionage operations. In 1948, Gardner and FBI counterintelligence supervisor Robert Lamphere began a close collaboration using their combined resources to crack the codes and read the messages. 226

Venona decryptions assisted the FBI in exposing (and sometimes capturing) some of the most-consequential Soviet espionage agents in American history, including atomic-bomb spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. 227

Elizabeth Bentley defection

In November 1945, Elizabeth Bentley, an American former leader of a Soviet spy ring, voluntarily turned herself in to the FBI. She had been a CPUSA member since 1936 and a spy for the Soviets since 1938, when she began working for Jacob Golos, a CPUSA leader and manager of a Soviet espionage ring in America. As Golos’s romantic partner, Bentley was close to his work and his network and took over management of it after his death in 1943. 228

Bentley provided at least 80 names to the FBI, including 32 that were or had been working at sensitive posts within the American government. Members of Soviet espionage networks revealed by Bentley included more than a half dozen headquarters staff employees of the Office of Strategic Services (the wartime predecessor to the CIA) and Assistant Treasury Secretary Harry Dexter White, named by historians Klehr and Haynes as “the most highly placed asset the Soviets possessed in the American government.” 229 230

According to journalist Tim Weiner, Bentley had offered her story to the FBI in 1942, but due to a combination of her complicated personal life, alcoholism, and erratic behavior, she was not believed. 231 These same factors led the KGB to strip her of her leadership of the spy networks in late 1944, a decision that likely influenced her decision to defect the following year. 232

Whittaker Chambers defection

American journalist and CPUSA member Whittaker Chambers worked as an agent for Soviet military intelligence (GRU) from 1932 until 1938. In this capacity, he was a courier between GRU officers and American government officials working as sources for the Soviet spies. In addition to transferring documents for the Soviets, Chambers arranged meetings between GRU agents and their American contacts. 233

Chambers abandoned his work for the GRU and his commitment to communism in 1938. This was during a period when Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was purging his intelligence services and the military, often recalling officers from posts in America to face imprisonment or execution. 234

In September 1939, Chambers met with Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle and, according to historians Klehr and Haynes, “identified several dozen government officials as hidden Communists and hinted of their involvement in espionage.” Chambers’s list included seven State Department officials. 235

Quoting from Berle’s diary entry after the meeting, the historians wrote that Berle indicated he would respond with “a few simple measures,” but also that “records of the State Department” do not show evidence of Berle reporting names to the State Department security office or mentioning the Chambers interview at all. Klehr and Haynes report that in at least one case and perhaps others, Berle encouraged State Department employees implicated by Chambers to seek other employment or undergo an investigation. 236

According to Klehr and Haynes, Berle did not provide an account of the Chambers meeting to the FBI until 1943, after the FBI had learned of the meeting and requested the information from Berle. 237

Seeking corroboration for the testimony of Elizabeth Bentley regarding the existence of numerous Soviet espionage rings within the United States, the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) subpoenaed Chambers to testify in August 1948. Chambers exposed the identities of 21 past and former government officials he had worked with or been aware of as Soviet spies. The most-prominent and controversial name on his list was Alger Hiss, a key official within the wartime State Department of President Franklin Roosevelt. 238

An internal Soviet intelligence assessment of the damage of Chambers’s defection was written in 1948 and uncovered after the end of the Cold War. It listed the Soviet assets in the United States who had been exposed because of Chambers’ defection, including Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White of the Department of Treasury. 239

Rosenberg Atomic Spy Ring

In August 1949, the FBI forwarded to British counterintelligence Venona decryptions identifying British atomic scientist Klaus Fuchs as a Soviet spy. Fuchs had been sent by the British to assist directly on the Manhattan Project and returned to Britain in 1944. Considered a very gifted theoretical physicist, Fuchs was also a loyal communist. His knowledge of American atomic secrets extended to the development of the far more powerful hydrogen bomb. 240

British intelligence ultimately detained and interrogated Fuchs for weeks, leading to his confession in late January 1950. An FBI report on his confession summarized the damage he had done: “Fuchs knew as much about the hydrogen bomb as any American scientist; therefore Russia knows.” 241

On September 20, 1949, four months before Fuchs confessed, a CIA report predicted the Soviet atomic-bomb project would not succeed for another four years. The Soviets had already obtained an atomic bomb by this point, a development announced by President Truman three days after the faulty CIA report was issued. Six years later, in November 1955, the Soviets detonated their first hydrogen bomb. 242

FBI files on Fuchs extended back to the end of World War II and included evidence of his communist connections. The incriminating information had been ignored due to what J. Edgar Hoover criticized as “slip shod methods” by an FBI agent who had been dismissed. 243 The agent, William K. Harvey, was a heavy drinker who subsequently joined the CIA and had a far more successful, yet still personally complicated, career. 244

The FBI interrogated Fuchs in May 1950. He divulged the name of Soviet agent Harry Gold, his direct contact while in the United States. 245 246

Gold had also previously been identified in the testimony of Elizabeth Bentley and had been questioned by the FBI three years earlier. The Bureau detained Gold on the same day that he was identified by Fuchs. Under FBI interrogation, Gold revealed the name of Manhattan Project employee David Greenglass, a Communist and the younger brother of Ethel Rosenberg, another CPUSA member, and wife of Julius Rosenberg. 247 248

Julius Rosenberg was both a recruiter of atomic spies and a courier transferring their secrets to the Soviets. A report filed by his Soviet handler later revealed Rosenberg had provided important and sensitive atomic documents, including the design for the atomic bomb’s proximity fuse. Historians have questioned the degree to which Ethel Rosenberg participated in her husband’s espionage. 249 250 251

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were subsequently questioned and then arrested by the FBI. Both were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. They were executed in June 1953. 252

Greenglass and Gold both served prison sentences for their roles in the Rosenberg spy ring and were released (respectively) in 1960 and 1965. Fuchs was incarcerated by the British for his offenses and moved to communist East Germany after serving a nine-year prison sentence. 253

According to historians Klehr and Haynes, writing in Spies, multiple rings of spies delivered approximately ten thousand pages of technical information, which led to a “huge savings in time and resources for the Soviet bomb program.” 254

According to Spies, it is “reasonably certain” that these spies changed history, particularly because they gave atomic weapons to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin rather than “one of his less aggressive successors.” The historians estimated that the stolen information allowed the Soviets to acquire atomic weapons 2-4 years sooner than they otherwise would have. Stalin died in October 1952, roughly two years after the first successful Soviet atomic bomb was detonated in August 1949. 255

In an interview, Haynes said: 256

All the different ways you could possibly do it, we did it first. The Soviets learned from espionage what worked and what didn’t work. All of the blind alleys that we went down, they didn’t have to go down. They were able to carry out their project at only a fraction of the cost, and a fraction of the time, and a fraction of the manpower that ours had. If there had been no espionage, certainly, the Soviets would have developed a bomb in time. But because of espionage, they developed it much faster and much cheaper. 257

Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White

On November 27, 1945, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover provided a top-secret report to President Truman, the attorney general, and the secretary of state, informing them of high-level American government officials alleged to be Soviet moles. 258

Alger Hiss

At the time of Hoover’s accusation, Alger Hiss had been a Soviet agent for ten years while he worked as an official with the U.S. State Department’s Office of Special Political Affairs in the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Hiss had attended the Yalta Conference at which Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill negotiated with Joseph Stalin over the geopolitical alignment of the postwar world. At the time of Hoover’s accurate accusation, Hiss was helping implement the Truman administration’s plans for the United Nations. 259

Harry Dexter White

Another official named in Hoover’s November 1945 report was Harry Dexter White, a high-ranking U.S. Treasury official who was then working to create the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.  White was identified by historians Klehr and Haynes as the “most important member” of the Silvermaster spy network that had been identified by Elizabeth Bentley. (Bentley had begun speaking with the FBI in November 1945, shortly before Hoover’s report was produced.) 260

Klehr and Haynes wrote that “no individual had greater influence” on Secretary of Treasury Henry Morgenthau “during the late 1930s and World War II” than Harry Dexter White. They also credited White and economist John Maynard Keynes with jointly acting as the architects of the Bretton Woods monetary agreement in 1944. Speaking of White’s conduct during 1945, in the year leading up to Hoover’s attempt to expose him, Klehr and Haynes wrote that “White kept Moscow fully informed about the internal discussions within the government about Soviet requests for financial aid and a massive dollar loan.” 261

Klehr and Haynes wrote that the KGB regarded White as “an exceedingly valuable source.” 262

House Un-American Activities Committee

President Truman disregarded Hoover’s warning regarding both Hiss and White. In 1946, he appointed White as the head of the International Monetary Fund, 263 and Hiss became the head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 264

According to FBI historian Tim Weiner, Hoover provided his evidence of espionage by White and Hiss to then-U.S. Representative Richard Nixon (R-CA) in 1948, five months before Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley both testified in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Nixon’s preparation allowed him to ask pointed questions of both witnesses about their allegations regarding the identities of spies within the government. 265

Chambers testified that Hiss had provided classified State Department documents to him in the late 1930s while Chambers had been working as an agent for the Soviet GRU. Under oath, Hiss denied the allegation. Chambers later produced evidence of documents he alleged to have come from Hiss during the late 1930s. This testimony led to Hiss’s conviction for perjury. 266

Truman initially defended Hiss from the accusations made by Chambers. 267 Soviet archives released after the end of the Cold War conclusively listed Hiss as a Soviet asset working within the Chambers spy ring. 268

In their separate testimonies during the summer of 1948, Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers both identified Harry Dexter White as a Soviet asset within the American government. White demanded an opportunity to respond and went before the committee to defend his career and categorically deny all espionage allegations made against him. 269

Klehr and Haynes wrote that the “audience applauded” White’s performance and the media “treated it as a convincing refutation” of the charges leveled by Bentley and Chambers. White died of a heart attack three days later. In Spies, the historians summed up White’s legacy: “… the evidence is overwhelming. Harry Dexter White assisted Soviet military intelligence in the mid-1930s and the KGB from 1943 to 1945 and perjured himself in his congressional testimony.” 270

Judith Coplon

From 1945 until 1949, when she was arrested by the FBI, Justice Department employee and CPUSA member Judith Coplon gave the KGB information regarding FBI counterintelligence investigations of Soviet espionage figures. Her early warnings allowed the Soviets to protect sources and dispose of evidence before the FBI closed in on them. 271 272

Venona messages decrypted in 1948 allowed the Bureau to identify Coplon. The FBI wiretapped her phone and assigned 50 agents to the effort to catch her in the act of providing documents to a known Soviet espionage official operating under diplomatic cover in the United States. She was caught by the FBI holding the details of 34 different FBI counterintelligence investigations while on the way to meet her Soviet contact in 1949. 273 274

Coplon was convicted on espionage charges, but the FBI did not obtain a warrant to place the wiretap on Coplon’s telephone. Establishing probable cause to wiretap legally would have required the Bureau to reveal the Venona decryption project. Because of the warrantless surveillance, the convictions against Coplon were overturned. The FBI was not able to send her to prison, but did neutralize her as a Soviet spy. 275

Venona existence revealed to Soviets

The Venona decryption was eventually penetrated by an undercover KGB agent in 1948. William Weisband emigrated to the United States from Soviet Russia with his parents in 1925. He is believed to have returned to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and been recruited by the KGB in 1934, after which he returned to spy on the United States. During World War II, partly because of his fluency in Russian, Weisband began working for the U.S. Army Signal Security Agency, predecessor to the National Security Agency. 276 277

Weisband became a lead translator of Venona’s decrypted messages. Historians Klehr and Haynes wrote: “With the exception of atomic espionage, one could hardly imagine a post of greater interest to Soviet intelligence.” 278 279

Beginning in early 1948, Weisband informed the Soviets of the existence of Venona and began explaining which codes had been exposed and needed to be changed. During the early months of 1948, all the Venona codes ceased to be useful for new Soviet messages. Prior to this, Venona’s code breakers could both translate old messages and read new incoming Soviet messages—such as military transmissions—almost as soon as they were sent. By the end of 1948, Venona staffers had lost the ability to follow along in real time but continued to translate a large trove of still-valuable messages sent prior to 1948. 280 281

An FBI investigation led to the arrest of Weisband in 1950. He refused to speak to a federal grand jury, was convicted of contempt of court and served a year in prison. He never revealed information related to his espionage. 282 283

Historians Klehr and Haynes wrote that the consequences of blinding Venona at this point in history were “extremely grave.” In 1950, they noted, Joseph Stalin approved North Korea’s plan to invade South Korea and began transferring the weaponry and logistical equipment needed for the surprise attack that would begin the Korean War. 284 285

Had Venona been operational through 1950, they argued, American intelligence would have been able to observe the war planning and buildup as it occurred, allowing immediate American military and diplomatic countermoves. This, according to the pair of historians, may have prevented the surprise attack and ultimately a war that would cost the lives of 35,000 Americans. 286 287

Disputes with the CIA

The United States did not have a permanent foreign intelligence service to engage in espionage and covert action outside the country until creation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1947. Dating back to the birth of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover had developed the Bureau as an intelligence service focused on internal subversive threats, particularly those of the Soviet Union and its domestic ally, the Communist Party USA. 288 289

The first U.S. agency to engage in foreign espionage and subversive activity abroad was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), created in 1942 and under the command of the U.S. military during World War II. In late 1944, General William Donovan, the OSS chief, lobbied President Franklin Roosevelt to retain the OSS and its mission during peacetime as a “Central Intelligence Service.” 290 291

Edgar Hoover disliked Donovan and opposed the creation of a separate intelligence and covert-action agency to operate overseas. Hoover argued the FBI was the government agency with the most-proven experience and capabilities to assume these duties. The FBI director’s animosity toward the CIA and his efforts to eliminate it extended well into the Eisenhower administration. 292 293

Soviet penetration of OSS

In their book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, historians Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, alongside former KGB officer Alexander Vassiliev, wrote that the KGB had “developed an astounding number” of sources within the Office of Strategic Services. This was even more remarkable given the short three years of OSS’s existence. Based on notes taken by Vassiliev, the authors identified twelve of the Soviet spies by name. They also stated there were many other KGB infiltrators within the OSS staff, still known only by code names. 294

Eleven of the twelve KGB assets working within the OSS and named by Klehr and Haynes had been affiliated with the Communist Party USA. The historians wrote that the political affiliation of these spies, while secret, was “not so hidden that they would have survived an investigation had the OSS had a firm anti-Communist policy.” 295

The OSS had no anti-Communist policy because of its chief, General Donovan, who tolerated the employment of known Communists within the OSS so long as they advanced his singular objective of defeating Nazi Germany. Per Donavan’s policy, OSS officials took no action against CPUSA sympathizers unless it was demonstrated they sided against the United States and favored the Soviet Union. 296

Klehr and Haynes wrote that Donovan’s lax attitude toward CPUSA membership was a useful wartime expedient, given the American-Soviet alliance against the Nazis, but that it had “assisted Soviet infiltration” of his intelligence group. They also observed that some Communists were so “blatant” about their affiliation that “Donovan’s tolerance ran out and he fired them.” 297

According to Spies, Donovan once told an aide he would “put Stalin on the OSS payroll if I thought it would help us defeat Hitler.” 298

In her 1948 testimony to Congress, former KGB spy ringleader Elizabeth Bentley identified seven of the Soviet agents that had been working within Donovan’s headquarters staff. 299 The authors of Spies wrote that the Venona decryptions confirmed her accusations. 300

Bentley also identified Donald Wheeler, named by Klehr and Haynes as “probably” the “KGB’s most productive source in the OSS.” 301

Wheeler provides an example of the OSS attitude toward CPUSA members. After his transfer to the OSS, he was assigned to investigate security suspects (i.e., potential spies) within his section of the OSS. By September 1944, other OSS security officials had become aware of Wheeler’s former affiliation with the CPUSA (but did not then suspect him of spying for the Soviets). Wheeler’s wife and brother were also CPUSA-connected. 302

In June 1945, after the war in Europe ended, Wheeler revealed to the Soviets the identities of OSS agents working undercover within Soviet-occupied nations. A KGB official wrote that he was “constantly working” to find and blow the covers of these agents. Soviet archives also revealed praise for the “very valuable materials” Wheeler forwarded regarding what the OSS knew about the Soviet and German economies. 303

Truman abolishes the OSS

Sometime in January 1944 or shortly before, General William Donovan, head of the OSS, and American Ambassador W. Averill Herriman met at the headquarters of Soviet intelligence in Moscow with Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and two Soviet spy chiefs. One of them was Gayk Ovakimyan, the former undercover head of Soviet intelligence in the United States who had been arrested by the FBI in 1941, but released and returned to Moscow by the State Department. 304

The American and Soviet officials, with the subsequent blessing of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, agreed to allow the opening of intelligence agencies in their respective nations, meaning the KGB would have been given a legal, American-recognized office in Washington D.C., and the OSS an office in Moscow. Before departing, the group drank a toast to the proposal. 305

After returning from Moscow in early January 1944, Donovan briefed President Roosevelt on the proposal to exchange espionage headquarters with the Soviets. The president submitted the plan to his top military advisor at the White House, who opposed the idea and warned the chiefs of all military branches that the idea was being considered by the president. The top military men forwarded the news to the FBI director. 306

Director J. Edgar Hoover strongly opposed an official American headquarters for the KGB. He revealed to the U.S. attorney general that there was already evidence the OSS had been penetrated by Soviet spies during the war. Hoover sent a separate memo to a top Roosevelt aide in February 1944, warning of similar concerns. 307

Roosevelt did not adopt the Donovan proposal. 308

Donovan also proposed to Roosevelt a broader plan to establish the OSS as a permanent foreign intelligence and covert-action agency.

In early 1945, shortly before his death, Roosevelt asked his top military aide to conduct a secret assessment of the OSS’s wartime performance. Coincidentally, the report was completed and delivered to the White House shortly after Roosevelt died in April 1945. The next day, his first day in office, President Harry S. Truman received and reviewed the document. 309

The evaluation had been written with the assistance of top military leadership and the cooperation of J. Edgar Hoover. All were bureaucratic opponents of Donovan, and some, such as Hoover, were seeking to take over the proposed permanent foreign espionage operations. 310

The report was harshly critical of the OSS generally and Donovan personally. It listed numerous alleged instances of inept conduct and accused the OSS of inflicting serious damage to American war interests. The report said that the continuation of the OSS as a permanent postwar intelligence service was “inconceivable.” It recommended dismantling the OSS and sending its salvageable staff to other government agencies. This recommendation did not apply to General William Donovan; the report stated that “above all” he needed to be fired. 311 312

In September 1945, Truman fired Donovan and ordered the OSS disbanded. 313

Truman rebuffs FBI as OSS replacement

With the OSS abolished, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover attempted to absorb the wartime spy service’s foreign intelligence mission into the FBI’s jurisdiction. The plan he submitted to the president was titled “FBI Plan for United States Secret World-Wide Intelligence Coverage.” Hoover argued that creating a separate intelligence agency for foreign coverage would compromise the effectiveness of both missions. Having thus made the case for a single intelligence authority, he argued that the FBI had more experience and expertise than any other federal intelligence group. 314

By the end of World War II, the FBI had nearly 5,000 agents and more than 13,000 total staff. More than four of every five dollars it spent were for national security programs and most of that was focused on counterespionage work against Soviet spies in the United States, their allies in the CPUSA, and their compatriots working against allies in other nations. The FBI already had agents working from American embassies in Europe, Canada, and Latin America. Hoover lobbied Truman to expand the FBI’s coverage and intelligence authority worldwide. 315

Surprised to learn of the FBI’s frequently warrantless electronic eavesdropping activities when he became president, though unwilling to put a stop to it, Truman became skeptical of Hoover and the Bureau. In May 1945, weeks after taking office, Truman wrote in his diary that he feared the Bureau was turning into a “Gestapo or Secret Police.” Two months later, he told an aide he wanted to “cut back” the FBI “as soon as possible.” 316

In October 1945, an FBI agent selected by Hoover briefed Truman on the plan to give the FBI worldwide authority over American intelligence. The agent reported back to Hoover that Truman said he feared the result would be an FBI that would “gain the reputation of a ‘Gestapo.’” 317

On November 20, top officials from the military and State Department met at Truman’s order to create a new direction for foreign intelligence gathering. Truman had stipulated the FBI was not to be considered for the role. 318

Creation of the CIA

The structure for what became the Central Intelligence Agency began in January 1946, when President Truman named Admiral Sidney Souers the first director of the “Central Intelligence Group” (CIG). The CIG inherited almost 2,000 staff and intelligence files on hundreds of thousands of people. 319

Still hoping to prevent any agency but the Bureau from taking over foreign intelligence gathering, Hoover objected to the creation of the CIG. In Enemies: A History of the FBI, journalist Tim Weiner wrote that Hoover attempted to infiltrate and sabotage the CIG from the very beginning. 320

One CIG commander, having been told by his U.S. Army colleagues that the OSS had been infested with communists, called on Hoover to help him “find out if I have any commies in my organization.” This allowed the FBI to gather intelligence on the new CIG staff. 321 322

Hoover invited Souers to FBI headquarters the day after Souers was appointed by Truman. Hoover later wrote that Souers asked for the FBI director’s “advice and counsel.” Tim Weiner concluded that Hoover “soon had the admiral eating out of his hand” and that Hoover had added Souers to his “list of useful underlings.” Souers resigned soon afterward, becoming the first of three men to hold the job in the short 18-month history of the CIG. 323

Hoover was not cooperative when asked by CIG officials to share FBI agents and their expertise, or the intelligence they had gathered. Weiner noted, “Hoover took pleasure in rejecting their pleas.” 324

The evolution of CIG into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) occurred in July 1947, when President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, which also granted the new agency expanded powers and authority over foreign espionage. Until the very end, Hoover petitioned Congress to reject the proposal, with claims that the FBI was far more qualified to assume the foreign intelligence role. 325  

Future CIA director Allen Dulles, a former law partner of William Donovan and one of the OSS chief’s top lieutenants, was one of several former OSS staffers who assisted Congress and the Truman administration in the creation of the CIA. Historians Klehr and Haynes wrote that former officers from William Donovan’s OSS became the first CIA employees. 326

Immediately after the establishment of the CIA, Hoover requested a larger budget to continue and enhance the FBI’s ongoing work gathering intelligence on Soviet spies and communists. Truman responded with his first presidential budget recommendation, which cut 600 agents from the FBI. 327

After the Central Intelligence Group became the CIA, according to Weiner, “Hoover began spying on the CIA from that day forward.” As part of this, Hoover allowed FBI agents to join the CIA, anticipating they would remain loyal and report back gossip and intelligence regarding their new employer. Receiving a report about disorganization and chaos within the new spy service, Hoover noted it was a “tragedy that the true phoniness of CIA isn’t exposed.” 328

Weiner wrote that Hoover’s “political warfare” against the CIA intensified every month. The FBI wiretapped CIA officers, seeking evidence of homosexuality or communist allegiance. And in an October 1947 Pentagon meeting with the new Secretary of Defense, CIA leaders, and staffers from the military intelligence branches, Hoover declared there was a “widespread belief that our intelligence group is entirely inept.” 329

Weiner concluded that “Hoover’s refusal to work with the fledgling CIA approached insubordination” and he had “all but declared war on the White House.” 330

The frosty relations between the FBI and CIA began to thaw in late October 1950, when Truman appointed Walter Bedell Smith to be the new CIA director. Weiner wrote that Hoover and Smith “had a lot in common” and “hit it off” following their first meeting together. As a result, they agreed to exchange mutual liaisons to smooth cooperation on counter-espionage cases. 331

Eisenhower administration

The FBI’s bureaucratic hostility to the CIA, expressed through the leadership behavior of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, intensified again during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1960). Eisenhower appointed Allen Dulles as his CIA director, but in time developed his own pronounced frustration with the Agency. At a meeting with Dulles near the end of his presidency, an angry Eisenhower complained that he had attempted to fix the “faulty” intelligence agency, but “suffered an eight-year defeat” in the effort. This meeting is recounted in journalist Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA. The book’s title is a reference to Eisenhower’s response when Dulles tried to refute the criticisms. The president told the CIA chief that he was about to “leave a legacy of ashes” at the CIA for the next president to clean up. 332

In his history of the FBI, Weiner wrote that Hoover had a “personal and professional contempt” for Dulles and met with him no more than six times during the eight years of the Eisenhower administration. Dulles reportedly shouted to an FBI liaison during this period that the CIA had been trying to do productive business with the Bureau, but had failed because the FBI kept “striking back.” 333

In July 1954, growing concerned over what he had discovered about the CIA’s covert operations, Eisenhower asked U.S. Air Force General Jimmy Doolittle to investigate the Agency’s performance and report back. Weiner wrote that Doolittle’s report was strongly influenced by discussions with J. Edgar Hoover and Al Belmont, commander of the FBI’s intelligence division. Hoover had learned that Doolittle told Eisenhower that the FBI would be an extremely valuable source of expertise regarding how an effective intelligence agency should be operated. 334

Weiner wrote: “The Doolittle investigation presented Hoover one more opportunity to stake his claim to preeminence in American intelligence.” 335

In his discussions with Doolittle, Belmont boasted of the Bureau’s established history and experience collecting intelligence against subversives and counteracting Soviet espionage within the United States; the extensive intelligence gathering it was still directing at diplomats from the Soviet Union and its allies; and its ongoing investigation of the Communist Party USA. Belmont later reported that Doolittle “viewed the Bureau as a model.” 336

Belmont told Doolittle that the CIA was afflicted with “waste, inefficiency, and plain boondogglery,” driving home a contrast Doolittle was already predisposed to believe. 337

Hoover provided a similar perspective, denouncing the training and oversight of the CIA’s foreign agents and domestic analysts alike and asserting the Agency knew little of what the Soviet Union’s leadership was plotting. 338

Doolittle submitted his report in October 1954. It criticized the competency of the CIA’s officers, and Dulles personally for surrounding himself with aides who lacked skill and discipline. In conclusion, Doolittle advised the president to “wipe out CIA entirely and start over again.” 339

Eisenhower decided against eliminating the CIA. Dulles remained in charge of the Agency until President Kennedy asked for his resignation in November 1961.

Cold War Successes

Relative to the CIA, the FBI had become the more-successful counterintelligence force against Soviet espionage by the time President Dwight Eisenhower took office in January 1953. In March 1953, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin died; he was succeeded as de facto leader of the USSR by Georgy Malenkov as Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Soviet Union. Shortly before this occurred, a report to the White House based on FBI informants stated Stalin was gravely ill and that Malenkov had been handling many of his responsibilities. Meanwhile, the CIA had no sources close to the Soviet government. Also, in 1953 a CIA officer sent to penetrate the Soviet Union was instead sexually compromised and blackmailed by a KGB officer who had been working as his housekeeper. 340

The Bureau continued to improve its position in this professional rivalry with successes during the remainder of the Eisenhower era. According to FBI historian Tim Weiner, the Eisenhower White House “read Hoover’s reports on the Soviets as the most authoritative in the government.” 341

By 1952 the FBI had 6,451 special agents, a support staff of 8,206 employees, and a $90 million budget (an $87 million increase from 20 years earlier and equivalent to $976 million in 2022 dollars). During the Eisenhower administration, according to Weiner, the FBI’s Intelligence Division became “the most powerful force within the Bureau, commanding the most money, the most manpower, and the most attention from the director.” 342

Weiner wrote that the Bureau’s break-ins, wiretaps, listening devices, “relentless surveillance” and the range of sometimes-illegal intelligence gathering tactics used against the Communist Party USA had resulted in the FBI having nationwide penetration of the Communists. By 1956, according to Weiner, CPUSA membership had declined by “at least three-quarters” since the end of World War II. Of the remaining 22,000 CPUSA members, many were either undercover FBI agents or informers. This extensive coverage also allowed the Bureau to catch and flip several KGB agents and use them against the Soviets. 343

By 1964, the FBI estimated that the CPUSA had been reduced to just five percent of its post-War membership. It never substantively recovered. 344

Operation Solo

In the early 1950s, the FBI successfully recruited a highly placed informant within the CPUSA named Morris Childs. By the summer of 1957, Childs was promoted to the position of the CPUSA’s international emissary to the international Communist movement. Beginning in 1958 and continuing for two decades, he made multiple trips annually to visit the leaders of Communist nations, in particular the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. 345

Code-named “Solo” by the FBI, Childs was at the outset of his mission the first American spy ever placed next to the leadership of the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China. After Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev visited the United States in September 1959, Childs returned to Russia with him. Solo’s cover was kept so confidential that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover refused to share it with the CIA. As far as is known, Solo’s identity was never uncovered by the KGB.346

Solo met personally with Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong in 1958. As a result, the FBI learned that Mao was very interested in what the Americans were planning to do in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Solo presciently reported the Chinese would be inclined to provide military aid to resist any American intervention. 347

President Eisenhower and his vice president, Richard Nixon, both received the FBI’s reports on Solo’s discoveries. FBI historian Tim Weiner wrote that the spy’s accurate information cleared up important policy misconceptions and that it “powerfully” impacted the thinking of both the Eisenhower administration and that of Nixon after he became president in 1969. 348

Embassy espionage

A special group within the FBI Intelligence Division implemented the Bureau’s break-ins and electronic surveillance. This squad was used extensively against the Communist Party USA. One agent who began working with them during the mid-1950s was quoted by FBI historian Tim Weiner as stating that his team repeatedly broke into the Communist Party headquarters and its vault to steal documents and place listening devices. 349

A similar and more-secretive subset of the break-in group applied the same tactics against the Soviet embassy and its consulates in several American cities. In addition to planting listening devices, the goal was to steal and give to the National Security Agency the codes used to conceal electronic messages sent in and out of the diplomatic posts. Weiner reported that by 1964, the Bureau’s electronic and other surveillance of Soviet diplomatic posts in the United States “constituted something close to complete coverage.” 350

Just after resolution of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the FBI’s United Nations surveillance team captured a high-level discussion between the Deputy Prime Minister of the Soviet Union and other top Soviet officials. The Bureau sent President John F. Kennedy updates on the highlights of the conversation as it was happening. 351

The FBI embassy surveillance also included allied governments, such as that of what was then the Republic of South Vietnam. Just days before the November 1968 U.S. presidential election, the Bureau’s eavesdropping revealed a plan between the South Vietnamese prime minister and the campaign of Republican Richard Nixon to stall the fast-developing peace talks between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. A Nixon envoy, under orders from Nixon, encouraged the South Vietnamese president to abandon the peace talks being shepherded by President Lyndon Johnson. The message conveyed to the South Vietnamese was that Nixon could negotiate a better deal if he won the closely contested race over the Democratic nominee, then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey. 352 353

The South Vietnamese did abandon the peace talks just prior to the election, which Nixon won. The Vietnam War would continue until April 1975, when North Vietnamese forces conquered South Vietnam.

The day after the 1968 election, President Johnson personally, though privately, called Nixon to discuss the “sordid story” of the Nixon campaign’s meddling in the peace talks. FBI historian Tim Weiner wrote that Johnson was accusing Nixon of “an act tantamount to treason.” 354

Publicly revealing this would have required Johnson to also reveal that he had been using the FBI to spy on a presidential campaign in the closing days of the election. Johnson did not have proof that Nixon had directly participated in the decision to sabotage the peace talks. Decades later, the diaries of Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman recounted that Nixon had personally ordered Haldeman to implement the plan. 355 356

Project Solo’s Soviet revelations

Project Solo allowed the FBI to prove that the Soviet Union was directly subsidizing its American allies in the Communist Party USA. In late 1958, and with the FBI alerted and following the development, Morris Childs (“Solo”) visited a New York City restaurant to take possession of $348,385 (almost $3.5 million in 2022 dollars) in cash payments from a Soviet delegate to the United Nations. As the manager of the CPUSA’s finances, Childs shared this information with the FBI as well. 357

Childs reported back that the Soviets respected then-U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower personally and that his military experience made them comfortable that he would be a stable leader seeking peace. Nixon, according to Childs, was also viewed as a potentially effective president by the Russians, albeit “cunning” and “ambitious.” 358

Relying on ultimately flawed reports from the CIA and the American military regarding China and the Soviet Union, President Eisenhower spent much of his presidency assuming the two Communist powers had remained close allies since the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. Project Solo reports showed Eisenhower that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong were instead locked in a bitter feud. 359

This information had an important impact on Vice President Richard Nixon, who had built his political reputation as a staunch anti-Communist. According to FBI historian Tim Weiner, Nixon’s access to Project Solo’s reports convinced him that the Russians could “conduct rational political discourse.” The reports influenced the future president’s decision to seek closer relations with both Communist nations, and his strategy regarding the Vietnam War. 360

FBI coverage of Cuba and Castro

In December 1958, less than three weeks before revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, a former FBI agent working as the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic learned that Castro was receiving support from the Soviet Union and that some of his top aides were communists. Castro was not then known to be a communist, but the information about him was true. 361

Though the FBI learned that Castro was a communist before he took control of Cuba, the CIA would not report the same conclusion until many months after the fact. 362

The ambassador’s source was Rafael Trujillo, the corrupt military dictator of the Dominican Republic. With the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s encouragement, he had been transferred in 1957 from the Bureau to a diplomatic post at the State Department. The ambassador’s mission was intelligence gathering for the FBI and President Eisenhower. Trujillo had been an American ally, but his regime’s human-rights abuses and corrupt connections to American politicians had raised concerns within the Eisenhower administration. 363

After receiving the tip, the FBI began surveillance of Cuban exiles in America who supported both sides. The information they collected mostly confirmed Trujillo’s rumor and led to additional revelations. FBI historian Tim Weiner wrote that the FBI’s work on Cuba in early 1959 had “opened up a world of secrets, including the connections among American casino operators in Havana, the Mafia, anti-Castro Cubans, and the CIA.” 364

The FBI informed Eisenhower that Trujillo and Castro, bitter enemies, were each plotting to depose the other. The president responded with a decision to try and overthrow them both. 365

Morris Childs, the FBI informant codenamed “Solo” who held a top position in the CPUSA, subsequently reported a Moscow conversation he had with a Cuban Communist leader who said the Cubans were aware of American plans to invade the island. Provided this information by the FBI, President Eisenhower declined to launch a CIA-designed invasion of Cuba using Cuban exiles. 366

Within months of his taking office in 1961, the CIA persuaded President John F. Kennedy to approve the plan, which evolved into the disastrous ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion. 367

Counterintelligence from the 1970s Onward

During the final decades of the Cold War and afterward, the FBI was responsible for capturing several important suspected spies.

1970s Soviet Spies Caught in USA

In May 1978, the FBI completed what its online history referred to as “one of our most important counter-espionage cases of the decade.” The case ended with “the first Soviet officials to ever stand trial for espionage in the U.S.” 368

Dubbed “Operation Lemon Aid,” the FBI and Naval Intelligence Service used a Navy lieutenant commander posing as a would-be traitor to root out Soviet espionage agents working in the United States. The FBI claims the case allowed the Bureau to better understand how Soviet intelligence operated on American soil. The two Soviet spies were convicted at trial and later traded back to the Soviets in exchange for the release of Soviet political dissidents. 369

A similar successful investigation occurred in February 1972 with the arrest of a Soviet spy in New York. The agent, named Petrov, thought he was purchasing top-secret plans for the Navy’s F-14 fighter plane from an American engineer working for a U.S. defense contractor. The American engineer reported Petrov to the FBI in 1970, shortly after he first attempted to cultivate the engineer as a paid espionage source regarding the F-14. 370

From that point forward, in cooperation with the Bureau, the engineer continued the relationship with Petrov and set up meetings to purportedly pass along the military secrets. 371

Petrov was indicted on espionage charges, but never tried. According to the FBI online history: “On August 14, 1972, the indictment was dismissed following instructions from the White House to the U.S. Department of Justice and after Petrov returned to the Soviet Union with prior court approval. It was decided by top U.S. officials that this dismissal would best serve the national and foreign policy interests of the United States.” 372

Aldrich Ames

The FBI arrested CIA case officer Aldrich Ames in February 1994. He had been spying for the Soviet Union and then the Russian government since 1985. Information sold by Ames allowed the Soviets to imprison and execute sources that were working for the United States. A November 1994 report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded Ames had “caused more damage to the national security of the United States than any spy in the history of the CIA.” 373

In April 1994, Ames and his wife pled guilty to espionage charges. Ames revealed he had sold American secrets to the Russian/Soviet intelligence services and in return received $1.8 million ($3.6 million in 2022 dollars). Ames reported that at the time of his arrest, additional payments totaling $900,000 ($1.8 million in 2022 dollars) had been set aside for him in Moscow, but not yet delivered. 374

According to the Senate investigation, by the fall of 1986, the CIA noticed severe damage had been done to American intelligence sources within the Soviet government: 375

By the fall of 1986, as Ames was beginning his tour in Rome, CIA officials had learned of numerous additional intelligence sources who had been arrested or executed. The magnitude of the disaster was apparent. In the words of one CIA officer: “There was a huge problem, (a perception) shared all the way up to the top of the Agency, including Mr. Casey.”

According to the CIA IG report, Agency officials now knew that as many as 30 CIA and FBI Soviet operations had been compromised or had developed problems between 1985 and 1986. (Each case represented an individual who was providing useful information, but who may or may not have been a fully recruited individual). 376

In his debriefing after being captured, Ames confessed to giving the Soviets information on more than 100 American sources. The Senate assessment concluded: “Even in the fall of 1986, the damage to CIA’s Soviet program was seen as immeasurable.” 377

Ames became an FBI suspect in May 1993 after a review of his finances demonstrated unexplained wealth and spending habits. 378

According to the Bureau’s online history of the case: 379

FBI special agents and investigative specialists conducted intensive physical and electronic surveillance of Ames during a 10-month investigation. Searches of Ames’s residence revealed documents and other information linking Ames to the Russian foreign intelligence service. On October 13, 1993, investigative specialists observed a chalk mark Ames made on a mailbox confirming to the Russians his intention to meet them in Bogota, Colombia. On November 1, special agents observed him and, separately, his Russian handler in Bogota. When Ames planned foreign travel, including a trip to Moscow, as part of his official duties, a plan to arrest him was approved. 380

Ames received a life sentence.381

Despite this, Ames was not responsible for every American intelligence source who was compromised in the mid-1980s. The 2001 exposure and capture of FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen as a Soviet (later Russian) spy revealed he had also been responsible for some of the damage to American intelligence. 382

1985: The Year of the Spy

The FBI’s online history nicknames 1985 the “Year of the Spy,” a reference to several espionage cases it exposed that year. 383

U.S. Navy warrant officer and communications specialist John Anthony Walker was arrested in May 1985. For 17 years prior, he had been helping the Soviets decode an estimated one million top secret messages. Walker’s spy ring included his brother, son, and a friend, all of whom had obtained security clearances. The FBI history states: “The information passed by Walker and his confederates would have been devastating to the U.S. had the nation gone to war with the Soviets.” Walker pled guilty and received a life sentence. 384

In 1984, Jonathan Pollard, a civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy, and his wife sold what the FBI history referred to as a “significant” number of “sensitive documents” to Israel. The couple was arrested in November 1985. Pollard pled guilty and served a 30-year prison sentence. He was released in 2015 and completed the terms of his parole in November 2020. 385 386

In November 1985, the FBI arrested Larry Wu-tai Chin, a Chinese-language translator for the CIA and a spy for Communist China from 1952 through 1981. He claimed at his trial that he was attempting to improve Chinese-U.S. relations. He was convicted of espionage, conspiracy, and tax evasion. He had been passing classified documents and photographs to Chinese agents. Wu-tai Chin committed suicide before sentencing. 387 388 389

Brian P. Regan

In August 2001, the FBI arrested Brian P. Regan, a former Air Force intelligence officer. Regan had stolen 20,000 classified items – including reconnaissance photographs taken of Iraqi missile sites – from the National Reconnaissance Office and was hoping to sell them for $13 million to agents from China, Iraq, and Libya. In February 2003, a jury convicted him of attempted espionage and illegal gathering of defense information. 390

Ana Montes

In early September 2001, the FBI arrested Ana Belen Montes, an analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency who had been spying on the United States for Cuba since 1985. 391

As an employee of the Department of Justice in the early 1980s, Montes had openly criticized American foreign policy in Central America. Her statements drew the attention of a Cuban intelligence asset working in the United States, who approached Montes in 1984 about becoming a spy. To place herself closer to the information desired by Cuban intelligence, she applied for and obtained a new job with the Defense Intelligence Agency. 392

Montes committed espionage against the United States for ideological reasons and did not receive compensation from the Cubans. After her arrest, she admitted exposing the identities of four agents working undercover in Cuba for the United States. 393

She pled guilty and received a 25-year prison sentence. 394

Civil Rights and New Left Targeting

See related profiles: Weather Underground, the Black Panther Party and Stokely Carmichael.

Mostly beginning in the late 1950s and continuing through the early 1970s, the FBI waged counterintelligence campaigns against “New Left” groups such as the Weather Underground, racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, and civil rights groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Many of these groups were subjected to illegal surveillance, infiltration, and subversion as part of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO). 395 396

The Communist Party USA (CPUSA) was in sharp decline by the mid-1950s, due in part to sustained and sometimes-illegal surveillance and infiltration by the FBI, plus its counterintelligence operations targeting Soviet espionage’s relationship with the CPUSA. Into the ideological void left by this “Old Left” arose dozens of domestic Leftist groups that colloquially became known as the “New Left.” 397

The New Left was not a monolithic or unified movement, and there were bitter rivalries and disputes between the largely independent groups that have historically been identified under the “New Left” description. Nevertheless, the New Left collectively grew to become more radically left-wing, more broad-based, more socially disruptive, and more violent than the Communist Party USA had been. This led FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and at least two presidents (Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon) to suspect the New Left had also supplanted the Old Left as the subsidized domestic puppet of either the Soviet Union or other foreign communist regimes. 398 Hoover also suspected that Soviet subversion was fueling and possibly funding the civil-rights movement that was coalescing around Martin Luther King, Jr. 399

No financial connections have been established between foreign communist regimes and the New Left, or with the civil-rights groups that were active from the 1950s through 1970s. 400 401

COINTELPRO targeting of Civil Rights movement

Though no financial links were ever uncovered between the Soviet Union and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the FBI’s successful infiltration of the CPUSA in Project Solo generated rumors to the contrary. After a trip to visit Soviet leaders during the late 1950s, Morris Childs (Solo) reported back to the FBI that the Soviets were telling the Communist Party USA to make the Civil Rights movement a top priority. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover put this information in a report to President Eisenhower. 402

Childs, a top CPUSA official himself, informed the FBI that Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader Stanley Levison had been a top Communist Party USA official from 1952-1957. Levison was King’s top advisor and the writer of some of King’s speeches and other public documents. After a 1958 visit to Moscow, Childs also reported that the Soviets asked for a copy of one of the books King had written with Levison’s assistance. 403

Earlier, in October 1956, Hoover informed field agents that the CPUSA and the Civil Rights movement were connected. The FBI infiltrated civil rights groups in ten states, and according to FBI historian Tim Weiner “filed reports on hundreds of NAACP members.” Early in 1957, a COINTELPRO program was created to target the Civil Rights movement. 404

In January 1962, Hoover told Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy that Levison was a Soviet-controlled agent despite evidence that Levison had left the CPUSA in 1957. Kennedy responded by ordering an “intensive investigation” of Levison and spoke the next day with Hoover about wiretapping and electronic surveillance tactics. Soon afterward, according to Weiner, FBI physical surveillance of Levison caught him meeting in New York City with a suspected KGB officer. 405

In July 1967, a summer of race riots in dozens of America’s cities, the FBI intercepted a discussion between King and Levison. Hoover relayed this to President Lyndon Johnson with the claim that Levison had told King it was politically smart to side with the violence in the cities rather than oppose it. Johnson responded with an order for the FBI to increase its surveillance in search of the assumed connection between a communist foreign government and civil rights groups. 406

In August 1967 the FBI launched the “BLACK HATE” program within COINTELPRO, with orders to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist hate type organizations.” In addition to King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the COINTELPRO project was directed at other overtly political Black groups and individuals, such as Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, and Stokely Carmichael. 407

FBI relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Robert Kennedy-approved electronic surveillance of Stanley Levison’s office and residence began in March 1962 and continued for a half-dozen years. Because of Levison’s close ties to Martin Luther King, Jr., the listening devices recorded many frank discussions between the two. After listening to the early surveillance, Robert Kennedy became convinced that Hoover’s suspicions about Levison were correct and ordered the bugging to continue. 408

In 1963, William Sullivan, head of the FBI’s intelligence division, sent internal reports to Hoover that declared African Americans to be the “largest and most important racial target of the Communist Party USA” and that the CPUSA had been working to “control the Negro population” since 1919. Sullivan identified King as “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation.” 409

Sullivan’s reports were shipped to politicians all over the nation’s capital, despite an effort by Attorney General Robert Kennedy to have them withdrawn. The ensuing controversy allowed Hoover to demand and receive permission to target King personally with electronic surveillance everywhere King went. In addition to intercepting important strategic conversations with aides, the listening devices picked up King engaging in extramarital sexual liaisons. In an internal memo, Hoover judged these to be “obsessive degenerate sexual urges.” 410

In late 1964, after the announcement that King would receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Hoover held a news conference at which he accused King of being “the most notorious liar in the country.” 411 412

Two years earlier, King had criticized the FBI’s approach to solving violent crimes against civil rights campaigners, saying to the New York Times: “One of the great problems we face with the FBI in the south is that the agents are white southerners who have been influenced by the mores of the community.” The FBI’s electronic surveillance of King had also revealed his personal animosity towards Hoover and desire to have the FBI director fired. 413 414

After Hoover’s public denunciation of King, President Johnson ordered Hoover to meet with King and resolve their differences. When the meeting was over, King described it as “very friendly, very amicable.” Notes taken by an FBI agent who was present quoted Hoover as telling King that the Bureau was acting aggressively to protect civil rights and would put the “fear of God” into the Ku Klux Klan. 415

Days after Hoover’s “notorious liar” comment, the FBI anonymously sent an audio recording and a threatening letter to King. The audio provided evidence of King’s marital infidelity that had been captured by the FBI’s electronic surveillance. The letter accused King of being “a colossal fraud” and a “dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile.” Telling the civil rights leader that he was “done,” the letter encouraged King to commit suicide as the “one way out” before his “filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation.” 416

The anonymous letter was typed. A handwritten copy was later discovered among the files of FBI intelligence director William Sullivan. Sullivan admitted knowing about the project to send the recording and letter, but claimed to Senate investigators that he did not write the letter. 417

James Earl Ray murdered King in April 1968. After shooting the civil rights leader, according to Tim Weiner, Ray “eluded the biggest manhunt in FBI history” by boarding a bus to Canada and then a plane to the United Kingdom. Law enforcement in the United Kingdom captured Ray more than two months later as he attempted to board an aircraft to leave the country. 418

COINTELPRO targeting of Black Panther Party

The Black Panther Party was a communist Black militant organization founded in 1966 that allied with extremist New Left organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and explored diplomatic relations with communist regimes abroad. The Panthers were a target of the FBI’s COINTELPRO-BLACK HATE program. 419

According to journalists Kate Coleman and Paul Avery, the FBI forged “defamatory letters” between Panther co-founders Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver during the pair’s ideological dispute that began in 1970. The authors judged the purpose of this fabricated correspondence between the two men was to “play on their mutual paranoia” and exacerbate the ultimately irreparable split between them and their respective factions. 420

During the late 1960s in Southern California, the Black Panthers feuded with and competed for recruits with the US Organization, another Black nationalist group. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover encouraged his agents to further aggravate what he said had become “gang warfare” between the two groups, “with the attendant threats of murder and reprisals.” In a November 1968 memo to field offices, Hoover asked for “imaginative and hard-hitting counterintelligence measures” that might further harm the Panthers. 421

The Los Angeles FBI office responded, pitching to Hoover a plan to forge a document, purportedly from the US Organization, and get it to the Black Panthers. The fake correspondence would state that US had become aware of a plan by the Panthers to assassinate US Organization leader Ron Karenga, and that US was planning to retaliate against this supposed plot by launching surprise attacks against Panthers in Los Angeles. In selling the idea to Hoover, the Los Angeles office noted that it was “hoped this counterintelligence measure” would create a “vendetta” between both organizations. 422

In January 1969, two local Black Panther leaders were fatally shot in Los Angeles by US Organization members after an event on the University of California, Los Angeles campus. The deadly violence continued into August 1969 when another Panther was shot dead by US Organization gunmen while selling issues of The Black Panther newspaper at a shopping center in San Diego. 423

After the August murder, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego office sent a memo to Hoover that both celebrated and took credit for the violence: “Although no specific counterintelligence action can be credited with contributing to this over-all situation, it is felt that a substantial amount of the unrest is directly attributable to this program.” 424

Referencing the San Diego murder, the agent told Hoover “… a new cartoon is being considered in the hopes that it will assist in the continuance of the rift …. This cartoon, or series of cartoons, will be similar in nature to those formerly approved by the Bureau and will be forwarded to the Bureau for evaluation and approval immediately upon their completion.” 425

COINTELPRO had previously produced cartoons ridiculing the Panthers and edited the propaganda in such a way that it appeared US Organization had produced it. 426

Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton, the leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers, and Illinois Panther activist Mark Clark were shot to death during a controversial December 1969 police raid on Hampton’s residence. Four other Panthers were shot in the incident, and one police officer sustained a bullet wound. 427

Seven Panthers who survived the raid were arrested, but no proof was found that they had fired weapons. They were never charged. The state’s attorney for Cook County, Illinois; an assistant prosecutor; and twelve police officers present during the raid were later indicted for crimes related to their conduct. None was convicted. 428

A May 1970 federal grand jury report on the raid found that at least 82 shots had been fired by officers of the Special Prosecutions Unit (SPU), a local law-enforcement task force directed by the office of the Cook County state’s attorney. The investigation determined that only one shot may have been fired by one of the Panthers. 429

Investigating the apartment soon after the shooting, the New York Times reported: 430

Most of the rooms and walls appeared to be free of scars, pockmarks and bullet holes. There were clusters of bullet holes and the gouges of shotgun blasts in the places where the Panthers said the two men had been killed and four others had been wounded.  [. . .] There were no bullet marks in the area of the two doors through which the police said they entered. 431

Previously, in April 1969, the Chicago FBI’s COINTELPRO program had begun collaborating with the Special Prosecutions Unit. Using its surveillance of the Panthers, including informants and sometimes illegal warrantless wiretaps, the FBI provided intelligence to the SPU. 432

The FBI’s Chicago office recruited William O’Neal to become a paid informant to provide the FBI with information regarding the Chicago Panthers. At the time the FBI approached O’Neal, he was an inmate at the Cook County jail. O’Neal successfully infiltrated the Chicago Panthers, becoming the organization’s chief of security. 433

Several weeks before the raid on Fred Hampton’s home, O’Neal provided the FBI with a detailed map of the residence. This included an inventory of the weapons on the premises, individuals likely to be present, and the location of Hampton’s bed and nightstand, the spot where he was later shot dead. After the raid on Hampton’s home, the FBI awarded O’Neal a bonus payment of $300 (nearly $2,300 in 2021 dollars) for giving information of “tremendous value” in connection with the raid. 434

In 1983, the families of the deceased and surviving Panthers won a $1.85 million ($5 million in 2021 dollars) civil judgment against the city of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government. 435

COINTELPRO targeting of Stokely Carmichael

Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) was a radical socialist American civil rights activist who later became a black nationalist and separatist and a target of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. In 1966-67, he was the national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Originally a practitioner of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, policy of nonviolent resistance, Carmichael changed his mind about nonviolent resistance after—according to a History Channel profile—observing activists endure “repeated acts of violence and humiliation at the hands of white police officers without recourse.” 436 437

An internal FBI memo from 1968 states the Bureau believed COINTELPRO operations may have caused Carmichael to flee to Africa. As part of its harassment of Carmichael, the FBI attempted to exacerbate existing disagreements he had with members of the Black Panther Party. A memo sent from the FBI office in New York City to its headquarters in Washington, D.C., recounts a September 1968 “pretext call” made by a Bureau agent to Carmichael’s mother, in which the law-enforcement official pretended to be someone else and warned Ms. Carmichael that members of the Black Panthers were plotting to murder her son. The FBI memo states the call “shocked” Ms. Carmichael. 438

A 1975 Congressional examination of the incident states that the FBI believed the phone call to his mother “had been responsible for Carmichael’s flight to Africa the following day.” 439 The following spring, Carmichael publicly announced he would be permanently relocating to Guinea. 440

As part of their disinformation campaign, FBI agents also spread rumors that Carmichael was himself an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, having received riches, women, and special draft status in exchange for his alleged spying on behalf of the US government. 441

Shortly before dying of prostate cancer in 1998, Carmichael told interviewers that the FBI was responsible for giving him the disease. A Washington Post report on this claim noted “he is convinced [the cancer] was visited on him by the FBI, though he cannot say how.” 442

COINTELPRO failures against Weather Underground

In April 1968, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) took over five buildings on the campus of Columbia University and briefly held a school administrator hostage. 443 The insurrection was forcibly ended by police, leading to more than 700 arrests and 200 injuries. It touched off severely disruptive demonstrations at dozens of other schools over the ensuing weeks. Building takeovers occurred at colleges as large as Ohio State University. 444

SDS was a radical-left student organization often credited as the main force that created the New Left. It existed from 1960 until its demise in June 1969, when it split apart after a Maoist SDS faction affiliated with the Progressive Labor Party was expelled by a rival communist faction for being “objectively anticommunist” and “counterrevolutionary.” 445 The victorious SDS clique was led by individuals who soon thereafter formed the Weather Underground, a violent revolutionary communist domestic terrorist group that was active from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. 446

In May 1968, ten days after the police raid that broke the Columbia University takeover, the FBI created its COINTELPRO-NEW LEFT project. Instructions to FBI agents, according to journalist Tim Weiner, included to “exploit the rifts between SDS and its rival factions,” and to “create the false impression that an FBI agent stood behind every mailbox.” 447

Citing declassified COINTELPRO files, historian Arthur Eckstein wrote that the FBI’s decision to concentrate attention on SDS in May 1968 may have contributed directly to the demise of SDS one year later in June 1969. 448

Eckstein also wrote that the FBI may have helped create the Weather Underground. The historian revealed that FBI informants had infiltrated the Weatherman faction of SDS by June 1969, when the final SDS convention occurred, and likely comprised “dozens” of those who aligned with the effort to expel the Progressive Labor caucus. Eckstein provides documentation showing the FBI ordered these secret allies to side with Weatherman and “to the extent that it could, attempted to steer SDS toward Weatherman, which the FBI saw, initially, as less dangerous than PL.” 449

Eckstein gives this analysis of the incident: “This was the first FBI misjudgment of Weatherman; it would not be the last.” 450

The Weather Underground set off at least 25 bombs within the United States between 1969 and 1975, assaulting government targets such as military installations, police precincts, the U.S. Capitol, and the Pentagon. There were injuries inflicted on innocent victims of the first bombings and in March 1970, a New York City Weather Underground faction accidentally blew themselves up with a bomb they had intended to detonate during a dance that was being held for military personnel at Fort Dix, New Jersey. 451 452

There were no known innocent fatalities from Weather Underground bombings. But as late as 2003, several former Weathermen leaders were the subject of a federal probe into the February 1970 bombing-murder of a San Francisco, California, police officer that occurred two days after a known-Weatherman bombing that had injured police in nearby Berkeley. 453 454 455

Despite a significant investigation, costing an estimated $86.6 million in 2020 dollars, the FBI was never able to catch and secure prosecution of any major Weather Underground participants, two of whom appeared on the Bureau’s list of ten “Most Wanted” fugitives. In its desperation, the FBI resorted to unconstitutional methods to pursue the Weathermen, including warrantless break-ins and electronic surveillance of family members of Weathermen leaders. This behavior compromised the ability of federal law enforcement to prosecute the Weathermen, leading the U.S. Department of Justice to drop the most-serious charges in 1973 and allowing nearly all the Weathermen leaders to come out from hiding and avoid serious felony prosecutions. 456 457

FBI targeting of National Lawyers Guild

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is a radical-left association of attorneys, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers. Founded in the mid-1930s, the Guild has consistently been identified with radical-left groups and political orientations throughout its history. The FBI began surveilling the NLG as early as 1940 and would continue to do so until 1975. 458

According to historian Ellen Schrecker, the FBI illegally entered the Guild’s Washington, D.C., office at least fourteen times between 1947 and 1951. 459 In a 1989 lawsuit settlement, the FBI admitted that “it appears more likely than not” that a number of unauthorized break-ins occurred, that agents copied organizational records while inside, and that they wiretapped the NLG’s headquarters office phone without a warrant. 460 The FBI ultimately turned over approximately 400,000 pages of information it had collected on the NLG as part of that litigation. 461

Judith Coplon, an employee at the U.S. Department of Justice, was arrested in 1949 and charged with espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. Though the evidence against her was strong and she was found guilty, her convictions were overturned on appeal due to the illegal investigative methods employed by the FBI. The NLG analyzed material that was released through the Coplon trial, and eventually concluded that “the FBI may commit more federal crimes than it ever detects.” 462

COINTELPRO targeting of Ku Klux Klan

In July 1964, President Lyndon Johnson ordered the FBI to build up an investigative and intelligence-gathering operation targeting the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) that would rival what was then the longest-running and most-extensive program in the Bureau’s history. The president asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to create the Bureau’s “best intelligence system” for the mission, one that was “better than you got on the communists.” 463

Clarifying that for which he was asking, Johnson reminded Hoover that American Communists couldn’t “open their mouth without your knowin’ what they’re sayin’.” Then the president said: “Now I don’t want these Klansmen to open their mouths without your knowing what you are saying.” 464

FBI historian Tim Weiner wrote that up to this point, Hoover had not made it a priority to protect the Civil Rights movement, partly out of his belief that many of its members were Communists. 465

But, according to Weiner, Hoover aggressively implemented his new marching orders from the president: “The FBI would pursue the Klansmen, penetrate their ranks, subvert them, and sabotage them, so long as Lyndon Johnson commanded it to be done.” 466

In September 1964, the FBI created COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE, an infiltration, intelligence, and sabotage program targeting the KKK. According to Weiner, the Bureau deployed all the same tools it used against the Communist Party USA and other COINTELPRO targets. This included secret electronic surveillance and paying “small fortunes” to entice KKK members to become paid infiltrators. The FBI penetration became so pervasive that it led one COINTELPRO agent to brag that any meeting of ten Klansmen would include six Bureau informants. 467

The impetus for the creation of COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE was the June 1964 disappearance and suspected murder of civil rights activists Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andy Goodman in Neshoba, Mississippi. By that point in 1964, at least 20 Black churches had been firebombed in Mississippi, and the newly resurgent KKK had staged more than 60 public cross burnings. In response to the violence and threats the FBI opened an investigation it titled “Mississippi Burning.” 468

Many officers working for local law enforcement and the Mississippi Highway Patrol were known to be Klansmen, so federal officials—including Hoover—were skeptical that the case would be pursued aggressively by state-level officials. Before receiving his instructions from Johnson to go after the KKK with the FBI, Hoover had suggested sending the U.S. Marshals to Mississippi to police the local police. 469

One of the local KKK-affiliated police officers was Neshoba deputy sheriff Cecil Price, who stopped and arrested Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman as they were returning from the site of a recent church firebombing. Price released the three civil rights activists later the same evening, though he had already become involved in a conspiracy to murder them. Their station wagon was subsequently chased down by Klansmen who had been tipped off by Price. Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were beaten, killed, and buried. 470

The FBI responded to Johnson’s command by flooding Mississippi with 200 agents to work the case. Using tips from informers, the FBI located the burial site of the three murdered men in August 1964 and developed strong evidence regarding the identities of the killers. 471

Price was convicted of the murders in 1967 and released from prison in 1974. Six other men were also convicted in the triple murder conspiracy, but all received prison terms of no more than ten years. Nine other suspects were tried and acquitted. 472 473

The jury at the 1967 trial reached no verdict on three other defendants. One of the three, Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen, was tried again for his role in the slayings in 2005, found guilty, sentenced to 60 years, and died in prison. 474

A paid FBI informant who was a highly placed official within the Mississippi KKK identified all the police and Klan officials who participated in the murder conspiracy. The FBI paid the informant $250,000—more than $2.3 million in 2022 inflation-adjusted dollars. 475

1965 murder of Alabama civil rights worker

The FBI’s success in infiltrating the Klan with paid informants paid off months later in another highly publicized murder of a civil rights activist. 476

In March 1965, a white civil rights worker was murdered in Selma, Alabama, when a car containing Klan gunmen pulled alongside her vehicle and shot her. One of the occupants of the gunmen’s vehicle, but who allegedly fired no shots himself, was an FBI informant.  Within hours, the FBI had debriefed the informant, who identified four other men in the car, including the two who fired the fatal gunshots. The next day, President Lyndon Johnson and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover announced the arrests at a press gathering at the White House. They did not mention how they had broken the case open so quickly. 477

When Johnson had himself asked Hoover about the quick arrests, Hoover explained that his agents had been approaching known Klan members and offering them the opportunity to become informants for the Bureau. “We pay ‘em for it,” Hoover told the president. “Sometimes they demand a pretty high price, other times they don’t.” 478

Mafia Investigations

Beginning with the creation of the FBI in 1924 and continuing through the 1940s, it assigned a low priority to investigating organized crime in the United States, which by that time was dominated by Sicilian and Italian mobs known colloquially as “the Mafia.” FBI director J. Edgar Hoover himself was responsible for this reluctance to go after the Mafia, according to New York Times organized-crime reporter Selwyn Raab. 479

In his 2005 book, Five Families: The rise, decline and resurgence of America’s most powerful Mafia empires, Raab wrote: 480

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the nation’s largest crime-fighting force, had the interstate jurisdiction to delve into almost any crime that occurred from coast to coast. J. (John) Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s director since its inception in 1924, dismissed as fantasy suggestions that an American Mafia or any interrelated national crime organization existed. As a result, there were no FBI authorities on organized crime; through the 1940s not a single agent, even in Mob-infested cities like New York and Chicago, was assigned exclusively to organized-crime work. 481

Even as late as 1959, according to journalist Tim Weiner, the FBI had “more than four hundred FBI agents based in New York” investigating Communists and Soviet espionage, while “only four covered the mob.” The author of Enemies: A History of the FBI, Weiner explained that Hoover’s timidity in the pursuit of organized crime was due to his concern that agents could potentially be “bribed and bought off,” leading to bad publicity and embarrassment for the Bureau. 482

Hoover’s official argument for avoiding organized-crime investigations, according to Weiner, was that “crimes like racketeering and extortion were matters for state and local law enforcement.” 483 But Raab, echoing Weiner’s assertion regarding Hoover’s fear of embarrassment from corrupted agents, wrote that at one time, Hoover prohibited the mere reference of the word “Mafia” in an internal Bureau communication. 484

A powerful national governing board for criminal gangs, the Mafia Commission, was created in 1931 to establish mutual rules of conduct, adjudicate differences, and reduce violence between Mafia groups. The brainchild of top mob boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the Commission assigned an equal vote to the most-powerful crime bosses in the nation, who in turn represented smaller gangs from other cities. 485

Luciano intended for the Commission to enhance the success and longevity of each separate criminal enterprise. Most of the criminal families entitled to vote (with some later adopting different names) would continue to increase their size and influence for more than five decades afterwards. Raab wrote that this system was “custom-designed for efficient plunder,” yet had been created “[w]ithout the awareness of the nation’s vast law-enforcement apparatus.” 486

Mafia Tax Investigations

With little FBI interest in the Mafia in the decades after creation of the Mafia Commission, the most-serious investigations and prosecutions came from various agencies controlled by the Department of the Treasury. The Treasury Department’s accountants were responsible for taking down prominent gangsters on tax-evasion charges stemming from their failure (or inability) to report income from criminal enterprises.

Selwyn Raab wrote that Treasury auditors “barely scratched the surface” of the total loot taken by Chicago boss Al Capone. Nevertheless, they identified more than $1 million from 1924 to 1929 that the founding Mafia Commission member had not reported ($18.7 million in 2022 dollars). Capone was found guilty of tax evasion and imprisoned in 1932, effectively ending his criminal career, if not those of his criminal associates in Chicago. 487

Like all the major Mafia bosses, Frank Costello learned from the fate of Al Capone and was careful to launder or conceal his own ill-gotten gains. Costello had risen to control New York’s Luciano Crime Family in 1937, after a New York state prosecutor won a long prison sentence against Charlie “Lucky” Luciano on charges that he was the ringleader of an extensive prostitution racket. After Costello refused to disclose his net worth during testimony before a Congressional hearing in 1951, he was convicted of contempt of Congress and jailed for 15 months. 488

That same year, the IRS began investigating Costello. The auditors found that his wife was the key to unlocking her husband’s concealed riches. According to Five Families, Mrs. Costello would embark on a “spending spree” each time she discovered her husband had been unfaithful to her. The IRS found she had spent $570,000 ($6.2 million in 2022 dollars) that could not be accounted for based on the income the gangster had reported. 489

Costello was convicted of tax evasion and incarcerated for almost a year, until an appellate court overturned the conviction. 490

Hoover’s rivalry with Harry Anslinger

The most-prominent federal lawman investigating the Mafia while Hoover was reluctant to do so was Harry Anslinger, the commissioner of the Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics (the predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Agency) from 1930 until 1962. According to Selwyn Raab’s Five Families, Anslinger was the “only official who challenged [Hoover’s] assertion that a dangerous Italian-American crime organization did not exist.” Despite commanding a force one-third the size of the FBI’s whose agents were paid less, Raab wrote that Anslinger deployed investigative tactics that were “dynamically original, unorthodox, and far ahead of his time.” These tactics included sending undercover agents to infiltrate gangs and paying criminal informants already inside to snitch on their compatriots. 491 492

Not unlike the pursuit of communists by Hoover’s FBI, Anslinger’s agents also resorted to warrantless wiretaps, extreme interrogation tactics, and other civil rights violations as they investigated the Mafia. 493 Responsible for pursuing the criminalization of marijuana, Anslinger was later regarded—in a description used by the New York Times in 2020—as “the founding father of America’s war on drugs.” 494

As the Commission-affiliated gangsters began to push out rivals during the 1930s, Anslinger and his agents noticed (and recorded) a shift in control of the narcotics trade away from Jewish, Irish, and Chinese gangsters and to the Italian and Sicilian mobsters. Anslinger responded by hiring Italian investigators. According to Five Families, this led to a “trove of intelligence about Mafia activities that went far beyond narcotics.” 495

Anslinger and his team compiled dossiers on 800 Mafia-connected gangsters. But in what Raab wrote was Hoover’s “typical sign of contempt for other law-enforcement agencies,” the FBI chief refused to accept Anslinger’s offer to share the “invaluable records.” The FBI did not make use of the Bureau of Narcotics’ decades of hard-earned intelligence on the Mafia until the late 1970s. 496

Apalachin Conference and Fallout

In 1957, Anslinger’s significant head start on Mafia investigations resulted in a national embarrassment for Hoover, which resulted in the first grudging signs that the FBI was taking organized crime seriously. After its founding meeting in 1931, the Mafia Commission established a policy of meeting at least every five years so the bosses of the allied crime families could settle business affairs and disputes between them. These meetings remained outside of law-enforcement scrutiny and were a well-guarded secret until November 1957, when a New York state policeman noticed a suspicious gathering in the making at a rural estate in Apalachin, New York. The owner of the home was Joseph Barbera, known to the state trooper as a former bootlegger. The policeman called in agents from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (another law enforcement branch of the Department of the Treasury), and a barricade was set up to detain and investigate the attendees. 497

Alerted to the unwanted attention, Barbera’s guests attempted to flee what later became known as the “Apalachin Conference.” But 58 were detained at the scene or shortly thereafter. The account in Five Families reported that after checking identifications, the federal and state lawmen discovered they had stumbled upon a “star-studded cast of underworld figures” from all over the nation, including as far off as California, Florida, and Texas. Barbera, the owner of the Apalachin estate, was the boss of a crime family that operated out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. 498

The unexpected roundup of so many gangsters in one place garnered significant news coverage. A special U.S. Senate select committee was swiftly convened to investigate the connections between organized labor and Apalachin’s organized-crime figures. Mob boss Vito Genovese, head of the eponymous crime family, was one of many of his station subpoenaed to testify. Soon afterward, Genovese became another Mafia don brought down by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics when an already-incarcerated drug dealer became an FBN witness who claimed direct knowledge of Genovese’s involvement in heroin distribution. A 1959 conviction led to a 15-year prison sentence, and Genovese was still behind bars when he died in 1969. 499

The national publicity from the Apalachin gathering ended all debate about the vast size of the nation’s organized-crime syndicates. Harry Anslinger and his agents were vindicated and widely praised for their many years of investigating and accurately warning about the immense conspiracy of the crooked. According to Selwyn Raab, Hoover was “privately humiliated” after getting upstaged by the FBN and was still “publicly in denial about the existence of the Mafia.” 500

The FBI’s centennial history, posted online in 2008, has an extensive description of the Apalachin Conference bust that does not mention the involvement of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Treasury Department, or the FBN. 501

Internally, the FBI began to slowly change direction after Apalachin. Top FBI lieutenant William Sullivan, following Hoover’s orders, researched and wrote a July 1958 report describing the history and vast reach of the American Mafia. Contradicting prior FBI policy that prohibited even the use of the name “Mafia,” the report concluded that the “available evidence makes it impossible to deny logically the existence of a criminal organization known as the Mafia, which for generations has plagued the law-abiding citizens of Sicily, Italy and the United States.” Hoover allowed only a close circle of loyalists to read the report and then declared it a classified secret document that would not be made public. 502

FBI policy was changed as well. Seeking to replicate the intelligence already acquired by Anslinger’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Hoover ordered secret (and unconstitutional surveillance against suspected mobsters. These included the so-called “black bag job” break-ins to plant bugs at the offices and clubs used by Mafia bosses. 503

But the FBI’s lack of experience with Mafia habits and customs left FBI agents at a big disadvantage. Selwyn Raab observed that “little intelligence was gained” by the new FBI approach. 504

FBI field offices were instructed to create a “Top Ten Hoodlums” program modeled on the FBI’s marketing success with the “Ten Most Wanted List.” Every FBI office, regardless of location, was ordered to create a list of its ten most-prominent and -powerful mobsters, and then seek prosecutions. Five Families noted that the creation of such lists was easy for agents in big cities with many genuine organized-crime targets to hunt. But the idea flopped in jurisdictions such as Wyoming, Idaho, or Montana where the Mafia was not active. In those instances, wrote Raab, the FBI agents ended up with mostly meaningless work against “small-time bookies and gamblers,” as well as entirely trivial and wasteful diversions from a federal law enforcement perspective chasing “petty criminals and juvenile delinquents. 505

However, Raab wrote that Hoover maintained a weak commitment to pursuing the Mafia as the decade ended: “Hoover’s investigative commitments were most evident in New York, where a grand total of four agents were assigned full-time to keep an eye on the nation’s largest and most active mafiosi detachment of more than two thousand soldiers and thousands of wannabe associates.” Even as late as 1961 the FBI’s intelligence files on the Mafia “consisted mainly of newspaper clippings.” 506

Kennedy-era diligence

In January 1961, because of the ascension of his brother to the presidency, Robert F. Kennedy became the U.S. Attorney General. Kennedy pressured Hoover and the FBI into dedicating themselves to a then-unprecedented pursuit of the Mafia, which lasted until shortly before he resigned as attorney general in September 1964.

A History Channel analysis of the era stated: “Kennedy was the first Attorney General to encourage the government’s investigative agencies—the DOJ, the FBI, the IRS and others— to work together to investigate large-scale crimes and national crime syndicates.” 507

Selwyn Raab wrote that in “less than a year,” the Bureau program to bring investigations up to the level of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had succeeded. Raab quoted G. Robert Blakey, one of the prosecutors working under Kennedy at the Justice Department, who said FBI agents “had to learn from scratch” but “by mid-1962, they got it all down.” The new attorney general also reversed Hoover’s policy and “eagerly accepted” the extensive intelligence dossiers that the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had collected on Mafia figures. He gave these files to Department of Justice lawyers. 508 509

New York Police Department detective Ralph Salerno was another law-enforcement official with valuable intelligence files and expertise in pursing the large number of Mafia associates in that city. Salerno recalled that Attorney General Kennedy’s directives led to the first time the FBI had asked him for information regarding the Mafia, and that “they had a lot of catching up to do.” Salerno and his NYPD compatriots began providing instructions to FBI agents regarding crime family habits and customs and how best to gather information. 510

At Robert Kennedy’s instigation, the FBI began investigating lawyers and accountants used by the gangsters, often without evidence that any crime had been committed. Following the conviction of Chicago boss Al Capone on tax-evasion charges, Mafia dons had deployed increasingly extensive legal and accounting strategies to evade prosecutions and convictions. The goal of investigating the lawyers and accountants, wrote Selwyn Raab, was to “intimidate” those who were providing these services to crime families. 511

Illegal eavesdropping

The most effective tool used by the FBI in implementing Kennedy’s directives was the illegal and unconstitutional electronic surveillance of suspected mobsters. The Bureau’s experience in planting and using eavesdropping devices was unequaled by any other federal or state law-enforcement agency. The spying was referred to by FBI euphemisms such as “highly confidential sources” or “extraordinary investigative techniques.” 512

The targets of this surveillance sometimes communicated in Italian or Sicilian. The FBI responded by sending agents to language training schools. By one account in Five Families, Las Vegas agents initially confined their listening to the Bureau’s standard work hours, failing to realize the night-owl behavior of the mobsters. But with experience, the FBI learned both when to listen and how to understand what was being said. 513

William G. Hundley, head of the organized-crime section within the Kennedy-led Department of Justice, and for a time allegedly the only figure outside the FBI with knowledge of the illegal eavesdropping, explained the rationale for it: 514

Hoover had never done anything on organized crime. His game plan was to catch up in a hurry with the bugs. Later he could use the information from the bugs to develop informers, make cases, and nobody would ever know. 515

In the summer of 1963, the FBI was gifted a chance to strategically release some of its critical, but illegally obtained Mafia intelligence.

In July 1963, incarcerated Genovese soldier (a rank signifying full membership in the Mafia) Joseph Valachi murdered another inmate. To avoid a first-degree murder conviction, Valachi became a government witness, the first “made man” in the history of the American Mafia to betray the crime syndicates. His U.S. Senate testimony over the summer and fall of 1963 revealed important and not yet understood background information about the American Mafia. 516

As a middle-management figure working with a small part of just one of the many New York crime families, Valachi’s knowledge was limited. 517

Though Valachi’s knowledge was limited to his position within the Mafia hierarchy, the FBI had its own information about the inner workings of many Mafia families. Valachi provided an opportunity for the Bureau to strategically launder some of this unconstitutionally obtained intelligence into the public record. In their debriefings of Valachi, FBI agents coached him to testify authoritatively about many facts the FBI had learned about the crime families through its illegal eavesdropping. Eager to please, Valachi dishonestly portrayed the FBI’s information as knowledge he had obtained first-hand. 518

Return to complacency

Just one year into Robert Kennedy’s efforts to increase FBI pressure on the Mafia, there was evidence the FBI director wasn’t entirely on board. A January 1962 Bureau publication quoted Hoover: “No single individual or coalition of racketeers dominates organized crime across the nation.” Hoover’s complacency in this respect returned after Robert F. Kennedy stepped down as attorney general. 519

Robert Kennedy had an acrimonious relationship with Vice President Lyndon Johnson that predated the November 1963 assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. With his influence over the new Johnson administration severely reduced, Kennedy resigned less than a year later. 520

With the departure of the Kennedys, according to Selwyn Raab, J. Edgar Hoover “rapidly downgraded the Mafia as a vital priority.” Hoover was aided by Ramsey Clark, the new attorney general, who directed the Bureau to use secret surveillance against “national security” threats only. Hoover swiftly complied and pulled away from most of the Mafia eavesdropping. 521

In the years that followed, Raab wrote, the FBI “did occasionally arrest blundering minor mobsters whose mistakes could not be ignored.” But otherwise, there was no longer “encouragement from FBI headquarters” to put significant resources into organized-crime investigations. The Mafia would not again become an FBI priority until well after Hoover’s death in 1972. Raab wrote that the next three directors after Hoover, collectively guiding the FBI through 1978, “continued the same ineffectual and indifferent policies Hoover had instituted for pursuing mafiosi.” 522

In 1980, a confidential FBI report estimated the Mafia’s nationwide annual revenue was $25 billion. If accurate, this would be the equivalent of $82.2 billion in 2021 dollars, a figure that exceeds the 2021 revenue of firms such as Wells Fargo ($80.3 billion), General Electric ($79.6 billion), and State Farm Insurance ($78.9 billion), respectively the 37th, 38th and 39th largest public corporations (by revenue) listed on the Fortune 500. 523 524

The FBI report credited at least half (and as much as 60 percent) of this total to the Five Families of New York City, then named Genovese, Colombo, Gambino, Bonanno, and Lucchese. 525  

One remarkable exception to the FBI’s complacency during this period was the work of FBI agent Joe Pistone. Beginning in 1976 and continuing through 1981, Pistone, using the alias “Donnie Brasco,” posed as a jewel thief. Already fluent in Sicilian due to family heritage, Agent Pistone ingratiated himself with members of the Bonanno crime family and accomplished an unprecedented and extraordinary undercover penetration of a Mafia crime family. Just before he was pulled off the case by his FBI superiors, the Bonanno family was preparing to initiate Brasco/Pistone as a “made man.” 526 527

Pistone’s work and subsequent testimony against Bonanno criminals and their associates in the United States and Canada led to at least 20 trials and 200 convictions. Hoping to mitigate the damage done, Bonanno leaders not associated with Pistone killed or plotted to murder those who had exposed the crime family to the risk. 528 529

In addition to the internal damage Pistone inflicted on the Bonannos, his work also crippled them externally in the eyes of nation’s other Mafia clans. No longer able to trust the many shared criminal enterprises that Pistone was involved in, and fearing additional FBI investigations, the four other New York Mafia families proclaimed the Bonannos outcasts and took the unprecedent step of kicking them off the Mafia Commission. The Bonannos did not reclaim a seat on the commission until more than decade later. 530 531

Rise of RICO and Title III wiretapping

In 1968 and 1970, two federal laws were passed that, when used together a decade later, allowed state and federal law enforcement to inflict lasting damage against organized-crime syndicates. They were both sponsored by Sen. John McClellan (D-AR) and were each written with substantial input from Notre Dame law professor G. Robert Blakey, alongside a staffer on McClellan’s committee. Until 1964, Blakey had been an attorney with the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, working there for the period when Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had cajoled the FBI into vigorously pursuing Mafia investigations. 532 533

Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 created the first constitutionally permissible framework for law-enforcement agencies to use electronic surveillance against criminal suspects. Before this, eavesdropping via telephone taps and hidden microphones had been widely employed by the FBI, but without warrants and therefore in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful searches. 534 535

Under Title III, federal and state law-enforcement agencies were permitted to seek a warrant from a judge to conduct electronic surveillance. The warrant could be obtained only after police and prosecutors demonstrated probable cause that the intended targets of the eavesdropping were planning or committing crimes, and that no other investigative method could safely obtain the evidence desired. The warrants were also limited to 30 days and could be extended only if law-enforcement officials demonstrated evidence of criminal behavior had been obtained by the prior warrant, raising the threshold of additional probable cause for the new warrant. 536 537

Before Title III, federal officials including both J. Edgar Hoover and Robert Kennedy had asked Congress to pass legislation to legalize electronic eavesdropping. The earlier proposals (and Title III) were opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Blakey, an ACLU member, disagreed with the group, arguing that Title III protected civil liberties by putting courts in control of the decision, and in exchange firmly prohibited the secretive and warrantless surveillance previously used. 538 539

Title IX of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). RICO was designed to cripple organized-crime families by repeatedly convicting crime bosses and their senior lieutenants of serious crimes. 540 541

Mafia syndicates had traditionally insulated their leadership from direct participation in crimes. Without evidence against top bosses, law enforcement was left to concentrate on lower-tier mobsters where direct evidence of criminality was more plentiful. Explaining the problem to FBI agents at the end of 1979, Blakey compared it to wolves hunting a herd of deer: “… you pick off the sick and wounded, and only make the herd—organized crime—stronger.” 542

RICO made it a crime to lead an organization that committed crimes such as loan-sharking, extortion, or embezzlement from organized labor unions. Instead of proving mob bosses had directly participated in gangland offenses, the new standard was to prove that an individual was conscious of the fact he was running an “enterprise” engaging in a “pattern” of committing RICO-predicate crimes. 543

Providing a judge with strong evidence of “pattern” and “enterprise” allowed law enforcement to obtain Title III warrants to wiretap the phones and hangouts (including vehicles) used by those suspected of being top mob bosses and senior leaders. The wiretaps allowed police and prosecutors to acquire evidence to prove predicate crimes were being committed, to demonstrate the very existence of the “racketeer influenced corrupt organization,” and to identify the top leadership. 544

Those convicted under RICO faced long federal prison sentences. But top-level gangsters who testified meaningfully against their compatriots could be spared the most-severe sentences and benefit from an enhanced federal witness-protection program. These incentives were designed to break the code of silence known as “Omerta” that had helped ensure the Mafia’s rise and power. RICO, according to Five Families, “outlawed the Mafia’s fundamental and ingrained operating procedures.” 545

From 1970 until 1979, nearly a decade after RICO and Title III were available to the FBI, federal law enforcement failed to use them as intended by their author. G. Robert Blakey spent the 1970s trying to raise awareness of these tools and encourage their use. But according to Five Families, “[n]o one in federal law enforcement wanted to use RICO,” and Blakey was “looked upon as a fuzzy-minded college professor.” When Blakey spoke to federal prosecutors in November 1972, the U.S. Attorney for Manhattan ordered him to leave the room, saying: “You’re wasting my time and my assistants’. Get out.” 546

Blakey had intended RICO to be used in tandem with Title III as a legal weapon to take apart entire criminal enterprises rather than merely investigate individual suspects. But, in addition to the indifference and animosity from federal prosecutors regarding RICO, he also discovered that the FBI was failing to take full advantage of Title III. Rather than exploit the possibility of making big (but expensive) cases against criminal conspiracies, agents were using their new wiretap authority to conduct more- efficient investigations and obtain convictions against the same low-level criminals they had been pursing before. While doing little damage to the leadership structure of entrenched crime families, this strategy allowed FBI offices to beef up their official statistics. 547

Mafia Commission Trials

The reluctance of the FBI to use RICO and Title III wiretaps as G. Robert Blakey intended changed with the appointment of FBI Director William Webster in January 1978. Webster swiftly appointed a new special agent to lead one of the FBI field offices in New York City. An admirer of Blakey’s ideas, Webster instructed two of his senior agents to attend a seminar taught by him. By late 1979, the office was collaborating closely with Blakey and plotting to fully exploit the RICO and Title III advantages against New York’s top crime bosses. 548 549

Prior to 1980, according to Selwyn Raab, two additional FBI field offices for New York City had been created to supplement the work of the main office in downtown Manhattan. Over time, the two nominally subordinate offices evolved into quasi-autonomous commands. This fractured status led to each of the three offices conducting separate, often-uncoordinated, probes into the city’s five Mafia families. Raab wrote that the result of this was often “overlapping chaos” and “embarrassing consequences.” 550

In one of the anecdotes Raab provided, Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello, a captain in the Genovese crime family, was simultaneously targeted by four different investigative teams pursing six different criminal probes. The oversized footprint of the duplicative efforts made it impossible to keep them hidden from Ianniello. 551

In 1980, the FBI agents consulting with Blakey conceived of a plan to re-consolidate the three disparate New York City offices into one command, and then re-divide the organized-crime investigators into five squads, each named for and charged with pursuing one of city’s major Mafia families: Gambino, Genovese, Colombo, Lucchese, and Bonanno. According to Raab, the intent was to replicate the organizational structure of the Mafia Commission itself, right down to the friendly cooperation that had allowed the crime families to reduce destructive competition between them for almost five decades. The FBI’s new goal would be winning stiff RICO convictions against all the New York Mafia’s top leadership. 552

Their proposal was submitted to FBI director William Webster and approved within a month. Webster also granted the five New York Mafia squads access to the Bureau’s most-sophisticated surveillance equipment, previously only available to FBI agents working counterintelligence investigations. By 1984, an FBI task force of 350 FBI agents and 100 local police detectives were collectively working on the RICO investigations against the New York crime families. 553

Title III surveillance warrants allowed FBI investigators for the first time to listen to mob bosses admitting the existence and extensive criminal power of the Mafia Commission. In May 1984, FBI agents conducted live visual surveillance of a Mafia Commission meeting and obtained photographs proving top leaders from four of the five Mafia families were in attendance. This was the first proof of a Commission meeting since the 1957 Apalachin conference. Due to unprecedented disarray caused by the separate and extraordinarily successful infiltration by an FBI undercover known by the alias “Donnie Brasco,” the Bonannos had been stripped of their seat on the commission and did not send a representative to the May 1984 gathering. 554

In February 1985, a federal grand jury approved RICO indictments against four of the five bosses of the New York Mafia crime families and many top lieutenants. Among those originally indicted were Gambino boss Paul “Big Paul” Castellano, Lucchese boss Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo, Bonanno boss Philip “Rusty” Rastelli, and Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, the assumed boss of the Genoveses. 555

With revisions in the cast of defendants, the February 1985 indictments would become the so-called Mafia Commission Trial, a combined RICO prosecution aimed at decapitating the leadership of the five families. Colombo boss Carmine “The Snake” Persico was subsequently added to the indictment. Paul Castellano was murdered on the orders of Gambino rival John Gotti before he could be tried. Philip Rastelli was removed from the indictment and charged separately in another RICO prosecution. 556

The Mafia Commission trial ended in November 1986, with the jury issuing 151 guilty verdicts on RICO charges and other offenses against Persico, Salerno, Corallo, and five other top-level mafia executives. There were no “not guilty” verdicts; all eight defendants were convicted of every charge submitted to the jury. All the bosses and five others were given 100-year federal prison terms. Anthony (Bruno) Indelicato, an assassin for the Bonannos, received a 40-year sentence. None of the Mafia leaders returned to power. 557

Bonanno boss Philip Rastelli was convicted one month earlier, in October 1986, in a separate RICO prosecution and given a 12-year prison sentence. 558

The FBI’s decision in 1980 to pursue RICO investigations against the New York Mafia was a widely recognized success. Within one week of each other in January 1987, four of the five New York Mafia godfathers and some of their top confederates were sentenced to long prison sentences that effectively ended their criminal careers. Gambino boss Paul Castellano was the only one to escape conviction, because he had been murdered before his trial. 559

FBI director William Webster pronounced the success of the strategy in February 1985, on the day the initial indictment against several of the bosses was handed down: “We had RICO for ten years before we knew what to do with it.” One of the FBI agents that had worked closely with Blakey to create the strategy called him up and said the indictments were “the most exciting moment of my life in the Bureau.” 560

Ongoing Successes against the Mafia

After this initial success in New York City, FBI offices and federal prosecutors across the nation began using RICO investigation and prosecution strategies. By 1990, according to Selwyn Raab, “more than two hundred” bosses and top-level lieutenants had been convicted and sentenced to long prison sentences in former Mafia-afflicted cities such as Kansas City, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Buffalo. In these towns, according to Raab, all the Mafia crime families were “vanquished or severely undermined.” 561

The much-stronger New York crime families were able to replace their top leadership following the convictions in the 1986 Mafia Commission trial. The FBI and federal prosecutors took aim at and swiftly brought down many of these replacements, demonstrating the enduring value of RICO as a legal weapon against the mob. 562

John Gotti seized the leadership of the Gambino crime family in 1985 after orchestrating the murder of Paul Castellano (shortly after Castellano had been indicted in what became the Mafia Commission trial). By April 1992, Gotti himself had been convicted of RICO crimes and sentenced to life in prison. His gangster career was ended with the assistance of his own voice recordings from Title III surveillance, and the defection of his underboss, Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano. Facing conviction for his own serious crimes, Gravano had accepted an offer to be placed in the RICO-enhanced witness-protection program in exchange for his testimony against Gotti. 563

Such a high-level betrayal would have been hard to fathom prior to the use of Title III and RICO tools. After RICO, according to Five Families, the Mafia’s code of silence had been destroyed, with even Mafia “big shots” becoming government witnesses after “half a century in which not a single leader or capo had switched sides.” 564

By the end of the 20th century, wrote Raab, the FBI and prosecutors were indicting Mafia figures with a “numbing frequency” and had “seemingly decimated the Mob’s sacred stronghold in New York.” 565 Writing in 2009, Notre Dame law professor and Mafia historian G. Robert Blakey observed: “Today, the five families in New York City are in disarray.” 566

JFK Assassination Investigation

The task of comprehensively investigating the November 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and reporting the facts to the American people was assigned by President Lyndon Johnson to the “President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy.” Colloquially known as the “Warren Commission” after its chair, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Commission relied upon the FBI to report on the criminal investigation of both the president’s murder and the subsequent slaying of presumed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

The Warren Commission’s report, released in 1964, became the subject of ridicule due to serious errors of omission, most notably but not limited to Warren’s refusal to allow the committee to compel testimony from critical witnesses, such as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, head of the Department of Justice. 567

The FBI’s behavior prior to the assassination and its role as a primary contributor of information to the Warren Commission’s final report was evaluated in the late 1970s by the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). In 1979, the HSCA’s final report concluded the Bureau “performed with varying degrees of competency in the fulfillment of its duties.” 568

Evaluating the Bureau’s behavior prior to the assassination, the HSCA report found that the FBI had “adequately investigated Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the assassination and properly evaluated the evidence it possessed to assess his potential to endanger the public safety in a national emergency.” Judging FBI conduct after the assassination, the HSCA credited the Bureau with conducting “a thorough and professional investigation into the responsibility of Lee Harvey Oswald for the assassination.” 569

The HSCA criticized the FBI on two issues, concluding it had “failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the President” and “was deficient in its sharing of information with other agencies and departments.” 570

Oswald investigations

The HSCA praised the Bureau’s scientific analysis of the crime-scene evidence. The HSCA reported that this allowed for the rapid and conclusive proof that Oswald had fired the shots that hit the president. “The thoroughness and efficiency of the collection and processing of such a mass of evidence, for example, could hardly be overstated,” concluded the report. 571

The HSCA report criticized the Bureau for having a “distinctly adversarial” attitude toward the Warren Commission that led to “limited areas in which the FBI did not provide complete information to the Commission and other areas in which the Bureau’s information was misleading.” 572

As one example, Oswald’s radical left-wing political behavior triggered a pre-assassination investigation by the FBI’s Dallas office. So far as is known, this investigation revealed no reason for agents to become concerned that Oswald was a threat to the president. (The HSCA report found the Bureau’s security screening of Oswald to have been “adequate.”) 573

However, according to the HSCA report, two weeks before the assassination, Oswald responded to an FBI agent’s efforts to contact him by dropping off a note at the FBI office in which Oswald “reportedly threatened” the agent. Though other agents knew of this note, it was withheld from the Warren Commission and flushed down a toilet by the agent, and its existence was kept hidden for 12 years. 574

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover internally disciplined agents involved in the pre-assassination monitoring of Oswald for what Hoover deemed to be unsatisfactory performance, but the Bureau hid records of these reprimands from the Warren Commission. The HSCA report concluded that “the circumstances of such disciplinary action should have been communicated to the Warren Commission, particularly since a number of the personnel disciplined participated in the assassination investigation.” 575

Conspiracy investigations

The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald acted entirely alone and did not commit the assassination for the benefit of any other party, nor with the knowledge or support of any other party. The HSCA disagreed with the certainty of this finding and instead determined that the Warren Commission “failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy.” It assigned some of the blame for this failure on “other agencies and departments,” notably the FBI and the CIA. 576

Specifically, regarding the FBI, the HSCA report stated: 577

The committee concluded from its lengthy study of the roles of the FBI, Secret Service, CIA, and other Federal agencies that assisted the Warren Commission that the final determinations of who was responsible for President Kennedy’s murder and whether there had been a conspiracy were based largely on the work of the FBI. With an acute awareness of the significance of its finding, the committee concluded that the FBI’s investigation of whether there had been a conspiracy in President Kennedy’s assassination was seriously flawed. The conspiracy aspects of the investigation were characterized by a limited approach and an inadequate application and use of available resource.

The committee concluded that the FBI’s investigation into a conspiracy was deficient in the areas that the committee decided were most worthy of suspicion: organized crime, pro- and anti-Castro Cubans, and the possible associations of individuals from these areas with Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. In those areas in particular, the committee found that the FBI’s investigation was in all likelihood insufficient to have uncovered a conspiracy. 578  

The HSCA further criticized FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for creating an “atmosphere of considerable haste and pressure” on the agents “to conclude the investigation in an unreasonably short period of time” because of “Hoover’s personal predisposition that Oswald had been a lone assassin.” 579

Based on a closer examination of information not made available to the Warren Commission, the HSCA concluded that “the available evidence does not preclude” the possibility that Oswald was working with or for anti-Castro Cubans, or some individual organized crime figures, or both. The report specifically cited New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello and Florida boss Santo Trafficante, Jr., as individuals with unique means, motive, and opportunity to have been involved. 580

In 1993, HSCA chief counsel G. Robert Blakey reiterated the possibility of a conspiracy and noted that “substantial overlaps” existed between the two mob bosses and the anti-Castro Cubans. Blakey, an organized crime expert and law professor, also wrote the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act while working as a Congressional committee staffer. 581

The HSCA report was particularly critical of the resources the FBI failed to use in its investigation of the assassination: 582

The committee similarly learned from testimony and documentation that the FBI’s investigation of the President’s assassination was also severely limited in the area of possible organized crime involvement. While the committee found that the Bureau was uniquely equipped, with the Special Investigative Division having been formed 2 years earlier specifically to investigate organized crime, the specialists and agents of that Division did not play a significant role in the assassination investigation. Former Assistant FBI Director Courtney Evans, who headed the Special Investigative Division, told the committee that the officials who directed the investigation never consulted him or asked for any participation by his Division. Evans recalled, “I know they sure didn’t come to me. We had no part in that that I can recall.” Al Staffeld, a former FBI official who supervised the day-to-day operations of the Special Investigative Division, told the committee that if the FBI’s organized crime specialists had been asked to participate, “We would have gone at it in every damn way possible.” 583

Watergate: Hoover’s Three Replacements

On June 17, 1972, political operatives working for President Richard Nixon broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Complex in Washington, DC, touching off the “Watergate” political scandal that would ultimately lead to Nixon’s resignation two years later. 584

Edgar Hoover died on May 2, 1972, less than two months before the Watergate burglary. Hoover had been FBI director for a few days short of 48 years. Over the next 14 months, three others took turns sitting at the director’s desk while the Bureau investigated the Watergate scandal. 585

The FBI’s centennial history, produced in 2008, refers to the break-in as the “most famous burglary in U.S. history” and credits the Bureau with assisting in the criminal probes led by the Watergate special prosecutor and the United States Senate. 586

According to the history: 587

Nearly every Bureau field office was involved in the case. Agents prepared countless reports and conducted some 2,600 interviews requested by the special prosecutor. The FBI Laboratory and Identification Division also lent their services. In the end, the Bureau’s contributions to unraveling the Watergate saga were invaluable. 588

Also, according to the history: 589

During the Watergate scandal, the FBI faced political pressure from the White House and even from within its own walls—Acting Director L. Patrick Gray was accused of being too pliable to White House demands and resigned on April 27, 1973. And throughout, a high-ranking official—dubbed “Deep Throat” and ultimately identified in 2005 as FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt—was leaking investigative information to the press. 590

Deep Throat

Independent FBI historian Tim Weiner reported that several senior officials, not just Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”), worked in a coordinated campaign to leak FBI investigative material to the media. Weiner characterized the Watergate scandal as an “undeclared war” between the Nixon White House and the Bureau. 591

President Nixon appointed L. Patrick Gray as acting director days after J. Edgar Hoover died. Gray was a longtime friend of Nixon and had little law-enforcement experience. According to Weiner, Gray was a “malleable man” who was “deeply unsure of how to take control of the FBI” and “did not comprehend the conduct of the Bureau’s top commanders.” 592

Immediately after becoming acting director of the Bureau, Gray set out on the road to visit all 59 FBI field offices. According to Weiner, Gray’s daily leadership of the Bureau was so infrequent that headquarters staff referred to him as “Three Day Gray.” Gray’s attendance during the early months of the Watergate scandal was further compromised in November 1972, when he required surgery and two months of recuperation. 593

According to Weiner, FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt and other top deputies at the FBI considered Gray to be a “political stooge” unworthy to lead the FBI. They also believed Felt should have been named the new director after Hoover’s death. Gray’s distance from and inexperience with the Bureau’s top management permitted Felt and his allies to effectively run the FBI during Gray’s brief tenure as acting director. 594

Weiner wrote that “Felt and his inner circle” of senior FBI leadership “knew that the conspiracy and the cover-up” of the Watergate burglary “had been orchestrated at the White House.” Because of this, they “had personal as well as professional motives” for “leaking the secrets” of the Bureau’s ongoing Watergate investigation to the media. 595

Weiner also explained the system used by Felt and the FBI’s top officials to drive their investigation by leaking information to the Washington Post and many other media sources: 596

“They would meet at the end of the day and discuss what happened, what they knew, in the investigation,” said the FBI’s Paul Daly, an agent in the intelligence division. “They would make a decision, a conscious decision, to leak to the newspapers. They did that because of the White House obstructing the investigation. And they leaked it because it furnished the impetus to continue.”

So street-level FBI agents turned secrets into information, and senior FBI leaders brought that information to reporters, to prosecutors, to federal grand juries, and into the public realm. That was the beginning of the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Without the FBI, the reporters would have been lost. 597

Washington Post investigative reporters covering the scandal’s developments used the cover name “Deep Throat” to conceal the identity of Mark Felt, the source who began feeding them incriminating information from the FBI investigation. Though President Nixon and his aides suspected that Felt was the main source of the leaks, Felt did not publicly admit to being “Deep Throat” until 2005. 598

In their book All the President’s Men, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the Post reporters who worked with Felt, wrote that his valuable leaks to them began almost immediately. 599

Weiner wrote that on June 19, 1972, two days after the Watergate burglars were arrested, Felt warned Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray that the investigation might lead to the White House. That same day, “Deep Throat” confirmed for the Post reporters that White House consultant E. Howard Hunt was involved in the break-in. The Post had already learned Hunt was a White House consultant whose name had been found in the notebook of one of the burglars. 600 601

Though he was not one of the men arrested on the night of the burglary, Hunt was one of the planners of the break-in. A former CIA officer, Hunt was working for the so-called “Plumbers”—a White House intelligence-gathering and political sabotage team deployed by some of President Nixon’s top aides against Nixon’s real and perceived political enemies. Many of the known Plumbers and many of the president’s aides who worked with them would receive prison sentences because of their roles in Watergate. 602

Felt met his Post contact, Bob Woodward, on October 9, 1972, the month before Nixon would win reelection by a wide margin. Updating Woodward on what the FBI had discovered about the Watergate break-in, Felt explained the outline of the conspiracy and accurately predicted the political demise of Nixon that occurred two years later: 603

The notes of Felt’s first documented interview with Bob Woodward of the Post are now public records. “There is a way to untie the Watergate knot,” he said to Woodward on October 9, 1972. “Things got out of hand.” A political warfare operation against the president’s enemies had gone out of control. Gray knew. The attorney general/CREEP chief, John Mitchell, knew. If Mitchell knew, the president knew. And if the facts came out, they would “ruin… I mean ruin” Richard Nixon. 604

FBI acting director resigns

Patrick Gray lasted less than a year as acting director of the Bureau, being forced to resign after admitting that he had accepted and then destroyed papers from the White House safe of Watergate burglary planner E. Howard Hunt. Gray was never convicted of any crime related to his tenure at the FBI. 605

In a meeting to discuss the investigation, Gray, Felt, and other senior agents resolved that the Bureau would show no favorites and rigorously do its work, regardless of where the investigation might lead. 606

In the week following the arrest of the burglars, Nixon-administration officials made two unsuccessful attempts to pressure the FBI into shutting down the investigation. In one instance, Nixon ordered a CIA official to tell Gray that a Bureau probe would endanger national security. 607

Without telling his top subordinates, Gray began sending updates on the FBI’s investigation to White House Counsel John Dean. Weiner wrote that Felt had warned Gray days after the arrests that “the Watergate break-in could implicate the White House.” 608

Gray also insisted that his agents allow Dean to be present at all interviews of Nixon staffers conducted by the Bureau’s investigators. In one interview that took place within a week of the burglary, a witness informed the FBI that E. Howard Hunt, the suspected architect of the break-in, had a safe inside the White House. 609

Dean falsely told the FBI there was no safe, then returned to the White House and took all the documents from it. Days later, Dean and White House domestic policy advisor John Ehrlichman gave the files to Gray, warning him that the material “must not see the light of day.” Dean wanted to be able to testify truthfully that he had turned over all of Hunt’s papers to the FBI. Gray took the files home and burned them in his fireplace. 610 611

As these events took place, Gray had been the acting director of the Bureau for less than two months. The Senate Judiciary Committee began meeting to consider confirmation of his appointment the following spring. In advance of those hearings, Gray allowed the senators to review all the investigative material the FBI had collected regarding the Watergate scandal, which included witness testimony regarding the existence of Hunt’s safe at the White House. 612

During Gray’s confirmation hearing on March 22, 1973, he was asked if Dean had lied about the safe. Without volunteering that he had accepted and destroyed Hunt’s papers, Gray bluntly told the Senate that Dean had indeed lied to the Bureau. 613

Lying to an FBI agent is a federal felony. To reduce his criminal exposure, Dean began cooperating with the FBI in mid-April 1973. Dean testified to a federal grand jury that he had given the contents of Hunt’s safe to the acting director of the FBI. Two weeks later, L. Patrick Gray resigned after admitting he had destroyed the documents. 614

Two more acting directors

Nixon appointed William Ruckelshaus to replace Gray as acting director of the FBI. Ruckelshaus agreed to take the job only until a permanent replacement could be nominated. Mark Felt, according to Weiner, had still thought it possible he could become Hoover’s replacement. During his first few days in the temporary job, following an order from Nixon, Ruckelshaus fired Felt. 615

Patrick Gray had resisted five orders from Nixon officials to fire Felt, who ultimately admitted that he was “Deep Throat” shortly before Gray died in 2005. In an ABC News interview, Gray responded to the news about Felt: “I could not have been more shocked and more disappointed in a man whom I had trusted. … It was like I was hit with a tremendous sledgehammer.” 616

Also, still only two weeks into the job, Ruckelshaus sent FBI agents into the White House to secure records demonstrating that beginning in 1969, a leak-phobic Nixon had ordered illegal wiretaps of reporters and some of his own aides. An FBI agent successfully secured the records despite what Ruckelshaus later described as a direct and angry confrontation between President Nixon and the agent. 617

Felt had also leaked the existence of the 1969 wiretaps to the media for a story that appeared the same day FBI agents were confronting Nixon’s top aides about the subject. 618

After being fired, according to Weiner, Felt again met with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, and implicated Nixon as “the key conspirator” in Watergate. 619

In July 1973, the Senate confirmed former FBI agent Clarence Kelley as the new FBI director to officially succeed Hoover. Kelley was the third person to head the Bureau in the year since the Watergate burglary. 620

In 1980, Felt and one other senior FBI official were convicted on charges that they had authorized more than a dozen warrantless break-ins of the homes of family members and supporters of the Weather Underground. These civil rights violations committed by the Bureau severely compromised the ability of federal prosecutors to obtain convictions. The government dropped all serious charges against the Weathermen related to their bombings and other illegal actions. Most of the members of the terrorist group resurfaced to face only minor criminal charges, or none at all. 621 622

Richard Nixon testified at Mark Felt’s trial and told the jury that when “authority from the President of the United States is given for surreptitious entry for good cause, under those circumstances, what would otherwise be unlawful or illegal becomes legal.” 623

Successful Investigations: 1978-present

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed federal judge William Webster to replace Clarence Kelley as director of the FBI. According to FBI historian Tim Weiner, Webster inherited a Bureau with a weakened intelligence division, following the fallout from the investigations of the Hoover-era abuses, but also the challenge of “a hundred new cases a year of terrorism in America.” Webster stated his goal was to “improve our intelligence capacity.” 624

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was passed later in 1978, establishing a legal framework for conducting court-approved electronic surveillance against suspected espionage and terror suspects operating inside the United States. A Joint Terrorism Task Force was created between the FBI and New York Police Department in 1980. Federal legislation passed in 1984 granted the FBI authority to pursue terrorism suspects who had attacked Americans outside the United States. After creating a Behavioral Sciences Unit to pioneer the study of criminal profiling in early 1970s, the FBI created the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) in 1984 to offer its profiling expertise to local police departments. 625


In 1978, undercover New York FBI agents began an investigation into organized-crime figures believed to be dealing in stolen art. The agents established a fake corporation, which they pretended was owned by an Arab sheik who was looking to purchase artwork. The investigation (codenamed “ABSCAM,” an abbreviation of “Arab Scam”) was initially successful, in that it recovered two valuable stolen paintings and prevented $600 million worth of securities fraud ($2.6 billion in 2022 dollars). 626

The investigation also branched out into political figures and other high-profile suspects. According to the FBI’s history: “When the dust settled, one senator, six congressman, and more than a dozen other criminals and corrupt officials were arrested and found guilty.”627

ABSCAM survived a challenge based on the charge that the FBI had entrapped its suspects with the undercover ruse. No conviction was overturned. 628

The Unabomber

In May 1978, a mail bomb exploded in Chicago, the first of 16 such attacks perpetrated over the next 17 years by Theodore Kaczynski, a radical environmentalist and anti-technology zealot. The May 1978 explosion was meant for a Northwestern University professor, but injured a university security officer instead. The FBI’s Unabomber task force was established in 1979, and eventually grew to 150 investigators. The original codename for the task force, “UNABOMB,” referenced the terrorist’s early bombings against [UN]iversity and [A]irline targets. 629

In addition to university researchers and major airlines, Kaczynski’s targets included an aircraft manufacturer, retail computer stores, the head of a forestry-industry trade association, and an advertising executive. Kaczynski ultimately murdered three individuals and injured almost two dozen others in his attacks. 630

The last mail bomb killed the president of the California Forestry Association in April 1995. Shortly afterward, Kaczynski sent an ideological manifesto to the Bureau, with a promise to end his attacks if it were published in major newspapers. The task force persuaded the FBI director to release the document for media publication. In addition to apparently ending the bombings, Kaczynski’s brother recognized the writing and radical opinions in the manifesto and contacted the FBI. 631

The FBI captured Kaczynski at a rural cabin in Montana in April 1996. He pleaded guilty in January 1998 and was sentenced to an isolation cell at the ADX-Florence “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado. 632

TriBomb Investigation

In March 1973 terrorists affiliated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) placed three car bombs intended for Israeli targets in New York City. Two bombs were stationed in front of Israeli banks on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and a third at the El Al Israel Airlines terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The terrorists had used flawed fuses and the bombs did not detonate. 633

An unwary tow-truck driver later removed two of the vehicles from city streets. The explosives were discovered at the impound lot when a representative of the rental agency the terrorists used was dispatched to retrieve the cars. Later in the day, the National Security Agency (NSA) informed FBI investigators of a coded message sent to Iraq by the suspects that indicated a third bomb was at the airport. 634

The Bureau agents obtained a fingerprint, a signature on the rental agreements, and other crime-scene evidence that allowed for the identification of one suspect. The suspect, Khalid Mohammed el-Jessem, was detained in Germany six years later while carrying explosives and other incriminating items. German and Israeli interrogators were unable to obtain additional information from him over seven months. The Germans deported him to Syria without informing the FBI. 635

Khalid Mohammed el-Jessem was captured in Rome in 1990, following a tip to the FBI from the Israeli government. The Italian government turned him over to the FBI. The fingerprint and other evidence collected in 1973 was used at his 1993 trial in New York City. He was convicted and given a 30-year sentence. 636

FBI historian Tim Weiner quoted the trial judge’s praise of the Bureau when the case was over: “The work of the FBI was methodical and careful …. Its institutional memory was faultless. Its tenacity was impressive.” 637

Pan Am 103 Bombing

On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London, bound for New York City, was blown up with a terrorist-placed bomb. The explosion killed all 270 people aboard, including 190 Americans, plus eleven who died on the ground from falling debris over Scotland. 638

The FBI official history of the case recounted the investigation that ensued: 639

The explosion at 30,000 feet rained debris over 845 square miles, creating the largest-ever crime scene. More than 5,000 responders, including investigators from the FBI and Scottish authorities, combed the countryside for clues. They recovered 319 tons of wreckage and thousands of pieces of evidence. In the ensuing years, investigators traversed the globe, interviewing more than 10,000 individuals in 16 countries. 640

Two “small fragments” found in the large debris field—one inside a radio suspected to be the timing device and another inside of a shirt—led the international team of investigators to a pair of Libyan intelligence officers: Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah. They were indicted in 1991, eventually handed over by the Libyan government, and tried in a Scottish court in 2000. Fhimah was acquitted and al-Megrahi convicted in 2001. 641

Al-Megrahi received a life sentence, but was released in 2009 with terminal cancer. He lived nearly three more years. The Libyan government accepted responsibility for the attack and agreed to pay almost $3 million to a victim fund. 642

The investigation continued. In December 2020, the Justice Department charged a third suspect in the case. 643

Fawaz Younis/Operation Goldenrod

In 1985, hijackers took over a Royal Jordanian airliner full of passengers, including two Americans. After their demands were not met, the terrorists ordered the plane flown to Sicily, Cyprus, and eventually Beirut. The hijackers held a news conference, released the hostages, blew up the aircraft, and fled the scene. 644

Fawaz Younis, a leader of the hijackers, was captured by the FBI in September 1987 when he sailed toward a yacht in the Mediterranean that he thought contained a narcotics trafficker who would hire him for work. The Bureau’s official history of the encounter stated: “From the yacht’s deck, two women in shorts and halter tops beckoned him to come aboard.” 645

The two women and the rest of the crew were FBI agents. Younis was brought back to the United States for a trial, a conviction, and a 30-year prison sentence. In 2005, he was released and deported to Lebanon. 646

Prevented Attacks

The FBI’s official centennial history claims the Bureau prevented five dozen terrorist attacks during the 1990s. The list of examples included: 647

On June 24, 1993, following leads from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and earlier proactive investigations by the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, an FBI SWAT team and a NYPD bomb squad stormed a local garage and arrested a group of international extremists in the act of mixing explosives. The terrorists were planning to bomb multiple landmarks in New York City—including the United Nations building, the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, and federal building that houses the FBI’s New York field office.

In January 1995, Filipino police responded to a fire in a Manila apartment that had been accidentally started by Abdul Murad and Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the Trade Center bombing. A subsequent search of the apartment revealed that Yousef, his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and others were planning a series of major attacks. Two plots involved assassinating Pope John Paul II and blowing up as many as 12 American commercial airliners flying from Asia to the United States. On February 7, 1995, Yousef was arrested in Pakistan; he was later returned to the U.S. for trial.

In July 1997, the FBI and state and local authorities in Texas, Colorado, and Kansas prevented an attack by right-wing extremists who wanted to engage in a firefight with United Nations troops that they believed were stationed at the U.S. Army base at Fort Hood, Texas. On July 4, FBI agents and Texas state police arrested Bradley Glover and Michael Dorsett about 40 miles from Fort Hood; subsequent searches revealed that they had stockpiled weapons, explosives, body armor, and camouflage clothing. Additional co-conspirators were arrested in the next several days.

On December 3, 1999, a plot to bomb two large propane tanks in California was foiled when two men affiliated with an anti-government group and outfitted with a cache of weapons and explosives were arrested by the Sacramento Joint Terrorism Task Force. A third co-conspirator was later located and detained. It is estimated that the explosion of the tanks would have resulted in widespread fire and as many as 12,000 deaths.

On December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam, a 34-year-old Algerian, was stopped at the U.S.-Canadian border with a car full of explosives. He later admitted that he was planning to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of millennium celebrations. An FBI investigation—supported by Canadian and Algerian officials and others—revealed that Ressam had attended al Qaeda training camps and was part of a terrorist cell operating in Canada. 648

Ruby Ridge

Agents of the FBI and its Hostage Rescue Team were confronted with internal rebukes, professional reprimands, criminal prosecutions, and extensive external criticism for conduct during and after an August 1992 armed siege at a remote property in northern Idaho colloquially identified as “Ruby Ridge.”


In October 1989, Kenneth Fadeley, an informant working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) on a case targeting the white-supremacist group Aryan Nations, persuaded an Idaho man named Randy Weaver to sell him two shotguns with barrels cut one-quarter inch shorter than the legal limit. A jury later acquitted Weaver of the weapons charge after the defense argued at trial that the defendant had been entrapped by the BATF. 649 650

Fadelely later testified at a U.S. Senate hearing that an FBI informer also working within the Aryan Nations deliberately blew Fadeley’s cover and ruined his position within the racist group. Asked by one senator if this had been done so the FBI infiltrator could “get the full glory” in the case, Fadeley replied: “Unfortunately, yes, sir.” 651

With Fadeley’s cover blown, the BATF decided to pursue Weaver as a new informant within the group. Weaver was not a member of the Aryan Nations, but held racial separatist views and had socialized with some of Aryan Nations members. When Weaver refused to become an informant, he was arrested for the illegal shotgun charge. 652

Recounting the story in September 1995, the Seattle Spokesman-Review reported the arrest of Weaver “set into motion a chain of events that resulted in three deaths on Ruby Ridge in 1992.” 653

Shootout with U.S. Marshals

Weaver made bail after his arrest. A 1994 review by the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility found that Weaver’s federal probation officer mistakenly sent a message telling Weaver he was required to return for his trial on March 20, 1991. The actual trial date was February 20. 654

Weaver did not report for his trial on February 20. On March 14, still almost a week before the parole officer had told Weaver to appear for trial, a grand jury indicted Weaver for failing to appear. The U.S. Marshal Service was called to bring him into custody. 655

In response, according to the Department of Justice review of the case: 656

Weaver sent a letter to the local sheriff, stating that he would not leave his cabin and that law enforcement officers would have to take him out. The Weavers “felt as though the end [was] near.” 657

Knowing that Weaver possessed firearms and had made apocalyptic anti-government statements, the Marshals Service concluded he would violently resist capture. Federal agents spent the next 18 months developing strategies to apprehend him. The 1994 Department of Justice review later faulted the United States Attorney’s Office for “incorrectly” terminating “efforts by the Marshals Service to negotiate with Weaver through intermediaries.” 658

During August 1992, a surveillance mission by the marshals at Weaver’s heavily wooded mountain property drew the attention of the family dog. One of the marshals shot the dog and received return fire from Samuel, the Weaver’s 14-year-old son. Samuel turned to run and was fatally shot in the back by one of the marshals. Kevin Harris, a guest of the Weaver family, also fired shots during the exchange, including one that killed Marshal William Degan. 659 660

FBI Hostage Rescue Team

The day after the fatal exchange of gunfire on the Weaver property, the U.S. Marshals Service relinquished the situation to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). FBI sniper teams were given what the Department of Justice inquiry stated were “specially formulated” rules of engagement that “instructed the HRT snipers that before a surrender announcement was made they could and should shoot all armed adult males appearing outside the cabin.” 661

According to the Department of Justice report, the following occurred on August 22, 1992, the day after the HRT arrived: 662

Operating under these Rules on August 22, an FBI sniper/observer fired two shots in quick succession. The first shot was at an armed adult male whom he believed was about to fire at a HRT helicopter on an observation mission. The first shot wounded Randy Weaver while in front of a building at the Weaver compound known as the birthing shed. The second shot was fired at Harris while Harris was retreating into the Weaver cabin. The second shot seriously wounded Harris and killed Vicki Weaver who was behind the cabin door. 663

When she received the shot to the head from HRT sniper Lon Horiuchi, Vicki Weaver, Randy Weaver’s wife, was holding their ten-month old daughter. 664

FBI Misconduct

The siege ended nine days later with the surrender of Weaver and Harris. Both men were put on trial for federal murder and conspiracy charges. Weaver faced additional charges for the federal firearms offense involving the illegal shotguns and for failing to appear for trial on that offense. 665

Harris and Weaver were acquitted of all serious offenses in July 1993. The jury convicted Weaver on a minor charge of failing to appear at his original trial, but acquitted him of selling illegal shotguns, the charge that originally set in motion the deadly series of events. The Associated Press reported Weaver was given credit for time served since his surrender and was released in December 1993, approximately six months after his trial ended. 666 667

In August 1995, the U.S. government agreed to pay a $3.1 million settlement to the Weaver family to settle all civil claims arising from the incident. 668

The 1994 Department of Justice review found “numerous problems with the conduct of the FBI” and “serious problems with the terms of the Rules of Engagement in force at Ruby Ridge.” 669

The report concluded the “could and should shoot all armed adult males” language from the rules of engagement “not only departed from the FBI’s standard deadly force policy but also contravened the Constitution of the United States.” Addressing specifically the shot to the head that killed the unarmed Vicki Weaver, the Department of Justice ruled that although she was not the intended target, the fatal shooting did not satisfy the “reasonableness” standard “the Constitution requires for the legal use of deadly force.” 670

The report also concluded that “the Constitution requires that surrender announcements be given, where feasible, before deadly force may be employed” and that the “FBI should have given a higher priority to making a surrender announcement at the earliest possible opportunity.” Instead, the report stated the FBI didn’t seem concerned with surrender until after violence had occurred: “In our view, the factor that caused the FBI to make the surrender announcement at that time was Horiuchi’s shots.” 671

FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi was later charged with manslaughter in Boundary County, Idaho, for the shooting of Vicki Weaver. The case was taken over by a federal district court, with a federal judge dismissing the charges on the basis that the agent was operating within his capacity as an officer of the federal government. 672

An internal FBI after-action report analyzing and criticizing the conduct of the Hostage Rescue Team was written immediately after the siege by E. Michael Kahoe, the head of the Bureau’s Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Section. Kahoe later destroyed the report in an apparent effort to prevent lawyers for Weaver and Harris from obtaining the damaging information. Kahoe also pressured a subordinate to destroy all evidence of the report. In October 1997, Kahoe pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and received an 18-month federal prison sentence. 673

Following the Weaver/Harris verdicts, the federal trial-court judge rebuked and fined the Bureau for several instances of misconduct during the case. The Department of Justice report stated: “The court issued an Order fining the FBI and criticizing it for its failure to produce discovery materials, its failure to obey orders and admonitions of the court, and its indifference to the rights of the defendant and to the administration of justice.674  

FBI Disciplinary Actions

In January 1995, then-FBI Director Louis Freeh penalized 12 FBI officials for professional offenses in the Randy Weaver case. The official criticisms ranged from “inadequate performance, blunders and incompetence” to the more-serious “major failings.” At the time, Freeh claimed “no crimes or intentional misconduct” had occurred; this was almost two years before agent E. Michael Kahoe pled guilty to obstruction of justice over his destruction of documents. 675

Some of the more-serious punishments were given to Richard Rogers, commander of the Hostage Rescue Team, and Eugene Glenn, an FBI Special Agent in Charge, who were cited for writing the “could and should shoot all armed adult males” rules of engagement. They were censured, suspended, and transferred. 676

Larry Potts, who was acting deputy director of the FBI, second in command to Freeh, was also censured for approving without reading the aggressive rules of engagement. Potts’s deputy, Danny Coulson, received a similar reprimand. As he handed down the punishments, Freeh defended his top deputies: “Had they read those rules, I’m confident both Coulson and Potts would have fixed them.” 677

Eugene Glenn later told a U.S. Senate panel that he had become the “scapegoat” for the outcome at Ruby Ridge and accused Potts of knowing about and approving the rules of engagement. 678

Freeh also implied the FBI snipers had collectively decided to disobey the “could and should shoot all armed adult males” order they had been given by their superiors, saying “Nobody, thank God, was following those rules of engagement.” Sniper Lon Horiuchi did not receive a reprimand. 679

The FBI director also expressed his full confidence in Potts and “enthusiastically” recommended that he become the permanent, rather than “acting,” deputy director. 680 In May 1995, then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno gave Potts the promotion. 681

Branch Davidians Case

In February 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) raided the compound of the Branch Davidians, an apocalyptic religious group living communally in a large structure outside Waco, Texas. The BATF had obtained evidence the group was in possession of illegal firearms and explosive devices. The 80 agents involved intended to serve an arrest warrant for the group’s messianic leader, David Koresh, and execute a search warrant on the premises. 682 683

Tipped off in advance, the Branch Davidians resisted the incursion with gunfire. The deadly shootout that ensued claimed the lives of four government agents and six Davidians. A ceasefire between the combatants allowed the BATF to retreat from the scene and the FBI to take command of what became a 51-day standoff. 684 685

On April 19, the siege ended when the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) used special-purpose armored vehicles to breach the building and deploy tear gas. The plan had been approved by then-Attorney General Janet Reno. The Bureau and Reno believed the strategy would cause the group to exit the building and bring with them the more than two dozen children still inside the building. 686 687

Subsequent evidence collected from the crime scene showed that some of the Davidians responded to the tear-gas assault by lighting the building on fire. The inferno quickly spread on the windy day and the building swiftly burned to the ground, claiming the lives of most of its occupants. The bodies of Koresh, 25 children, and 49 other adults were recovered. Some had perished from the fire. Koresh and others died from apparently self-inflicted gunshots. Some of the children also died of gunshots or stab wounds. Nine adults fled the fire and survived. 688 689 690

In after-action reports issued by the Department of Treasury (then the supervisory agency for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), the BATF was severely criticized for its decision to launch the initial raid, particularly because of the presence of dozens of children. (In addition to the children who died in the fire, FBI hostage negotiators had persuaded Koresh to release 21 others during the 51-day standoff.) The BATF dismissed and suspended supervisors responsible for the raid. 691 692

The FBI did not initially endure the same level of criticism for its role in the Waco siege, but several controversies later emerged regarding the conduct of the Bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team, led by Richard Rogers. Unrelated to his behavior during the Waco Siege, Rogers was subsequently suspended and reassigned over his decisions during the HRT’s 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho involving Randy Weaver. 693 694 695

False claim of child abuse

According to a PBS report, then-Attorney General Janet Reno initially resisted the plan submitted by the Hostage Rescue Team to insert tear gas into the Branch Davidian home. Reno argued it was “too aggressive” and “she worried that the gas would permanently damage the children.” 696

PBS found that repeated attempts over five days to convince Reno failed to do so until someone at the FBI informed her that the children inside the building were being abused. 697

The claim was not true. PBS could not verify the source of the rumor and Reno claimed not to remember who told her. Webster Hubbell, Reno’s deputy attorney general, told PBS that he too remembered hearing someone relay the rumor to his boss. 698

Whatever the source, the rumor of child abuse persuaded Reno to change her mind and approve the tear gas plan. 699

Days after the deadly fire that ended the standoff, Reno repeated the child-abuse claim to an ABC television interviewer: “We had had reports that they had been sexually abused, that babies had actually been beaten. I asked when I first heard that for them to verify it and, again, that was the report that was brought back.” 700

Animosity between FBI negotiators and the HRT

In the months and years after the standoff, media reports and official investigations of the Branch Davidian siege revealed that little trust, communication, and collaboration had existed between the FBI’s hostage negotiators and the Bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team.

In September 1993, the Department of Justice produced an analysis of the FBI’s conduct during the siege. A New York Times account stated: 701

The part of the report that evaluates the department’s performance concludes that neither Ms. Reno nor any officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation made any mistakes. It lays blame for the fire solely on the cult, the Branch Davidians, and its leader, David Koresh.

But another part, a factual chronology, paints a starkly different picture. At times, the chronology shows, F.B.I. agents were actually working at cross-purposes, with negotiators trying to reward the cult for releasing hostages while tactical agents were harassing it. 702

A 25th-anniversary remembrance of the standoff from Texas Monthly described the HRT’s behavior: 703

Starting in early March, the HRT cut off power to the compound; threw flashbang grenades at Branch Davidians who stepped outside the building; mooned and flipped off members of the sect; and engaged in psychological warfare by blasting loud noises during the night, among them the sound of rabbits being slaughtered, the chanting of Tibetan monks (until the Dalai Lama himself heard about it and registered a complaint), and Nancy Sinatra singing “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” 704

The Texas Monthly report noted the HRT’s conduct did not totally prevent important agreements from occurring between FBI negotiators and Koresh. But the report quotes FBI negotiator Gary Noesner, who believed the HRT’s decisions may have ultimately ended the potential for future cooperation: 705

Even working at cross-purposes with their fellow agents, the negotiators managed to secure the release of 35 individuals, including 21 children. But the situation wasn’t sustainable. One day in late March, the FBI managed to get 7 Branch Davidians to leave the compound—and then a few hours later the HRT used tanks to bulldoze the group’s vehicles. That night, Koresh declared to Schneider, “No one is coming out. Nobody.”

“You know Pavlov? You can’t train your dog to bring in the newspaper and then kick the dog and expect him to bring you the paper again,” Noesner says.

If the FBI had settled on a more unified strategy, Noesner thinks, the situation might have turned out very differently. “I’m quite certain that we would have gotten a lot more people out,” he says. “I believe an argument could be made that we might have gotten everybody out. 706   

Byron Sage, another chief negotiator working with the Davidians, did not entirely share Noesner’s optimism regarding the hypothetical potential for a peaceful resolution. But Sage also sharply criticized the HRT: 707

The tactical commander, Dick Rogers, had made the decision that his guys didn’t need to know what the negotiators were doing. He thought that it wasn’t any of their damn business. Their job was to keep their eyes on target and be ready to engage any hostile force that should exit the compound. … They thought that we had gone over to the dark side, that we sympathized with the same people who had just murdered four federal agents. At one of the tactical sites, I remember someone wrote inside a Port-A-Potty, “Sage is a Davidian.” 708

Asked about the graffiti about Sage on the portable toilet, one of the HRT agents involved in the Waco siege told a PBS television reporter: “That would be very symbolic of the frustration. There was a high level of frustration.” 709

Clinton Van Zandt, identified by PBS as the FBI’s chief negotiations coordinator, agreed: “There was this tremendous chasm between negotiators and the tactical team. I mean, just, you know, the body—if you could see the body language, it would have been closed up, head to the side, like this.” 710

Quoted in the Texas Monthly report, Noesner faulted the HRT commander for halting forward progress made by the negotiators: 711

Nine people had come out over the span of two days, and it was a remarkable time for the negotiation team. I mean, we weren’t exactly ready to open champagne bottles, but we finally felt that what we were doing was working. In the wake of that, inexplicably, the tactical team went forward with tanks and crushed cars and knocked over water towers. The on-scene commander thought that Koresh had not let enough people out. You should reward positive behavior, not punish it—that’s Psychology 101. Yet that’s what happened. Negotiations continued, but in reality, the chances that we would succeed had become so slim by then that our goals had become almost unachievable. 712

To remedy the animosity and create professional collegiality, the FBI combined the HRT and hostage-negotiation teams under a single command. An April 2018 retrospective history of the Branch Davidian siege in the Austin American-Statesman was titled “How failures during the Waco siege changed everything for the FBI, ATF.” The report quoted the FBI’s HRT commander regarding the post-Waco reforms: 713

The negotiators are occupying, living in, training with, exercising with and operating with the tactical operators every day. We’re housed in the same place,” said David Sundberg, chief of the Tactical Section and commander of the Hostage Rescue Team. “So, not just at a critical incident, but at all times before, we are working together. Individual tactical operators are very familiar with individual negotiators and then on up within the management and command structure of the Critical Incident Response Group. 714

Use of flammable munitions

The post-standoff investigations of the fire and claims by the FBI unreservedly identified the Branch Davidians as solely responsible for the blaze and stated the Bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team did not fire any potentially incendiary munitions at the building. In their testimony before Congress after the deadly fire, Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director William Sessions both denied the Bureau had used flammable tear gas rounds. 715

During the Waco siege, the FBI had secretly placed listening devices inside the building. Just prior to the blaze beginning, these devices collected seemingly conclusive evidence of the Davidians planning the conflagration. One voice asked if it was time to “start the fire?” Another discussion centered around where to spread “fuel” and “hay” and Koresh’s instructions regarding same. Similarly, a Branch Davidian survivor later testified to witnessing the fire preparations. 716 717

In 1999, a documentary filmmaker investigating an FBI evidence locker collected from the scene of the standoff discovered an expended shell from a pyrotechnic tear-gas round. The FBI subsequently reversed its official story and admitted the Hostage Rescue Team had fired incendiary tear-gas rounds, but claimed that the shots were not directed at the Branch Davidian building that later burned down and that they had been fired many hours before the fire broke out. 718

9/11 and Al Qaeda Investigations

According to an August 2021, 20-year remembrance analysis produced by the FBI, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, created what was a still-open investigation and the largest, most-ambitious investigation in the Bureau’s history. More than 7,000 FBI employees, including more than 4,000 special agents, were involved in the initial 2001 probe. More than 1,000 of these FBI staffers, pulled from almost every FBI field office, worked recovery and crime-scene investigation at the destroyed World Trade Center site in Manhattan. 719

The Bureau stated the main objectives were to “identify the attackers and prevent another incident.” The FBI reported that “within hours” investigators had begun to identify the 19 suspected hijackers of the four airliners. 720

Subsequent investigations revealed deficiencies in the Bureau’s ability to interdict terrorist attacks. As late as July 26, 2001, an FBI counterterrorism official told a U.S. House committee that “FBI investigation and analysis indicates that the threat of terrorism in the United States is low.” 721

In his book, Broken: The Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI, FBI historian Richard Gid Powers wrote: “The 9/11 failures of the Bureau were the result of decisions so wrongheaded as to seem incredible to anyone hearing about them for the first time—decisions, however, that were not only predictable but almost inevitable, when viewed against the turbulent history of the FBI.” 722

Powers noted multiple warnings available to the Bureau in the summer of 2001 that should have been interpreted as “smoking guns” of the impending attack, concluding that “the full picture of how the FBI mishandled the pre-9/11 investigation would be so devastating as to raise the question of whether the FBI would—or should—be allowed to continue in its role as the nation’s primary defender against the threat of terrorist attack.” 723

The FBI’s centennial history characterized the pre-9/11 period as a “failure of imagination” that demonstrated the Bureau “needed to become adept at preventing terrorist attacks, not just investigating them after the fact.” 724  

Turning to specific details of the FBI’s terrorism fighting capabilities, the Bureau history stated the following: 725

But, over the years, the FBI had often focused on making quick arrests rather than turning suspects into opportunities to collect every scrap of information about a threat…on developing comprehensive cases rather than on making prevention the overarching prime directive behind all cases. Because of longstanding neglect of information technology, the Bureau lacked the capacity to “know what it knows”—to turn all the bits of intelligence streaming in from around the world into meaningful assessments and actionable information. And it wasn’t generating nearly enough quality analysis or sharing information as much as it could both inside and outside its own walls. 726

Previous al-Qaeda attacks

Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was a well-known terrorist threat almost nine years before the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States. In June 1999, he was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, with a $25 million reward offered by the State Department for “information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction.” By that point, al-Qaeda had successfully attacked two American targets, killed hundreds of people, and had planned more than a dozen other known assaults against Americans. 727

In a previous attempt to destroy the World Trade Center in February 1993, the terrorist group detonated a truck bomb underneath the building complex. The extensive damage killed six and injured 1,000 people. One of the bombers was captured while trying to claim the rental deposit on the truck he had used for the attack. From this arrest, the FBI was able to round up more accomplices and learned they had planned additional assaults against other major New York City landmarks. Another architect of the World Trade Center assault was captured two years later in Pakistan, and the FBI learned he had also plotted the coordinated bombing of more than 12 U.S. airliners. 728 729

In January 1995, after the police in the Philippines found an al-Qaeda bomb lab, the FBI learned of the terror group’s plans to kill then-Pope John Paul II, attack the American and Israeli embassies in the Philippines, and fly a hijacked airliner into CIA headquarters. 730

In August 1998, al-Qaeda terrorists bombed U.S. embassy buildings in Tanzania and Kenya, killing 200 and injuring 4,500 others. 731

In October 2000, al-Qaeda launched a direct attack on the U.S. Navy in Yemen by driving a small boat with a bomb into the USS Cole. The assault killed 19 American sailors, injured 40 others, and disabled the warship. 732

The “Phoenix Memo”

Chapter 8 of the Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the 9/11 Commission Report, was titled “THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED.” It recounted a series of events and clues in the months before September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that could or should have been interpreted as warnings of the assault to come. 733

A memo providing warnings and recommendations from an agent in the Phoenix FBI office was briefly summarized: 734

In July 2001, an FBI agent in the Phoenix field office sent a memo to FBI headquarters and to two agents on international terrorism squads in the New York Field Office, advising of the “possibility of a coordinated effort by Usama Bin Ladin” to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation schools. The agent based his theory on the “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” attending such schools in Arizona.

The agent made four recommendations to FBI headquarters: to compile a list of civil aviation schools, establish liaison with those schools, discuss his theories about Bin Ladin with the intelligence community, and seek authority to obtain visa information on persons applying to flight schools. His recommendations were not acted on. His memo was forwarded to one field office. Managers of the Usama Bin Ladin unit and the Radical Fundamentalist unit at FBI headquarters were addressees, but they did not even see the memo until after September 11. No managers at headquarters saw the memo before September 11, and the New York Field Office took no action.

As its author told investigators, the Phoenix memo was not an alert about suicide pilots. His worry was more about a Pan Am Flight 103 scenario in which explosives were placed on an aircraft. The memo’s references to aviation training were broad, including aeronautical engineering. If the memo had been distributed in a timely fashion and its recommendations acted on promptly, we do not believe it would have uncovered the plot. It might well, however, have sensitized the FBI so that it might have taken the Moussaoui matter more seriously the next month. 735

Zacarias Moussaoui investigation

On August 16, 2001, less than a month before the 9/11 attacks occurred, agents from the FBI office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, arrested al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui for an immigration violation. Agent Harry Samit had learned the Moroccan citizen was learning to fly a Boeing 747 and that he also had connections to the terror group. 736

In the weeks leading up to 9/11, Samit and his FBI compatriots in Minnesota repeatedly asked Bureau headquarters to help them obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to search Moussaoui’s residence and computer. Their requests were repeatedly rebuffed. 737

One memo from Minneapolis to the FBI headquarters explained the desire of the Minneapolis agents to get the headquarters team “spun up” about the Moussaoui case so that he “did not take control of a plane and fly it into the World Trade Center.” Headquarters responded: “That’s not going to happen. We don’t know he’s a terrorist. You don’t have enough to show he is a terrorist.” 738

After the 9/11 attacks occurred, it became clear that Moussaoui had been part of the plot and that a more-thorough investigation might have prevented the attacks. In a debriefing by the Department of Justice after the attacks occurred, Agent Samit accused officials at FBI headquarters of “criminal negligence.” 739

Additionally, according to a New York Times report, one of Samit’s fellow agents in the Minneapolis FBI office sent a letter directly to then-FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III in 2002 “bitterly criticizing the performance of F.B.I. headquarters agents in handling the Moussaoui case.” 740

A Times account from the terrorist’s 2006 trial reports Samit provided dozens of unheeded warnings to FBI headquarters over in the weeks after he arrested Moussaoui: 741

Gripping testimony came from Mr. Samit, who arrested Mr. Moussaoui on Aug. 16 and quickly became convinced that he was a terrorist who knew about an imminent hijacking plot. Mr. Samit said that he had sent about 70 warning messages about Mr. Moussaoui, but that they had produced no results. 742

On August 17, Agent Samit sent an email to FBI headquarters regarding Moussaoui’s flight training: “His excuse is weak, he just wants to learn how to do it. … That’s pretty ominous and obviously suggests some sort of hijacking plan.” Samit testified that over many interrogations with the suspect, Moussaoui’s desire to return to the flight training was a “constant theme during our interviews.” 743

In an August 18 memo to FBI headquarters, Samit referenced Osama bin Laden three times and discussed Moussaoui’s fondness for becoming a martyr, warning that he “believes it is acceptable to kill civilians.” 744

On August 31, Samit drafted a threat assessment on behalf of the Minneapolis FBI office, stating its concern that Moussaoui and “others not yet known” were “preparing to seize 747s.” The draft was not sent to FBI headquarters because Samit was informed by headquarters officials that they would forward a warning of his concerns to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). No such warning was sent. 745

On September 5, Samit sent his own warning directly to the FAA. He also contacted FBI officials working with the CIA’s counterterrorism office, still looking for support to obtain a FISA search warrant. 746

On September 10, Samit received what was ultimately his last rejection for a search warrant, wherein he was informed that the “FBI does not have a dog in this fight” and told to send the Moussaoui case to what was then the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. In an email to a sympathetic FBI colleague, Samit wrote: “At this point I am so desperate to get into his computer, I’ll take anything.” The other FBI agent responded: “God help us all if the next terrorist attacks involves the same type of plane.” 747

The New York Times report summarized Samit’s concern that the decisions of his superiors were “motivated principally by a need to protect their careers” and that his testimony at the Moussaoui trial “added a wealth of detail to the notion that officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation played down, ignored and purposely mischaracterized the increasingly dire warnings from field agents in the Minneapolis office that they had a terrorist on their hands.” 748

Trump-Russia Collusion Investigation

see also: Trump-Russia Collusion Claims

Starting by at least July 2016 and continuing through March 2019, the FBI and later the office of Department of Justice Special Counsel (and former FBI director) Robert Mueller conducted a counterintelligence investigation targeting the 2016 presidential campaign of Republican Party nominee and eventual President Donald Trump. Given the codename “Crossfire Hurricane,” the probe was established to examine “whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.” 749 750 751

No such evidence was ultimately uncovered, and the Justice Department did not prosecute any Trump campaign officials for crimes involving alleged coordination with the Russian government or its allies for the purpose of interfering in the 2016 election. The office of Special Counsel Mueller issued a report in March 2019, which concluded that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” 752

The Department of Justice Inspector General reported that after the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation in late July 2016, the FBI team “conducted an initial analysis of links between Trump campaign members and Russia” and that based on this review, the “team opened individual cases in August 2016 on four U.S. persons—[George] Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn—all of whom were affiliated with the Trump campaign at the time the cases were opened.” 753

The FBI obtained four warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to conduct secret electronic surveillance targeting former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page over a period of eleven months beginning in October 2016. Page is the only Trump associate known to have been targeted with a FISA warrant, which the Department of Justice Inspector General defined as “among the most sensitive and intrusive investigative techniques.” 754

The Inspector General reported “extensive compliance failures” and “many basic and fundamental errors” in the Bureau’s FISA effort targeting Page. The FBI never corroborated any of the allegations made in the Steele dossier against Page, and federal prosecutors never charged Page with wrongdoing on any matter following nearly a year of eavesdropping on his communications. The Inspector General found that the FBI was aware of numerous pieces of information that contradicted the suspicion that Page was colluding with the Russian government, yet it did not turn this information over to the judges who reviewed the FISA warrant applications. 755

In August 2020 testimony before the U.S. Senate, Sally Yates, the former Deputy Attorney General under President Barack Obama who briefly served as Acting U.S. Attorney General under President Trump, said that she would not have approved a FISA warrant targeting Page if she had known in real-time the flaws in the applications. The failure of the FBI to present the FISA court with exculpatory evidence regarding Page led to the Inspector General report citing the Bureau for 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” committed in the FISA requests. Some examples are listed below. 756 757

In addition to the “extensive compliance failures” identified by the Inspector General regarding the FISA electronic eavesdropping targeting Carter Page, the FBI endured several other controversies related to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. 758

Use of Steele Dossier

Very soon after opening Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI pursued a FISA warrant against Carter Page. The FBI also wanted to target George Papadopoulos with FISA surveillance, but this request never advanced after the FBI’s legal counsel objected. The Inspector General reported that it was “aware of no information indicating that the [Crossfire Hurricane] team requested or seriously considered FISA surveillance of [Trump campaign chair Paul] Manafort or [Trump campaign advisor Michael] Flynn.” 759

The Crossfire Hurricane team made its first request to obtain a FISA warrant targeting Page in August 2016, but FBI lawyers initially denied the request and stated that they needed to see more probable cause that Page might be an agent of a foreign power. The opinion of the lawyers changed when the FBI received the since-discredited Steele dossier, which alleged that Page and Manafort were working together in a “well-developed conspiracy” to obtain political assistance from the Russian government. The Inspector General reported that the allegations in the Steele dossier played a “central and essential role” in the Crossfire Hurricane team’s ability to persuade its internal legal counsel and then four FISA judges to grant the surveillance warrants. 760

The Steele dossier was produced by the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS, which had been hired in April 2016 by the political law firm Perkins Coie on behalf of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. 761 (Prior to this, during the 2016 presidential primaries, Fusion GPS had been hired by the Washington Free Beacon to conduct research on Donald Trump). 762

Though discredited by two federal investigations, the general conspiracy theory that the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 election, alongside specific debunked allegations from the Steele dossier, continued to be spread by Hillary Clinton personally, her political allies such as The Democracy Integrity Project, 763 Congressional investigators such as U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), 764 and major players in the metropolitan-liberal news media such as the Washington Post, CNN, and NBC/MSNBC. 765

The FBI’s reliance upon unverified and ultimately discredited information in the Steele dossier resulted in several of what the IG report said were “significant inaccuracies and omissions” committed by the FBI in its FISA requests targeting Page. 766

False Statements Regarding Carter Page

One of the most-serious of the Inspector General’s concerns regarding the FBI’s FISA behavior was the alteration of an email detailing voluntary assistance Carter Page had provided to the CIA. At the beginning of the investigation into Page, FBI agents were informed by the CIA that Page had been providing the CIA with information since 2008. Paradoxically—according to the IG report—this was “among the historical connections to Russian intelligence officers that the FBI later relied upon in the first FISA application (and subsequent renewal applications).” Though the CIA confirmed that Page was an informant regarding the Russians, in seeking its first FISA warrant the FBI used the evidence of Page assisting U.S. intelligence gathering targeting Russia to investigate the possibility that he was working against American interests in Russia. 767 768

The Inspector General found that the FBI “did not engage” with the CIA further regarding this potentially important information and did not include it in any of the first three of the four FISA warrants it obtained. The Bureau also failed to heed Page’s personal statements in public and to the Bureau that he had assisted the U.S. intelligence community. 769 770

Before the fourth and final FISA application targeting Page was submitted in the summer of 2017, the FBI asked the CIA again about its relationship with Page and was again told of Page’s assistance to the Agency. But when this information was transmitted to the Bureau agents preparing the FISA application to be sent to the court, an FBI attorney named Kevin Clinesmith inserted the interpretation “not a source” into the email. 771 772

For the fourth time, evidence of Page’s assistance to the CIA in its intelligence coverage of the Russian government was withheld from the FISA court judge, even as the work he was plausibly doing at the behest of the CIA had been submitted to the court as evidence against him in a counterintelligence investigation. 773 774

In August 2020, Clinesmith agreed to plead guilty to a charge of making a false statement related to his alteration of the email regarding Page’s cooperation with the CIA. 775

Steele contradictions

By January 2017, half a year before the FBI discontinued its FISA surveillance effort targeting Page, the Bureau interviewed Igor Danchenko, the primary sub-source for the information contained in the Steele dossier. The result of that interview, in the judgment of the Inspector General, should have produced “significant questions about the reliability of allegations included in the FISA applications.” 776

Instead, the IG found that the FBI supervisor overseeing the Danchenko debriefing was unconcerned:

The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that, after the January 2017 interview, his impression was that the Primary Sub-source’s account did not line up completely with Steele’s reporting, but the Supervisory Intel Analyst said he did not have any “pains or heartburn” about the accuracy of the Steele reporting based on what the Primary Sub-source had said. 777

Court motions filed in 2022 by a federal prosecutor stated that Danchenko had been hired by the FBI as a paid confidential informant in March 2017. 778

Among the important discrepancies withheld from the FISA court by the FBI, the IG found that Danchenko had told the Bureau he “did not recall any discussion” regarding Wikileaks (which was supposedly collaborating with the Trump campaign) and did not provide any information implying Carter Page might have been bribed by a Russian energy firm. 779

Additionally, the Crossfire Hurricane team became aware as early as December 2016 that Danchenko had been the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation from 2009 through 2011, in which the Bureau became concerned that Danchenko was a potential “national security threat.” During this investigation, the FBI had begun to pursue a FISA spying warrant targeting Danchenko, but discontinued the investigation after Danchenko left the United States in late 2010. 780 781 782

Addressing such concerns, the IG report stated the following: 783

That so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations that was briefed to the highest levels within the FBI, and that FBI officials expected would eventually be subjected to close scrutiny, raised significant questions regarding the FBI chain of command’s management and supervision of the FISA process. [. . . ] We concluded that the information that was known to the managers, supervisors, and senior officials should have resulted in questions being raised regarding the reliability of the Steele reporting and the probable cause supporting the FISA applications, but did not. 784

Partisan bias

The Inspector General (IG) also reported that the FBI should have more deeply investigated Steele’s connections to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaignFusion GPS, and the Democratic National Committee. The IG determined that the FISA courts should have been made aware of this evidence of bias in the source of information being presented to the court, but the FBI did not include this information in the FISA applications. 785

Steele was a paid opposition researcher working for Fusion GPS under a contract for the benefit of the Democratic Party and Clinton’s presidential campaign. The IG also revealed that Fusion GPS was paying Steele to promote dossier material to the media, and that Steele personally was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the U.S. President.” 786

James Comey’s leak to the New York Times

During mid-May 2017, within days of his dismissal as FBI Director on May 9, James Comey provided the New York Times with a memo of notes he had taken during a February 2017 conversation with then–President Trump. During the meeting, according to Comey’s account, the President asked the then-FBI director to try and wrap up an investigation of Michael Flynn, the president’s former National Security Advisor. 787

By his own account, Comey did not clear the release of the memo with the FBI. He also considered it to be a personal document and not FBI property, even though it was generated in his official capacity as the FBI director and he no longer worked for the FBI. His decision to release the memo led to an investigation by the Department of Justice Inspector General (which was separate from and preceded the IG’s later investigation of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane probe). 788

Comey told the IG his motive for the releasing the memo to the media was to force the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate President Trump. The IG report quotes Comey as saying he “was doing … something I [had] to do if I love this country … and I love the Department of Justice, and I love the FBI.” 789

Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed the day after the story of Comey’s memo appeared in the media. According to a New York Times account, Mueller’s mission was to “oversee the investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.” 790

After completing its investigation of Comey, the Office of Inspector General stated unequivocally that the memo was FBI property, not Comey’s personal property. The IG report declared that Comey’s belief otherwise had “no support in the law and is wholly incompatible with the plain language of the statutes,” and that none of Comey’s former “senior leadership team” at the FBI agreed with his characterization. 791 792

The Inspector General also ruled that by not returning all copies of such documents to the FBI, and instead deciding to release them to the media, Comey had “improperly disclosed FBI documents and information” and violated his FBI employment agreement. These problems were made worse, according to the IG, because the specific memo had made “public sensitive investigative information related to an ongoing FBI investigation.” 793

Concluding its analysis of Comey’s behavior, the Inspector General wrote: “By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment, and by using it to create public pressure for official action, Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees—and the many thousands more former FBI employees—who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information.” 794

Peter Strzok and Lisa Page

Peter Strzok was the former chief of the FBI’s counterintelligence division and directly supervised the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Lisa Page, with whom Strzok was having an extramarital affair during the investigation, was the legal counsel for then-FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. Lisa Page is of no known relation to Carter Page, once a major target of the investigation. 795 796

During the 2016 election cycle and into the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, the pair exchanged highly partisan text messages disparaging Donald Trump. The Department of Justice Inspector General’s (IG) report on Crossfire Hurricane showed them to be very strong advocates of using the Steele dossier to obtain FISA warrants targeting Carter Page. 797 798

A June 2020 report from Real Clear Investigations (RCI) summarized and analyzed the findings of the Inspector General’s report on Crossfire Hurricane. It showed Strzok and Lisa Page collaborating to promote the use of the Steele dossier despite internal resistance from Stu Evans, then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General, whose job it was to scrutinize FISA applications submitted to the court. 799 800

The Crossfire Hurricane team, led by Strzok, attempted to obtain a FISA surveillance warrant targeting Carter Page in August 2016, almost immediately after opening the investigation, according to the IG. FBI lawyers denied this request and demanded more-substantive probable cause. After the FBI obtained the Steele dossier, Department of Justice and FBI officials collectively determined that probable cause for the FISA warrant existed, though there was an internal dispute. 801 802

The main obstacle was Deputy Assistant Attorney General Evans, who questioned Steele’s motives and the validity of the dossier’s information. According to RCI, “Strzok sent a series of messages to the FBI general counsel’s office complaining that Evans was slowing things down.” Strzok’s messages said Evans was “nervous” and that Strzok was “worried” about what Evans would say to the court officer receiving the FISA request. 803 804

Strzok also kicked his concerns over to Lisa Page, complaining to her that the FISA application “probably will not go forward” without a call from Page’s direct boss, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Page responded with a text to McCabe: “This might take a high-level push.” 805 806

Many of the text messages between Strzok and Page, starting as early as mid-2015, revealed strong animosity toward Trump. Exchanges included Lisa Page calling Trump a “loathsome human” and an “idiot,” Strzok agreeing Trump was “awful,” and both texting “F Trump.” 807 808

During the summer of 2017, Strzok moved from directing Crossfire Hurricane to become the highest-ranking FBI official assisting the special-counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller. Mueller removed Strzok from the probe in July 2017, after the partisan text messages were revealed, and Strzok was reassigned to the “human resources” division of the FBI. 809

Strzok was fired from the FBI in August 2018. 810 Lisa Page had previously left the Bureau in May 2018. 811

Larry Nassar Controversy

A July 2021 report from the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) severely criticized two agents from the FBI field office in Indianapolis, Indiana, for mishandling numerous sexual-assault claims against Larry Nassar, a physician who was working for USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, and as a medical professor at Michigan State University. Nassar pled guilty in November 2017 to multiple counts of criminal sexual assault and received a sentence of more than 100 years in prison. The plea agreement stipulated that by taking advantage of his position as a doctor, Nassar had sexually assaulted more than 100 young female athletes. By May 2022, the number of young women and girls accusing Nassar of assault had grown to more than 300. 812 813

Due to the FBI’s mishandling of the complaints, more than a year passed before local authorities in Michigan learned of them and acted against Nassar. The OIG report estimated that the FBI inaction gave Nassar the opportunity to commit more than 70 additional sexual assaults. 814

In May 2022, the Department of Justice announced it would not prosecute the two FBI agents for mishandling the case. The Department had twice previously considered and then declined to prosecute the agents. In early June 2022, nearly 100 of Nassar’s victims announced they would file a $1 billion tort claim against the FBI for the malfeasance. 815 816


In July 2015, the CEO of USA Gymnastics reported to the FBI’s Indianapolis field office multiple complaints of sexual assault made by its gymnasts against Nassar. The Office of Inspector General report stated the FBI agents in Indianapolis “conducted limited follow-up” over the next six weeks, including a September 2 interview with one of the gymnasts. 817

In September 2015, the U.S. Attorney working with the Indianapolis FBI determined that the complaints did not have an Indiana-based jurisdiction and informed the local agents to report the matter to FBI agents in Michigan, where Nassar was still employed and seeing patients. According to the OIG report, the Indianapolis agents informed USA Gymnastics that they would be alerting their Michigan FBI colleagues about the case. 818

However, the Indianapolis FBI agents did not alert Michigan agents of the complaints in September 2015 or at any other point. USA Gymnastics terminated its relationship with Nassar in September 2015. 819

The OIG report found no additional FBI action on the case until May 2016, when USA Gymnastics forwarded the same complaints to the FBI field office in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles agents contacted Indianapolis and were again erroneously informed that a complaint form had been sent to FBI agents in Michigan. 820

Regarding the conduct of the FBI agents in Los Angeles, the OIG found: 821

Following its May 2016 meeting with USA Gymnastics, the Los Angeles Field Office, in contrast to the Indianapolis Field Office, opened a federal sexual tourism investigation against Nassar and undertook numerous investigative steps, including interviewing several of Nassar’s alleged victims. However, like the Indianapolis Field Office, the Los Angeles Field Office did not reach out to any state or local authorities, even though it was aware of allegations that Nassar may have violated state laws and was unsure whether the evidence would support any federal criminal charges, and did not take any action to mitigate the risk to gymnasts that Nassar continued to treat. 822

In August 2016, another gymnast told the Michigan State University (MSU) campus police that Nassar had sexually assaulted her when she was 16 years old. An Indianapolis Star report covering allegations against Nassar appeared two weeks later. The OIG report stated that “dozens” of additional allegations were then reported to the MSU police. The campus police obtained and executed a search warrant targeting Nassar in September 2016. Nassar was not permitted to see patients from this point forward. 823

The OIG found that FBI agents in Michigan first learned of the Nassar case from the Indianapolis Star report and local coverage of the campus-police investigation. The Michigan FBI agents opened their own case in October 2016. 824


The OIG reported that Nassar may have continued to assault several dozen young female patients in the wake of the FBI’s inaction: “According to civil court documents, approximately 70 or more young athletes were allegedly sexually abused by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment between July 2015, when USA Gymnastics first reported allegations about Nassar to the Indianapolis Field Office, and September 2016.” 825

The OIG also found that when media, Congressional, and official FBI investigations of the Bureau’s conduct ensued, the Indianapolis agents attempted to cover up their conduct and blame others for their mishandling of the Nassar case. 826

Additionally, beginning in July 2015, after receiving the initial complaint from the CEO of USA Gymnastics, one of the Indianapolis FBI agents pursued a job opportunity with the assistance of that same CEO. The OIG reported that the agent’s employment pursuit continued into 2017, after the Nassar allegations were public, with the agent once “proposing to his colleagues an FBI public statement that would place USA Gymnastics in a positive light.” 827

When questioned by the OIG afterward, the agent twice denied he had sought the job opportunity and said he believed doing so would have caused a conflict of interest with his FBI duties. 828

FBI-Twitter Connections

See also: The Twitter Files

Many document releases from the Twitter Files covered the close working relationship that developed between the FBI and Twitter staff after 2017, particularly the period from January 2020 through the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk in late 2022.

“Twitter’s contact with the FBI was constant and pervasive, as if it were a subsidiary,” wrote Matt Taibbi, one of the reporters covering the Twitter Files. “Between January 2020 and November 2022, there were over 150 emails between the FBI and former Twitter Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth.” 829

“As of 2020,” according to Michael Shellenberger’s analysis of Twitter Files, “there were so many former FBI employees — ‘Bu alumni’ — working at Twitter that they had created their own private Slack channel and a crib sheet to onboard new FBI arrivals.” 830

Taibbi wrote that by January 2021, internal messages showed “Twitter executives getting a kick out of intensified relationships with federal agencies.” 831

Providing one example, Taibbi wrote: “Here’s Trust and Safety head Yoel Roth, lamenting a lack of ‘generic enough’ calendar descriptions to concealing his ‘very interesting’ meeting partners.” 832

The image showed the discussion, with Roth ending with sarcasm regarding a meeting he supposedly should not have been talking about: “DEFINITELY NOT meeting with the FBI I SWEAR.” 833  

Shellenberger reported the contents of an August 2022 memo in which Twitter staffers were preparing for a September 2022 meeting with the FBI to discuss the Bureau’s desire to “convince us to produce more FBI EDRs.” 834

Shellenberger explained: “EDRs are an “emergency disclosure request,” a warrantless search.” 835   

One Twitter Files report revealed a January 2021 email to Jim Baker, Twitter’s deputy general counsel and a former FBI lawyer. The subject line read: “Run the business – we made money!” Noting that Twitter had created “a reimbursement program for our legal process response from the FBI,” the Twitter employee told Baker the firm had “collected $3,415,323 since October 2019!” 836  

Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF)

In the fall of 2017, the FBI created a Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF) under the supervision of the Bureau’s Counterintelligence Division. In 2021, the FBI director informed Congress that the purpose of the FITF was to “identify and counteract malign foreign influence operations targeting the United States.” FBI agent Laura Dehmlow was the head of the FITF. 837 838

Reporting on his access to the Twitter Files, Matt Taibbi wrote that the FITF “swelled to 80 agents and corresponded with Twitter to identify alleged foreign influence and election tampering of all kinds.” 839

“The files show the FBI acting as doorman to a vast program of social media surveillance and censorship, encompassing agencies across the federal government – from the State Department to the Pentagon to the CIA,” wrote Taibbi. This included “requests from a wide array of smaller actors – from local cops to media to state governments.” 840

“A chief end result,” according to the documents Taibbi reviewed, “was that thousands of official ‘reports’ flowed to Twitter from all over, through the FITF and the FBI’s San Francisco field office.” 841

The FBI sent some of the most sensitive information to Twitter via Teleporter, described by Taibbi as “a one-way platform in which many communications were timed to vanish.” 842

The Twitter Files contain a 2020 report from Yoel Roth, in which Roth said he participated in a weekly “sync with FBI/DHS/DNI” (i.e.: FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence). 843

In a September 2022 email reported by Taibbi, Twitter senior legal executive Stacia Cardille revealed she had been attending monthly meetings with the same three intelligence agencies. 844 In what appeared to be a regular report to Jim Baker, Cardille wrote that the FBI was “adamant” that no impediments existed to sharing classified information with Twitter and other social media firms. 845

“This passage underscores the unique one-big-happy-family vibe between Twitter and the FBI,” observed Taibbi of the Cardille report. “With what other firm would the FBI blithely agree to ‘no impediments’ to classified information?” 846

FBI coordination with CIA and DHS

“Despite its official remit being ‘Foreign Influence,’” the FITF and the SF FBI office became [a] conduit for mountains of domestic fringiest material,” wrote Taibbi in a Twitter Files analysis. “It seemed to strike no one as strange that a ‘Foreign Influence’ task force was forwarding thousands of mostly domestic reports, along with the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] . . .” 847

According to the “Mission” page on its website, the Department of Homeland Security is tasked with counterterrorism, border security, cyberspace and critical infrastructure security, disaster preparedness, and securing national transportation and trade. Taibbi reported that an election-related component was added to the cybersecurity mission through a partnership between DHS and the Center for Internet Security (CIS), a nonprofit funded mostly with government grants. 848 849

In addition to CIS, Taibbi also identified the Electoral Integrity Project, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Laboratory, and the University of Washington’s Center for Informed Policy as part of “a series of government-affiliated think tanks that mass-review content” on social media. 850

Taibbi reported that CIS created a Partner Support Portal for DHS to forward concerns about accounts to social media firms. As an example of how it worked, he reported the contents of an October 2020 internal Twitter discussion regarding how to address a complaint sent from the California Secretary of State (SOS) through the CIS portal. 851

The California officials had earlier complained about a Twitter post from President Donald Trump. According to the Twitter employee handling the follow up contact, the California SOS office wanted to know “why Twitter didn’t take any action” against the Trump post. 852

“The government,” in one form or another, wrote Taibbi, “was in constant contact not just with Twitter but with virtually every major tech firm” including “Facebook, Microsoft, Verizon, Reddit, even Pinterest, and many others.” 853

Typical meetings of the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force, according to Taibbi, also “nearly always” included “one or two attendees” identified as “OGA,” for “Other Governmental Agency.” Taibbi interviewed former Central Intelligence Agency officers and contractors who confirmed “OGA” is used as a euphemistic cover for “CIA.” 854

An “OGA briefing” about foreign concerns, was “almost always” on the meeting agenda of the Foreign Influence Task Force, wrote Taibbi. 855  (The CIA is mostly prohibited from operating legally within the United States. 856)  Taibbi also noted the OGAs “ended up sharing intelligence through the FBI and FITF not just with Twitter, but with Yahoo!, Twitch, Clouldfare, LinkedIn, even Wikimedia.” 857

In September 2020, according to the Twitter Files, FBI agent Elvis Chan and Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, discussed the creation of an “Election Communication Platform.” The one-way communication portal for the U.S. intelligence community to send messages to Twitter and other social media firms was to be managed by the FBI’s FITF. Roth wrote that the “easy ones” (i.e.: obvious government agencies) to include on the platform would be the FBI, DHS, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Others expressing interest in participating, according to Roth, were the U.S. Department of State, the National Security Agency, and the CIA. 858

Influence over Account Suspensions

“Especially as the election approached in 2020, the FITF/FBI overwhelmed Twitter with requests, sending lists of hundreds of problem accounts,” wrote Matt Taibbi, of his examination of the Twitter Files data. “Requests arrived and were escalated from all over: from Treasury [Department of Treasury], the NSA [National Security Agency], virtually every state,  the HHS [Department of Health and Human Services], from the FBI and DHS [Department of Homeland Security], and more.” 859

Reporting on a November 2022 email, Taibbi wrote that it demonstrated a “master-canine quality of the FBI’s relationship to Twitter.” 860

“Hello Twitter contacts,” began the email from the FBI’s San Francisco office. “FBI San Francisco is notifying you of the below accounts which may potentially constitute violations of Twitter’s Terms of Service for any action or inaction deemed appropriate within Twitter policy.” 861  

“Twitter personnel in that case went on to look for reasons to suspend all four accounts,” wrote Taibbi. He reported that the content of one of the four was filled with obvious humor, such as one post on Election Day “reminding” Republicans to vote the next day. 862

An October 27, 2020, email from an FBI official to a Twitter staffer asked: “Do you guys have a list of those 132 accounts action was taken against on 09/29/2020? We wanted to get process served on those accounts.” The Twitter Files messages show that within two minutes the request was forwarded to Yoel Roth for his attention. 863

“Requests poured in from FBI offices all over the country, day after day, hour after hour,” wrote Taibbi, in his analysis of the exchange about the 132 accounts. “If Twitter didn’t act quickly, questions came: ‘Was action taken?’ ‘Any movement?’” 864  

Taibbi also reported the Bureau “was clearly tailoring searches to Twitter’s policies” and that its “complaints were almost always depicted somewhere as a ‘possible terms of service violation.’” 865

He provided internal communications showing Twitter’s executives noticed this behavior. In November 2020, Stacia Cardille, the firm’s senior legal executive, complained to Jim Baker that she’d received ten requests in five days in which it appeared the FBI was just “doing keyword searches for violations.” Baker, a former FBI lawyer, responded that it was “odd they are searching for violations of our policies.”

Suppression of Satire

According to Twitter Files communications reported by Matt Taibbi, FBI/FITF requests for suppression of Twitter accounts included instances where the commentary being reported by the FBI as election interference was instead obvious satire. 866

In one example, Taibbi examined six accounts flagged as violations of Twitter’s terms of service in two November 2022 emails sent from the FBI’s San Francisco field office. 867

In one case, an Election Day 2022 post from the account “@byrum_wade” was flagged by the FBI, with this note sent to Twitter: “… display name ‘ULTRA MAGA’, stating the following: ‘Americans, Vote today. Democrats you vote Wednesday 9th.’” 868

A nearly identical satirical statement, but from the opposite partisan perspective, was flagged for the account of Twitter user “@FromMA”: “I want to remind republicans to vote tomorrow, Wednesday November 9.” 869

And in a third example, a post from the account “@ClairFosterPHD” warned “I’m a ballot counter in my state. If you’re not wearing a mask, I am not counting your vote. #safetyfirst.” 870

She added in a follow up: “For every negative comment on this post I am adding another vote for the democrats.” 871

Taibbi reported that “@FromMA” and “@ClairFosterPHD” were the only two of from the batch of six accounts flagged by the FBI that did not get suspended by Twitter. 872

When asked about her inclusion on the FBI’s list, the user behind “@ClairFosterPHD” told Taibbi: “Anyone who cannot discern obvious satire from reality has no place making decisions for others or working for the feds.” 873

Taibbi also examined another email from the FBI to Twitter that flagged 25 accounts. Sent during the same final week of the 2022 election, this group was flagged by the Bureau for “disseminating false information about the time, place or manner of the upcoming elections.” 874

In this note, FBI agent Elvis Chan added: “Let us know if you decide to take any actions against these accounts based on our tipper to you.” The Twitter Files showed a follow up note back to the FBI in which Twitter reported taking some action (either blocking some content from, or outright suspending) 16 of the 25 on the list. 875

Taibbi reported that many of the 25 were also satirical or “low engagement.” One of the high engagement accounts reported by the FBI, but not acted against by Twitter, was that of actor Billy Baldwin. 876

The twitter handle “@Tiberius444” was another account that did not receive any known sanctions from Twitter, despite being one of the 25 reported by the Bureau. 877

“I can’t believe the FBI is policing jokes on Twitter,” responded the user behind “@Tiberius444,” when contacted by Taibbi. “That’s crazy.” 878

Congressional Pressure

The Twitter Files reports also show the firm was under pressure from Congress to cooperate with the FBI. In January 2020, one Twitter executive sent a note concerning this point to Yoel Roth. “We have seen a sustained (If uncoordinated) effort by the IC [intelligence community] to push us to share more info & change our API policies,” said the executive to Roth. “They are probing & pushing everywhere they can (including by whispering to congressional staff).” 879

Similarly, in September 2020, according to a Twitter Files report from Matt Taibbi, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) “seemed to need reassurance Twitter was taking FBI direction.” 880

Taibbi reported internal Twitter communications from September 1, 2020, beginning with an early afternoon message in which the SSCI was informed that Twitter was “suspending five Twitter accounts for platform manipulation that we can reliably attribute to Russian state actors.” The note assessed that the five accounts “achieved little impact,” were “low quality and spammy,” and that “most Tweets from these accounts received few, if any, Likes or Retweets.” 881  

The note concluded by informing SSCI that Twitter had “worked closely with the FBI Foreign Influence Task Force” to identify the five accounts. An SSCI staffer responded, asking for clarification regarding how close the cooperation had been and whether the FBI had provided the suggestion to investigate the accounts. 882  

In response, Stacia Cardille asked Yoel Roth if it was okay to tell the SSCI that the FBI had provided the tips. Roth responded that he would “actually encourage it” and that Twitter should “give the FBI kudos where they’ve clearly earned them.” 883  

Dispute Over Foreign Influence

Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger found repeated instances in the Twitter Files of conflicts between Twitter and U.S. government officials regarding the existence of foreign government propaganda—particularly Russian government influence—on the social media platform.

“Time and again, FBI asks Twitter for evidence of foreign influence & Twitter responds that they aren’t finding anything worth reporting,” wrote Shellenberger of the period leading up to the 2020 election. 884

“Twitter executives struggled against government claims of foreign interference supposedly occurring on their platform and others,” wrote Taibbi. 885

Taibbi also showed examples of dead-end searches for state-sponsored propaganda on the platform: “The #TwitterFiles show execs under constant pressure to validate theories of foreign influence – and unable to find evidence for key assertions.” 886

In July 2020, intelligence community officials on the Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF) sent a letter to Yoel Roth, Twitter head of trust and safety, through FBI agent Elvis Chan, challenging a presentation Roth gave to them at a June 2020 briefing. A copy of the FITF letter to Twitter was reported in the Twitter Files. 887

“I believe FITF would like a response ahead of our meeting the week of August 10th,” wrote Chan to Roth, in a cover note forwarding the FITF letter. “I think you can tell from the nature of the questions, that there was quite a bit of discussion within the USIC [United States Intelligence Community] to get clarifications from your company.” 888

During the June 2020 briefing, according to the FITF letter, Roth informed the group that Twitter “had not observed much recent activity from official propaganda actors.” 889

Explaining the perspective of the intelligence community membership of the FITF, the letter further stated, “other sources we are aware of (including those referenced below) indicate state media actors are prolific users of social media, which seems in contrast to your own analysis.” 890

The letter included five references to media and other public reports claiming Russian or “state backed” propaganda efforts were being deployed on social media. 891

In his analysis, Matt Taibbi reported there was a circular logic in the sources the FITF selected. 892

“This exchange is odd among other things because some of the “bibliography” materials cited by the FITF are sourced to intelligence officials, who in turn cited the public sources,” wrote Taibbi. 893

There is an internal memo in the Twitter Files from Roth to Twitter staff regarding the FITF letter. Roth wrote that he was “not particularly comfortable with the Bureau (and by extension the IC [intelligence community]) demanding written answers.” Roth compared the tone of the FITF letter to “more like something we’d get from a congressional committee.” 894

“The idea of the FBI acting as conduit for the Intelligence Community is interesting, given that many agencies are barred from domestic operations,” observed Taibbi. 895

In another follow up message from Roth to staff, Roth challenges the “entire premise” of the FITF’s characterization of the June 2020 briefing. 896

“I re-reviewed my notes from that briefing,” wrote Roth, “and there’s a specific item calling out official propaganda outlets as a major factor.” 897

Suppression of Hunter Biden Story

See also: The Twitter Files

According to independent journalist Michael Shellenberger, the FBI participated in an October 2020 “influence campaign” with executives at Twitter to censor and discredit a controversial New York Post story during the final weeks of the 2020 presidential campaign. A CBS News report two years later verified the New York Post’s report. The revelations regarding the FBI’s role in suppressing the story were made in December 2022 by Shellenberger and independent journalist Matt Taibbi, as part of their reporting from the Twitter Files. 898 899

On October 14, 2020, the New York Post reported a story based on the contents of a laptop computer that had allegedly been used by Hunter Biden, son of then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Emails on the device appeared to reveal controversial contacts and potential business dealings with foreign governments involving the Bidens and other figures. 900 901 902

Twitter responded by locking the account of the newspaper and blocking access to the story, citing it as a violation of the firm’s “hacked materials” policy. The Twitter account of then-Trump White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany was also locked, after she made reference to the Post report. Facebook implemented a similar but less restrictive policy, limiting the spread of the story on the platform. 903 904 905

Twitter informed the newspaper that the account would not be unlocked until the Post removed its original references to the Hunter Biden report. The newspaper did not comply, and the account remained locked for two weeks. 906

“Twitter took extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be ‘unsafe,’” reported Taibbi. “They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography.” 907

Based on internal communications from the Twitter Files, Taibbi wrote that the decision to block the story and the New York Post Twitter account was “was made at the highest levels of the company, but without the knowledge of CEO Jack Dorsey, with former head of legal, policy and trust Vijaya Gadde playing a key role.” 908

Testifying in Congress in mid-November 2020, Dorsey said the decision to block the accounts and restrict access to the story was “a mistake that we made, both in terms of the intention of the policy and also the enforcement action of not allowing people to share it publicly or privately.” 909

Russia Allegations

On October 19, 2020, less than a week after the New York Post story was published, dozens of former U.S. intelligence community officials released an open letter to the media that implied the contents of the laptop had been fabricated or otherwise compromised by Russian intelligence. The authors wrote that the story had “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation,” but stated “we do not have evidence of Russian involvement — just that our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case.” Among others, the letter was cosigned by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and three former CIA directors: John Brennan, Michael Hayden, and Leon Panetta. 910

More than two years after the October 2020 controversy, in November 2022, an independent review commissioned by CBS News verified what the New York Post had reported. The laptop’s contents had been genuine, had belonged to Hunter Biden, and had not been tampered with. 911

FBI “Primed” Twitter’s Response

Michael Shellenberger wrote that “during all of 2020, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies repeatedly primed Yoel Roth [then Twitter’s head of site integrity] to dismiss reports of Hunter Biden’s laptop as a Russian ‘hack and leak’ operation.” 912

Shellenberger noted that the FBI was aware of and in possession of the laptop one year before the New York Post controversy occurred. The FBI had taken possession of the laptop in December 2019, after the Bureau was alerted to the computer’s existence by the owner of a Delaware computer repair shop. The repairman claimed the damaged device was dropped off by Hunter Biden in April 2019, with a request for recovery of the information on the hard drive. The repairman recovered and copied the information, but said Biden never responded to requests to claim the computer and pay for the service. 913 914

Growing concerned over what the information on the device revealed, the repairman alerted the FBI, and the Bureau seized the computer in December 2019 on the authority of a federal grand jury subpoena. The repairman’s duplicate digital file was later given to the New York Post. 915 916

In December 2020, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site integrity, gave testimony to the Federal Election Commission regarding his contact with the FBI during the year prior to the Hunter Biden laptop controversy. The Twitter Files quoted from Roth’s testimony. 917

“Since 2018, I have had regular meetings with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and industry peers regarding election security,” Roth wrote to the FEC. “During these weekly meetings, the federal law enforcement agencies communicated that they expected ‘hack-and-leak operations’ by state actors might occur in the period shortly before the 2020 presidential election, likely in October. I was told in these meetings that the intelligence community expected that individuals associated with political campaigns would be subject to hacking attacks and that material obtained through those hacking attacks would likely be disseminated over social media platforms, including Twitter. These expectations of hack-and-leak operations were discussed throughout 2020. I also learned in these meetings that there were rumors that a hack-and-leak operation would involve Hunter Biden.” 918  

A similar FBI campaign mentioning “Russian propaganda” occurred with Facebook, according to a statement made by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg during an interview with podcaster Joe Rogan in August 2022. 919 920

Michael Shellenberger’s Twitter Files report summarized Zuckerberg’s statement to Rogan: “The FBI basically came to us [and] was like, ‘Hey… you should be on high alert. We thought that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in 2016 election. There’s about to be some kind of dump similar to that.’” 921 922  

Shellenberger reported that in August 2020, FBI agent Elvis Chan provided Yoel Roth with a briefing on “APT28,” purportedly a Russian hacking group. Shellenberger wrote that before the Hunter Biden story broke, Roth “had been primed to think about” APT28 by these briefings. In support of this point, Shellenberger provided a video interview in which Roth conceded that the New York Post story “set off every single one of my finely tuned APT28 hack-and-leap campaign alarm bells.” 923   

Shellenberger also showed an internal email from September 2020 in which FBI agents Laura Dehmlow and Elvis Chan asked to give a “classified briefing” to Twitter’s Jim Baker, the former FBI general counsel who was presumed to have retained his federal security clearance. 924

Also in the Twitter Files was the agenda for a September 2020 crisis response exercise, sponsored by the Aspen Institute, in which attendees (including Roth) role-played the “Burisma leak”—a hypothetical scenario in which media responds to a potentially manipulated report accusing Hunter and Joe Biden of controversial foreign financial misdeeds. 925

The Twitter Files showed Facebook security officials and the national security reporters for the Washington Post and New York Times also participated in the Aspen exercise. 926  

FBI Influences Suppression of New York Post

According to emails revealed by the Twitter Files, FBI agent Elvis Chan sent a packet of ten documents to Twitter’s Yoel Roth on the evening before the New York Post story appeared. Chan’s email was titled “Information Sharing.” The documents were sent through the secure Teleporter channel between the Bureau and Twitter. Chan asked for and received confirmation from Roth that the documents were received. 927  

The Twitter Files show that shortly after the New York Post story appeared on the morning of October 14, 2020, Yoel Roth was not immediately inclined to believe it was in violation of Twitter’s policy. 928  

“At this time, given the alleged provenance of the materials (a laptop mysteriously dropped off at repair shop in Delaware), it isn’t clearly violative of our Hacked Materials Policy, nor is it clearly in violation of anything else,” wrote Roth in an email that morning. 929  

Continuing, Roth also wrote that “my personal view on this, unsubstantiated by any hard evidence, is that this feels a lot like a somewhat subtle leak operation,” and that his team would be “developing a recommendation for what, if anything, we want to do over the course of the day today.” 930  

“In response to Roth, Baker—the former FBI lawyer—repeatedly insists that the Hunter Biden materials were either faked, hacked, or both, and a violation of Twitter policy,” reported Shellenberger. “Baker does so over email, and in a Google doc, on October 14 and 15.” 931  

In an email on the morning of October 14, the day the story appeared, Baker argued that “reliable cybersecurity folks” had judged that the formatting of the emails used by the New York Post “looks like they could be complete fabrications.” 932  

Baker received pushback regarding whether the story rose to the level of a violation of Twitter policy, and he responded: “I support the conclusion that we need more facts to assess whether the materials were hacked. At this stage, however, it is reasonable for us to assume that they may have been and that caution is warranted.” 933  

Before the end of the first morning, according to Shellenberger, “Twitter execs had bought into a wild hack-and-dump story.” Supporting this point, Shellenberger reported the content of an email from Roth, marked 10:17 am on October 14, wherein Roth had come around to the hack theory. 934

“The suggestion from experts – which rings true – is there was a hack that happened separately, and they loaded the hacked materials on the laptop that magically appeared at a repair shop in Delaware,” wrote Roth. 935  

“In the end, the FBI’s influence campaign aimed at executives at news media, Twitter, & other social media companies worked: they censored & discredited the Hunter Biden laptop story,” concluded Shellenberger. “By Dec. 2020, Baker and his colleagues even sent a note of thanks to the FBI for its work.” 936  

The Twitter Files includes an email chain of the discussion over which FBI agents deserved the notes of appreciation for their role in the policy decision. 937

“Also, we should be mindful that the letters could leak and will be subject to FOIA, so we should prepare them with that expectation in mind,” wrote former FBI lawyer Jim Baker, to his Twitter colleagues. 938  

Other Post-Hoover Controversies

The FBI has been the subject of numerous other controversies since the mid-1970s Congressional investigations into the Bureau’s J. Edgar Hoover-era misconduct.

Robert Hanssen Spy Case

Beginning in 1985 and continuing through 2000, FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen was a spy for the Soviet KGB and its Russian successors after the Cold War ended. For much of this period, the FBI had tasked him with assisting counterintelligence operations intended to work against the Soviets. 939

A 2003 report from the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) called Hanssen “the most damaging spy in FBI history” and summarized the extent of his impact: 940

Over more than 20 years, Hanssen compromised some of this nation’s most important counterintelligence and military secrets, including the identities of dozens of human sources, at least three of whom were executed. Hanssen gave the KGB thousands of pages of highly classified documents and dozens of computer disks detailing U.S. strategies in the event of nuclear war, major developments in military weapons technologies, information on active espionage cases, and many other aspects of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Soviet counterintelligence program. 941

The OIG report criticized the FBI’s attempts to catch Hanssen: 942

In 1985 and 1986, the CIA and FBI lost nearly every significant human asset then operating against the Soviet Union. These losses were unprecedented in scope, quantity, significance, and timing, yet the FBI undertook no sustained effort to determine their cause. Senior management was almost entirely unaware of the scope and significance of these losses, and throughout the 1980s the FBI failed to work cooperatively with the CIA to resolve the cause of these losses or to thoroughly investigate whether an FBI mole could be responsible for these setbacks. We now know that Hanssen compromised many of the assets and operations lost during the mid-1980s. 943

Hannsen was captured in 2001, pled guilty, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Richard Jewell

A pipe bomb hidden inside a backpack at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics killed one person and injured more than 100 others. Richard Jewell, a security guard, had noticed the abandoned backpack, correctly intuited it could be a bomb, and with a law-enforcement official helped clear roughly 75 to 100 people from the area in the seconds before the explosion. 944 945

The bomber, Eric Rudolph, was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list two years later after setting off two more bombs, one of which killed a police officer. Rudolph eluded capture until 2003. 946

In the immediate aftermath of the 1996 attack, the FBI interrogated Jewell as a suspect. This information leaked to the Atlanta Journal, which published a story headlined “F.B.I. Suspects ‘Hero’ Guard May Have Planted Bomb.” 947

A 2019 account of the incident from the New York Times stated: 948

Jewell’s life turned upside down after The Journal named him as the focus of the F.B.I.’s investigation…

Government officials and news organizations descended on the apartment Jewell shared with his mother. Dozens of F.B.I. agents scoured the home and towed away Jewell’s truck. In an apartment complex overlooking his building, four stations — ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC — paid a tenant $1,000 a day to set up a command post in her unit.

Yet he was never charged. Inside, Jewell watched TV. He read. He played video games. He couldn’t go outside — not without setting off a high-speed car chase of government vehicles and media vans, anyway. 949

An April 1997 memo from the Department of Justice later stated the FBI had committed “a major error in judgment” when they deceived Jewell into cooperating with an early interrogation. Jewell was told he was participating in a training film the FBI was making about bomb detection. The agents initially did not advise Jewell of his constitutional right to remain silent and seek an attorney. The Miranda warnings were only conveyed after a direct order to the agents from FBI Director Louis Freeh. 950

An online FBI history of the case includes a ten-paragraph discussion of the multi-year manhunt for the actual bomber, Eric Rudolph. It does not mention Jewell, his role in preventing further injuries and loss of life, or the FBI’s misbehavior towards him. 951

Robert Jay Mathews Fire

At a remote home outside Seattle, Washington in December 1985, the FBI found and trapped Robert Jay Mathews, leader of The Order, a violent neo-Nazi gang. The Bureau had identified members of The Order as primary suspects in bombings, murders, and hijackings. Mathews and his group were also suspected of plotting political assassinations and terrorist attacks. The capture, interrogation, and successful prosecution of Mathews and his accomplices would have been the culmination of a major FBI investigation. 952

Mathews and his associates refused to surrender and shot at the agents. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team fired tear gas into the home, but this too did not effectuate a surrender. Finally, the HRT launched M-79 Starburst flares into the building, setting the structure on fire. Mathews did not leave the building and died in the ensuing blaze. 953

In The Silent Brotherhood: The Chilling Inside Story of America’s Violent Anti-Government Militia Movement, authors Kevin Flynn and Gary Gerhardt provided an extensive account of the standoff and the history of The Order. They wrote that “the FBI knew that the flares would probably set the house on fire” and “believed Mathews would have plenty of time to come out of the house before the fire got out of control.” 954

Similarly, the nonprofit website produced its own account of the standoff. According to this collaboratively produced history of the state of Washington, “the FBI fired three M-79 Starburst illumination flares into the house, knowing it would likely catch on fire and end the standoff.” 955

A slightly different account is given in Enemies: A History of the FBI. Journalist Tim Weiner wrote that the fire was set accidentally when the HRT’s tear gas canisters started the blaze. 956

Afterward, according to Flynn and Gerhardt: 957

An FBI spokesman later announced to reporters the tragic end to the siege, adding that the fire “was not started intentionally,” although indeed, as the result of a calculated risk, it had been started knowingly. 958

Whitey Bulger

In 2002, a federal jury convicted retired FBI agent John J. Connolly, Jr., on charges of racketeering, obstruction of justice, and lying to an FBI agent. Connolly had left the Bureau in 1990, but his felony convictions related to his 22-year-long professional relationship with Whitey Bulger, a Boston-based Irish mob boss and the brother of William “Billy” Bulger, who was the president of the Massachusetts State Senate. 959 960

A childhood acquaintance of the Bulger brothers, Connolly recruited Whitey as an FBI confidential informant in 1975. The tips provided to the FBI by Whitey Bulger and his top criminal lieutenant, Stephen Flemmi, allowed the Bureau to make arrests that crippled the Patriarca Crime Family, an Italian organized-crime syndicate. The Boston FBI, and Connolly in particular, benefitted from the professional success and publicity of busting up a high-profile mob enterprise. Similarly, Bulger and Flemmi also benefited from the disproportionate pressure that the FBI was putting on their criminal competitors. 961 962

After Connolly’s 1990 retirement, the FBI discontinued its arrangement with Bulger and Flemmi, and instead began to seriously target the pair for criminal prosecution. Connolly’s conduct and the FBI’s cooperation with the gangsters became public in 1998 during a criminal proceeding against Flemmi. The evidence revealed that Connolly had accepted monetary rewards from the two mobsters, tipped them off to law-enforcement investigations into their crimes, warned them to go into hiding when law-enforcement agencies were preparing to arrest them, and lied to the FBI when asked if he was assisting Flemmi’s attempt to defeat a federal criminal case. 963 964 965

According to a New York Times account of Connolly’s 2002 trial, the FBI’s decision to use Bulger and Flemmi as informants damaged the Bureau’s reputation with local police agencies: 966

Testimony at the two-week trial showed that Mr. Bulger had benefited from his close ties to Mr. Connolly, sometimes providing the F.B.I. information about rival gangsters that enabled the authorities to knock out their operations, and at other times being tipped off by Mr. Connolly to Boston and Massachusetts police investigations against his gang.

These law enforcement agencies began to suspect that Mr. Bulger had an ally in the F.B.I. when wiretap operations against him always failed, and bad relations developed between the F.B.I.’s Boston office and virtually all other law enforcement agencies here. 967

Connolly was also charged with warning Bulger and Flemmi about three informers who were feeding incriminating information about the Irish gangsters to the FBI. The three FBI informers against Bulger and Flemmi were subsequently murdered. The 2002 federal trial jury found Connolly not guilty of this offense. 968 969

In 2005, the State of Florida indicted Connolly on a murder charge based on the assertion that in 1982, the FBI agent had given information about an informant to Bulger and Flemmi. The informant was subsequently murdered. In 2008, Florida jurors convicted Connolly of 2nd-degree murder. He received a 40-year sentence. 970 971

During the investigation that brought about Connolly’s 2002 federal conviction, federal prosecutor John Durham revealed four instances (unrelated to Connolly’s case) in which other FBI agents had fabricated charges against four men convicted of murder in the 1960s. Two of the men had died in prison, but the remaining two were released and won a $100 million legal settlement from the federal government. 972

A account of the Bulger scandal concluded: 973

Many other agents and government officials have been accused of smoothing the path for Whitey and his associates, but only Connolly has been convicted. The FBI has altered its informant protocols, and some relatives of victims killed while Whitey was under FBI protection have received government compensation, but there has never been a full public accounting of exactly what went wrong during Connolly’s time at the FBI. 974

Brandon Mayfield

In May 2004, the FBI arrested Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield, an honorably discharged officer from the U.S. Army, in connection with a terrorist bombing of a train in Madrid, Spain. The attack had killed 191 people and wounded 2,000 in March of that year. A New York Times report cited anonymous U.S. government “officials” who had supposedly confirmed “that Mr. Mayfield’s fingerprints matched prints found on a bag in the wreckage of the Madrid bombing.” 975 976 977

In federal court filings seeking criminal search warrants targeting Mayfield, the FBI asserted it was “100 percent” certain of the fingerprint match. 978 979

The supposed match was wrong; Mayfield was innocent. The FBI had been relying upon a digital print sent by Spanish authorities and did not attempt to consult the original print before launching an investigation of Mayfield and then arresting him. Before the arrest, the Bureau had received a warning that the Spanish didn’t trust the match to Mayfield. After Mayfield was arrested, the Spanish linked the original fingerprint to an Algerian suspect. 980

A federal judge dismissed the case against Mayfield, and he was released after two weeks in custody. He later said the ordeal for his family was “horrific pain, torture and humiliation” that was “hard to put into words.” He claimed that during his captivity, he was personally “subject to lockdown, strip searches, sleep deprivation, unsanitary living conditions, shackles and chains, threats, physical pain and humiliation.” 981

Using the subsequently discredited fingerprint evidence as the basis for the erroneous investigation, the Bureau obtained warrants to wiretap Mayfield’s phone and search his home and law office. Several of his family members were also questioned by the Bureau during the terrorist probe. 982 983

In late November 2006, the federal government agreed to pay Mayfield $2 million to settle a lawsuit he had filed alleging civil rights violations. 984

The settlement also included an apology for the government’s attempt to link Mayfield to the murder of 191 people: 985

The United States of America apologizes to Mr. Brandon Mayfield and his family for the suffering caused by the FBI’s misidentification of Mr. Mayfield’s fingerprint and the resulting investigation of Mr. Mayfield, including his arrest as a material witness in connection with the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the execution of search warrants and other court orders in the Mayfield family home and in Mr. Mayfield’s law office.

The United States acknowledges that the investigation and arrest were deeply upsetting to Mr. Mayfield, to Mrs. Mayfield, and to their three young children, and the United States regrets that it mistakenly linked Mr. Mayfield to this terrorist attack. The FBI has implemented a number of measures in an effort to ensure that what happened to Mr. Mayfield and the Mayfield family does not happen again. 986

Gretchen Whitmer “Kidnapping Plot”

In April 2022, two men accused of participating in an October 2020 plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) were acquitted of all charges by a federal trial jury. The jury could not reach a verdict in the case of two other men charged in the plot, one of whom was identified by the government as the leader of the alleged conspiracy. 987 988

In the two acquittals, defense attorneys successfully argued that the FBI had functionally entrapped the defendants and encouraged them to commit crimes. According to a National Public Radio report: “Defense attorneys portrayed their clients as credulous weekend warriors prone to big, wild talk, who were often stoned. They said FBI undercover agents and informants tricked and cajoled the men into agreeing to a conspiracy.” 989 990

Two other men involved in the case had pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against their alleged co-conspirators. 991

A July 2021 Buzzfeed News analysis concluded the case had “become one of the most important domestic terrorism investigations in a generation.” 992

A paid confidential informant named “Dan” helped the FBI begin and then develop the investigation. “Dan” was a U.S. Army veteran with experience in the Iraq War who befriended the six defendants and then reported them to law enforcement. Over a seven-month period, Dan received $24,000 in direct compensation from the Bureau, a new vehicle, and more than $30,000 in reimbursements for other expenses. 993

Dan was far from the only government witness in the case. The Buzzfeed analysis of the evidence filed in the case reported the “government has documented at least 12 confidential informants who assisted the sprawling investigation.” Two undercover FBI agents also infiltrated the group. 994

The Buzzfeed account raised the possibility that an entrapment defense could succeed: 995

An examination of the case by BuzzFeed News also reveals that some of those informants, acting under the direction of the FBI, played a far larger role than has previously been reported. Working in secret, they did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects. Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception. The extent of their involvement raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them. 996

Buzzfeed profiled the complicated background of a man nicknamed “Robey,” another informant the FBI had placed within the group: “By the time he was 20, Robey had been busted for car theft and soon added battery, possession of stolen property, forgery, disorderly conduct, theft, writing worthless checks, sex with a minor, bail jumping, and insurance fraud to his rap sheet.” 997

Robey was also a serial government informant: “According to court records, Robey had helped the government put people away at least three times in the 1980s and again in 2005.” 998

Just before the October arrest of the alleged Whitmer kidnap plotters, Robey was indicted again, this time in Wisconsin, on an unrelated charge. After the arrest of the six alleged conspirators, one of the FBI agents working the case was charged in a Michigan state court for assault with intent to do great bodily harm. 999

Buzzfeed’s analysis of the evidence from the investigation showed that the FBI encouraged Dan to bring additional conspirators into the alleged plot, and that Robey also strongly encouraged people to attend meetings of the group. 1000

As to Dan specifically, Buzzfeed reported: “The Iraq War vet, for his part, became so deeply enmeshed in a Michigan militant group that he rose to become its second-in-command, encouraging members to collaborate with other potential suspects and paying for their transportation to meetings. He prodded the alleged mastermind of the kidnapping plot to advance his plan, then baited the trap that led to the arrest.” 1001

Buzzfeed described the role of Dan and the FBI in assisting the kidnapping plot’s alleged mastermind, Adam Fox: 1002

“We take the building and then take [expletive deleted] hostages,” Fox told Dan. “It’s [expletive deleted] wartime.”

But by his own admission, Fox — despite his new, seemingly grand military title — was a general without soldiers. “I can’t do nothing with less than 200 men,” he complained to Dan. At best, he figured, he could muster “maybe 15 to 20” men.

Stopping violent ideas like this was what Dan said drove him to law enforcement in the first place, but now, with his two FBI agents at his side, he told Fox he would help.

“Hey man,” Dan said. “If you want to come and train at Joe’s sometime with us that would be great.”

“Dude, we are down to [expletive deleted] train, brother, for sure,” Fox replied.

Confidential informants, as a rule, are told very little about the investigations they’re assisting. They generally don’t even know the identity of other informants in the same case. It was very unlikely, therefore, that Dan knew the scope of what he’d just pulled the Watchmen into.

But Impola, Chambers, and FBI agents spread across more than a half-dozen states knew exactly what was going on. The Watchmen, with Dan as the second-in-command, were now at the heart of a far-reaching, multi-state domestic terrorism investigation dubbed operation “Cold Snap.” 1003

Adam Fox was one of the two men for whom the federal trial jury could not reach a verdict in April 2022. In August 2022 the government began a second trial of the pair. 1004 1005 1006

<h2> </h2>


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