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Federal Bureau of Investigation: History

The New Challenges Of World War Ii

With the rise of totalitarianism abroad, a new concern with internal enemies developed. At the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, the F.B.I. expanded information collection on the domestic activities of Communists and radicals. By 1939 Hoover had re-established the General Intelligence Division. The war years provided the F.B.I. with a powerful rationale for monitoring political radicals. In addition, the passage of the Smith Act in 1940 provided a legal basis for F.B.I. domestic security investigations. The Smith Act made it a crime to advocate or conspire to advocate the forceful overthrow of the government. During the early 1940s, the F.B.I. underwent dramatic growth, with the number of employees nearly doubling, from 7,420 to 13,317, and the number of agents doubling to 5,702 during the same period.

In the early 1940s the bureau began resorting to more intrusive investigative techniques, wiretaps in particular, but also physical surveillance, elaborate record keeping, mail openings, and warrantless searches. Sometimes the bureau's monitoring activities went beyond the expected targets (like Communists) to less likely ones, like First Ladies. While President Roosevelt was quite supportive of Hoover and the F.B.I., Mrs. Roosevelt was not. In fact, Hoover considered her an enemy of the F.B.I., and she likely considered the F.B.I. an enemy of hers. In response to Eleanor Roosevelt's criticism of the F.B.I., the First Lady and her assistants became the targets of investigations that were designed to intimidate her and, eventually, did silence her criticism. Despite her protests, the investigations continued and the F.B.I. obtained damaging information on Mrs. Roosevelt that included evidence of extramarital relationships (Powers, 1987).

The fruits of this and other unofficial investigations by the Bureau become the basis of what was been referred as Hoover's secret files (Gentry, 1991). The creation of these secret files got a boost with some official action in 1947. In 1947, the executive branch established the Federal Employee-Loyalty Security Program, which in its final form required that each federal agency conduct investigations of its personnel. This information was to be forwarded to the F.B.I. for further investigative work or for filing. In addition, as part of this program, the F.B.I. was given responsibility for conducting investigations of presidential appointees, Supreme Court nominees, and individuals in other high-level positions. With this responsibility, the bureau exercised extraordinary influence in determining who filled high-level governmental positions, given the bureau's latitude to investigate some people more thoroughly than others.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawFederal Bureau of Investigation: History - Before The Beginning Of The F.b.i., The Beginning Of The F.b.i.