A Federal Bureau of Investigations memo from 1947, published Monday by Muckrock, an organization that specializes in filing Freedom of Information Act requests, reveals that FBI agents were once trained to exploit the supposed weaknesses of various minority groups.
In language that might not be acceptable in modern-day professional settings, the document compiled for the benefit of the bureau's field agents—and addressed to then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover—offered a slew of tips.
"Slow to respond" Mexicans, the document says, "usually will not cooperate with anyone until some kind of salesmanship especially interesting to them has been employed."
Mexicans, it advises, should be softened up with conversation "revolving around something of particular interest to Mexicans such as their pursuit of life, their property, hobbies and to anything to which they may be readily conversant."
Catholics are easier to extract confessions from after they confess to a priest, the document says, noting that contacting suspects after they leave a confessional booth "has expedited obtaining of confessions."
African-Americans can be duped into providing information by phony insurance salespeople, according to the memo.
"The Negro population are susceptible to insurance sales calls particularly from salesmen representing burial companies," according to the document. "A great deal of information can be obtained by these insurance salesmen who are usually white persons. On occasion it has been possible to develop information by securing the cooperation of such salesmen questioning Negro families under the pretext of collecting their insurance policies."
The racially insensitive nature of certain FBI endeavors is not unheard of. Two days after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., the director of the FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division, William Sullivan, wrote, "We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security."
The bureau proceeded to tape-record intimate encounters in King's lodgings and use the recordings to anonymously threaten the civil rights leader.