This story originally appeared in the August 11, 1950, issue of U.S.News & World Report.
Editor's Note: What should a citizen know about subversive activities? What should he do?
Is there any danger to the U.S. in the mild-mannered acquaintance who insists that Russia is the only true democracy?
President Truman recently asked that organizations and individuals report to the FBI all information "relating to espionage, sabotage and subversive activities."
To get an inside view of some of the problems which the President's request raised, U.S. News & World Report put a series of questions to J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI. The questions and his replies follow.
J. Edgar Hoover has headed the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 26 of his 55 years.
Study at night won him two law degrees by 1917, in his native Washington, D.C.; then the Justice Department hired him. He rounded up alien subversives after World War I, and in 1921 was appointed assistant chief of the FBI by Harlan Stone, then Attorney General and later Chief Justice. He became Director in 1924.
In World War II, espionage and sabotage were special FBI targets, and after the war the Communist infiltration. Also there was the loyalty check on 2.5 million U.S. employes plus the 120 major laws under the FBI's specific guard.
Q Do you think, Mr. Hoover, that Communists are basically agents of a foreign country, or do you draw a distinction between those who are philosophical Communists and those who are tools of the Communist spy rings?
A The teachings of Communism are directed toward one final result—world revolution and the triumph of international Communism. The achievement of this aim would mean the violent and complete destruction of the American Government. Any person who subscribes to these teachings, regardless of his reason, is working against American democracy and for the benefit of international Communism's chief leader, Soviet Russia. The "philosophical Communist" who advocates Marxism-Leninism might just as well be working as an agent of a foreign power because he is aiding its cause. He is, in fact, however, being "played for a sucker" by the Communists, who consider him a "dupe," a person not to be trusted but only to be used and then discarded.
Q Do your investigations show that the basic allegiance of a Communist is to a foreign government rather than our own Government?
A Most emphatically. As I mentioned in my previous answer, the ultimate loyalty of fully indoctrinated Communist Party members is to Moscow. Stalin is represented as the foremost leader of international Communism, the omnipotent oracle from whom all wisdom flows. The Communist Party is today a Trojan horse of disloyalty, coiled like a serpent in the very heart of America.
It may mouth sweet words of "peace," "democracy," "equality," and flourish gay slogans of "international solidarity" and "brotherhood of men," but its body and feet are from the Russian bear. Wherever the Trojan horse of Communist fifth columns has walked, the indelible footprints of Russian imperialism remain behind.
Q How do the Communist "cells" operate? Are these the training units out of which larger numbers of Communists are recruited?
A The basic unit of the Communist Party is the club. These clubs may be "shop" or "industrial" clubs, that is, Communist units within a special manufacturing or industrial plant, or "neighborhood" clubs, drawing members from residential areas. These clubs are co-ordinated through an elaborate apparatus, from ward, city, county, State and district organizations to national headquarters in New York City. Because of security reasons, they have now been divided into small groups consisting of three to five members. In these clubs the Communist Party conducts its basic and fundamental activities: instruction in Marxism-Leninism; organization of pressure campaigns; the passing out of leaflets and handbills; the circulation of petitions. Here Communist literature is sold; dues collected; instructions received from "higher officials" disseminated. The club is the basic operating unit of the Communist Party. Through the club, of course, new members are recruited and indoctrinated.
Q Do your studies of the Communist techniques over the years show that the Communists are trained to lie about their status?
A The basic premise of Communism is deceit and hypocrisy. The Communist philosophy teaches that every available means must be utilized to achieve the final end—world revolution. For this reason the Communist will lie, cheat and resort to any tactics which will gain his end. He will advocate today exactly what he denounced yesterday. And with a straight face! Has he lied? No, he will say, he's only carrying out party policy. The concept of morality and fair play, as practiced in our democracy, is alien and repugnant to him. Moreover, the Communists employ a purposive double-talk, roundabout style, known as "Aesopian language," in their literature and speeches, designed to deceive and evade to clothe their true thoughts. This technique, utilized by Lenin, is the very epitome of deceit.
Q What does membership in the Communist Party really mean? Does it mean a formal joining or does it mean informal adherence?
A When an individual joins the Communist Party he agrees to accept, in full, the principles of Marxism-Leninism. I mentioned previously that to accept these teachings means, in the final analysis, working for world revolution—in the boots of Russian imperialism—and the destruction of American democracy.
There is no halfway point: The individual accepts fully these obligations or he does not become a member. If later he refuses to abide by these rules—as defined by the party hierarchy—he is "expelled." This is no "informal adherence." You are either a full member or an "enemy."
No More Party Cards
Q Do Communist members carry cards any more? Did they previously carry cards?
A As a security measure no Communist Party membership cards were issued in 1949. In previous years, with certain exceptions, they were issued. I might mention, in this connection, that the open maintenance of membership records has been discontinued. Today the Communist Party is becoming more and more deceitful and underhanded in its operations.
Q Are there any sections of the country which are relatively free from Communists?
A Communists may be found in most sections of the United States. Of course, in some areas, the Communists are more thickly located than in others. But, as a general rule, the Communists are less strong in agricultural areas. And there is a reason for this.
Q In what centers do Communists tend to congregate?
A The Communists are strongest today in the industrial areas of the United States—in States such as New York, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Of course, these States being heavily populated, you would expect more members there than in the less populated States. But that is not the entire reason. The Communists, as a basic principle of infiltration, are interested in possessing strength in heavy industry, that is, coal, steel, rubber, automobile, etc. It is here that, in event of an emergency, they can do their greatest harm to the country's economy.
Moreover, in these industries one Communist Party member located in a strategic job can wreak damage completely out of proportion to his own strength. Through this "heavy-industry concentration policy" the Communists are able to exercise a power far in excess of their numbers. In fact, one of the highest ranking leaders of Communism in the United States has openly admitted:
"The Communist Party bases its work directly upon the mills, mines and factories, Its principle is to make every shop a fortress for Communism...It concentrates its work upon the heavy industries and those of a war character."
That is one of the potential sabotage dangers facing America today.
Why Convictions Are Difficult
Q Are there many suspected Communists or suspected agents of foreign governments who could not be successfully prosecuted even though you have considerable suspicion about them?
A The matter of prosecution, of course, is the exclusive responsibility of the Department of Justice. However, to successfully sustain a prosecution, legal evidence is necessary. Our laws regarding espionage are technical, requiring legal evidence, which is often most difficult to obtain because spies do not carry on their activities in the presence of witnesses but under a cover of stealth, because party members trained in deceit either decline to furnish information or misrepresent the facts in an attempt to conceal the acts of their associates.
Q Is this because you need corroborative evidence and this is not always possible to attain, or is it because the laws at present are not clear concerning the unlawfulness of Communist activities?
A We have had frequent cases in the past where we have developed the full facts, but, due to the passage of time, the fleeing of witnesses from the United States, and other matters beyond our control, the development of corroborative evidence is physically impossible. As to the adequacy of existing laws, this is a matter not within the province of the FBI.
Q Have you suggested from time to time to Congress any principles that might be embodied in legislation concerning Communists?
A The FBI is not a policy-making organization and the advocacy of specific legislation is not within the scope of its authority. The FBI, however, has furnished, from time to time, its observations to the Attorney General on ways to strengthen its activities.
Q Does the FBI have adequate means for the detection of Communists who are foreign agents or saboteurs?
A The Communists, foreign agents and saboteurs operate behind a smoke screen of stealth and deception. There must be a starting point in every investigation. The FBI has the means of detection if it receives sufficient information on which to predicate an investigation.
Every One a Potential Spy
Q Is the FBI interested in knowing of the detection of any Communists, or is it interested only in those who are connected with espionage rings or possible sabotage?
A The FBI is primarily interested in those members of the Communist Party who might be engaged in espionage, sabotage, or who constitute a potential threat to the internal security of the United States. Increasingly, however, with the development of the outward manifestations of a revolutionary movement in the Communist Party, the FBI is interested in knowing the identity of all Communists in the United States, as any Communist, properly qualified, might be recruited into espionage. He may today be circulating peace petitions or selling Communist literature. Tomorrow he may be sabotaging American industry or serving as an espionage courier. We are interested in identifying, therefore, every member of this international conspiracy in our midst, because every Communist is a potential saboteur and espionage agent.
Q Would you, for instance, have an actual list of 55,000 Communists, or is this an estimate?
A When the figure of 55,000 Communists in the United States was made public, there was considerable speculation in party circles as to the accuracy of the figures. Later, when detailed tabulations by States were made public, the Communists in various districts manifested great concern as to where we obtained our figures.
Q Are there many Communists who have confessed and turned in valuable evidence to the FBI?
A An individual who has seen the error of his ways and has been converted from the ensnaring tentacles of Communism can be as reliable as any other type of witness. many former members of the Communist Party have been of invaluable assistance in our investigations.
Q What motivates these Communists to confess their relationships with espionage, etc.?
A What motivates one person might be minor factor for another individual. Many influences affect these individuals, causing them to seek the truth. However, from an over-all point of view, one factor emerges crystal clear: These individuals have realized that Communism was a falsehood and a perversion of the truth.
Q Do you believe there are many people who formerly were Communists and who now have changed their views?
A Many individuals associated with the Communist movement—even some of those in high places—have become disillusioned with this godless conspiracy and have renounced their allegiance. They have tasted of Communism and found the taste bitter and repugnant. Many of these men and women hoped, through joining the Communist Party, to work for a "bright new world," for peace and improved democracy. But these hopes became shattered—for some quickly; for others more slowly.
Once inside the Communist world they could see with their own eyes the hypocrisy, deceit and terror which is the essence of Marxism-Leninism. They recognized Communism for what it is—brutal tyranny coated with false hopes and promises. For them there was only one course: to renounce Communism.
The fact, however, that they have seen the errors of their ways and renounced Communism does not entirely excuse their wrongs. The alibi that every person was radical in his youth or was a Communist sympathizer in the 1930s is a malicious falsehood. The great masses of Americans never fell for the schemes of the Communist swindlers.
Q Do you generally find that confessed Communists or confessed espionage agents are reliable in their testimony—that is, where you have been able to verify or check upon their statements with one or more witnesses?
A. The testimony of any person must be judged on the basis of that individual's knowledge of the truth, his ability to know of what he speaks, and, from a practical standpoint in any type of case, the value of his testimony must be interpreted by corroboration. In each case we endeavor to verify information furnished us. In some instances the very nature of the information makes verification impossible, such as a meeting of two people. But, if one of the individuals traveled extensively, or stayed in the locale, these facts, subject to verification, can lend credence to his story. Weight must be given to the witness whose recital of facts can be verified by proof.
Q Does the FBI determine who shall or shall not be prosecuted, or is the function of the FBI solely to collect the information and transmit it to the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice?
A The FBI is the investigative arm of the United States Department of Justice, charged with the duty of investigating violations of the laws of the United States, collecting evidence in cases in which the United States is or may be a party in interest, and performing other duties imposed by law. The FBI's function is solely and exclusively that of investigation, to obtain the complete and accurate facts. The FBI does not, at any time, evaluate, make recommendations or draw conclusions from the results of its investigations. That is the responsibility of the Criminal Division and the United States attorneys.
Q Do you believe that pitiless publicity will be helpful in running down Communists?
A Absolutely. The Communists, by their very nature, are conspiratorial. They operate under a cloak of deceit. Communism can be defeated by an alert and aroused public opinion, conscious of the evils of Marxist-Leninist chicanery. The newspapers and magazines, the radio and television, by informing the nation of the true character of Communism, are rendering invaluable services.
I would never fear Communism in America if all Communists were out in the open, peddling their wares in the market place of free speech and thought. But they are not. We cannot meet them on an even basis. They are working behind the masquerade of hypocrisy. For this reason America must be vigilant to recognize Communism for what it actually is—a malicious evil which would destroy this nation.
Q Do you believe that public exposures through congressional committees, when properly safeguarded to avoid implication of innocent parties, could be helpful in drawing public attention to instances and episodes involving espionage and other Communist activity?
A With the laws of libel and slander militantly used by subversives, exposures under oath, with safeguards to protect the innocent, are necessary. A private citizen or even a great metropolitan daily paper does not have the facilities to make the investigations. Hence, many exposures can be made only through an official investigating committee possessing the power of subpoena with persuasive facilities such as laws covering perjury and the power to cite for contempt.
Q Are there any suggestions you can make as to how the public can detect Communists and report them to the FBI?
A A Communist is not always easy to identify. He is trained in deceit and uses cleverly camouflaged movements to conceal his real purposes. But he may frequently be detected by certain common characteristics. He will always espouse the cause of Soviet Russia over that of the United States. His viewpoint and position will shift with each change in the Communist Party "line." He will utilize a language of "double talk"—referring to the Soviet-dominated countries as "democracies" and complain that the United States is "imperialistic." He will attempt to infiltrate and gain control of organizations and subvert them to the use of the party.
My advice to the public is this:
Be alert to the dangers of Communism. Report your information immediately and fully to the FBI. Avoid reporting malicious gossip or idle rumor. The FBI is interested in receiving facts. Don't attempt to make private investigations. Leave that to trained investigators. Don't circulate rumors about subversive activities or draw conclusions from information you furnish to the FBI.