The Corps of
Intelligence Police
From 1917 to

ONI Message

Attorney General
Harlan Stone's

Special Committee
to Investigate

Program, 1936-38

The Search for
Japanese Spies

Special House
Committee for the
Investigation of


FBI Intelligence
Authority and

Letters To/From

Directive of
September 6, 1939

The Scope of
FBI Domestic

Between the Wars

Between the Wars


Between the Wars

End Notes


FBI Intelligence AuthorityAnd Subversion

There is no evidence that either the Congress in 1916 or Attorney General Stone in 1924 intended the provision of the appropriations statue to authorize the establishment of a permanent domestic intelligence structure. Yet Director Hoover advised the Attorney General and the President in 1938 that the statute was "sufficiently broad to cover any expansion of the present intelligence and counter-espionage work which it may be deemed necessary to carry on."76 Because of their reluctance to seek new legislation in order to keep the program secret, Attorney General Cummings and President Roosevelt did not question the FBI Director's interpretation. Nevertheless, the President's approval of Director Hoover's 1938 plan for joint FBI-military domestic intelligence was a substantial exercise of independent presidential power.

The precise nature of FBI authority to investigate "subversion" became confusing in 1938-1939. Despite the references in Director Hoover's 1938 memorandum to "subversion," Attorney General Cummings cited only the President's interest in the "so-called espionage situation."77 Cummings' successor, Attorney General Frank Murphy, appears to have abandoned the term "subversive activities."78 Moreover, when Director Hoover provided Attorney General Murphy a copy of his 1938 plan, he described it (without mentioning "subversion") as a program "intended to ascertain the identity of persons engaged in espionage, counter-espionage, and sabotage of a nature not within the specific provision of prevailing statues."79

Moreover, a shift away from the authority of the appropriations provision, which was linked to the State Department's request, became necessary in 1939 when the FBI resisted an attempt by the State Department to coordinate domestic intelligence investigations. Director Hoover urged Attorney General Frank Murphy in March 1939 to discuss the situation with the President and persuade him to "take appropriate action with reference to other governmental agencies, including the State Department, which are attempting to literally chisel into this type of work. . . ." The Director acknowledged that the FBI required "the specific authorization of the State Department" where the subject of an investigation "enjoys any diplomatic status," but he knew of "no instance in connection with the handling of the espionage work in which the State Department has had any occasion to be in any manner or degree dissatisfied with or apprehensive of the action taken by Bureau agents."80

Director Hoover was also concerned that the State Department would allow other Federal investigative agencies, including the Secret Service and other Treasury Department units, to conduct domestic intelligence investigations.81 The FBI cited the following example in communications to the Attorney General in 1939:

On the West coast recently a representative of the Alcohol Tax Unit of the Treasury Department endeavored to induce a Corps Area Intelligence Officer of the War Department to utilize the services of that agency in the handling of all investigations involving espionage, counter-espionage, and sabotage. . . .

A case was recently brought to the Bureau's attention in which a complaint involving potential espionage in a middle western State was referred through routine channels of a Treasury Department investigative agency and displayed in such a manner before reference ultimately in Washington to the office of Military Intelligence and then to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that a period of some six weeks elapsed. . . .82

During a recent investigation . . . an attorney and Commander of the American Legion Post . . . disclosed that a Committee of that Post of the American Legion is conducting an investigation relating to un-American activities on behalf of the Operator in Charge of the Secret Service, New York City.83

Consequently, at the FBI Director's request, the Justice Department asked the Secret Service, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Narcotics Bureau, the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, and the Post Office Department to instruct their personnel that information "relating to espionage and subversive activities" should be promptly forwarded to the FBI.84

The Justice Department letter did not solve the problem, mainly because of the State Department's continued intervention. Director Hoover advised Attorney General Frank Murphy "that the Treasury Department and the State Department were reluctant to concede jurisdiction" to the FBI and that a conference had been held in the office of an Assistant Secretary of State "at which time subtle protests against the handling of cases of this type in the Justice Department were uttered." Hoover protested this "continual bickering" among Departments, especially "in view of the serious world conditions which are hourly growing more alarming."85

Two months later the problem remained unresolved. Assistant Secretary of State George S. Messersmith took on the role of "coordinator" of a committee composed of representatives of the War, Navy, Treasury, Post Office, and Justice Departments. The FBI Director learned that under the proposed procedures, any agency receiving information would refer it to the State Department which, after analysis, would transit the data to that agency which it believed should conduct the substantive investigation. FBI and Justice Department officials prepared a memorandum for possible presentation to the President, pointing out the disadvantages of this procedure:

The inter-departmental committee by its operations of necessity causes delay, which may be fatal to a successful investigation. It also results in a duplication of investigative effort . . . because of the lack of knowledge of one agency that another agency is working upon the same investigation. The State Department coordinator is not in a position to evaluate properly the respective investigative ability of the representatives of particular departments in a manner comparable to that which the men actually in charge of an investigative agency may evaluate the proper merit of his own men.86

Endorsing this view, Attorney General Murphy wrote the President to urge abandonment of this interdepartmental committee and "a concentration of investigation of all espionage, counterespionage, and sabotage matters" in the FBI, the G-2 section of the War Department, and the Office of Naval Intelligence. The directors of these agencies would "function as a committee for the purpose of coordinating the activities of their subordinates." To buttress his recommendation, the Attorney General pointed out that the FBI and military intelligence:

". . .have not only gathered a tremendous reservoir of information concerning foreign agencies operating in the United States, but have also perfected methods of investigation and have developed channels for the exchange of information, which are both efficient and so mobile and elastic as to permit prompt expansion in the event of an emergency."

Murphy stressed that the FBI was "a highly skilled investigative force supported by the resources of an exceedingly efficient, well equipped, and adequately manned technical laboratory and identification division." This identification data related "to more than ten million persons, including a very large number of individuals of foreign extraction." The Attorney General added, "As a result of an exchange of data between the Departments of Justice, War and Navy, comprehensive indices have been prepared."87

President Roosevelt agreed to the Attorney General's proposal and sent a confidential directive drafted by FBI and Justice Department officials to the heads of the relevant departments. This June 1939 directive was the closet thing to a formal charter for the FBI and military domestic intelligence: It read as follows:

It is my desire that the investigation of all espionage, counterespionage, and sabotage maters be controlled and handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the Department of Justice, the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department, and the Office of Naval Intelligence in the Navy Department. The Directors of these three agencies are to function as a committee to coordinate their activities.

No investigations should be conducted by an investigative agency of the Government into matters involving actually or potentially any espionage, counterespionage, or sabotage, except by the three agencies mentioned above.

I shall be glad if you will instruct the heads of all other investigative agencies than the three named, to refer immediately to the nearest office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation any data, information, or material that may come to their notice bearing directly or indirectly on espionage, counterespionage, or sabotage. 88(Emphasis added.)

The legal implications of this directive are clouded by its failure to use the term "subversive activities" and its references instead to potential espionage or sabotage and to information bearing indirectly on espionage or sabotage. This language may have been an effort by the Justice Department and the FBI to deal with the problem of legal authority posed by the break with the State Department. Since the FBI no longer wanted to base its domestic intelligence investigations on State Department requests, some other way had to be fond to retain a semblance of congressional authorization. Yet the scope of the FBI's assignment made this a troublesome point. In 1936, President Roosevelt had wanted intelligence about Communist and Fascist activities generally, not just data bearing on potential espionage or sabotage; and the 1938 plan provided for the FBI to investigative "activities of either a subversive or a so-called intelligence type."89 There is no indication that the President's June 1939 directive had the intent or effect of limiting domestic intelligence to the investigation of violations of law.

Consistent with the FBI Director's earlier desires, these arrangements were kept secret until September 1939 when war broke out in Europe. At that time Director Hoover decided that secrecy created more problems that it solved, especially with regard to the activities of local law enforcement. He learned that the New York City Police Department had "created a special sabotage squad of fifty detectives . . . and that this squad will be augmented in the rather near future to comprise 150 men." There had been "considerable publicity" with the result that private citizens were likely to transmit information concerning sabotage "to the New York City Police Department rather than the FBI." Calling this development to the attention of the Attorney General, the Director strongly urged that the President "issue a statement or request addressed to all police officials in the United States: asking them to turn over to the FBI "any information obtained pertaining to espionage, counterespionage, sabotage, and neutrality regulations."90

A document to this effect was immediately drafted in the Attorney General's office and dispatched by messenger to the White House with a note from the Attorney General suggesting that it be issued in the form of "a public statement."91 In recording his discussions that day with the Attorney General's assistant, Alexander Holtzoff, FBI official E. A. Tamm referred to the statement as "an Executive Order." Tamm also talked with the Attorney General regarding "the order":

Mr. Murphy stated that when he was preparing this he tried to make it as strong as possible. He requested that I relay this to Mr. Hoover as soon as possible and stated he knew the Director would be very glad to hear this. Mr. Murphy stated he prepared this one on the basis of the memorandum, which the Director forwarded to him.92

The President's statement (or order or Executive Order) read as follows:

The Attorney General has been requested by me to instruct the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the Department of Justice to take charge of investigative work in matters relating to espionage, sabotage, and violations of the neutrality regulations.

This task must be conducted in a comprehensive and effective manner on a national basis, and all information must be carefully sifted out and correlated in order to avoid confusion and irresponsibility.

To this end I request all police officers, sheriffs, and other law enforcement officers in the United States promptly to turn over to the nearest representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation any information obtained by them relating to espionage, counterespionage, sabotage, subversive activities and violations of the
neutrality laws.93

The statement was widely reported in the press, along with the following remarks by Attorney General Murphy at a news conference held the same day:

Foreign agents and those engaged in espionage will no longer find this country a happy hunting ground for their activities. There will be no repetition of the confusion and laxity and indifference of twenty years ago.

We have opened many new FBI offices throughout the land. Our men are well prepared and well trained. At the same time, if you want to this work done in a reasonable and responsible way it must not turn into a witch-hunt. We must do no wrong to any man.

Your government asks you to cooperate with it. You can turn in any information to the nearest local representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.94

Three weeks later Murphy reiterated that the government would "not act on the basis of hysteria." He added, "Twenty years ago inhuman and cruel things were done in the name of Justice; sometimes vigilantes and others took over the work. We do not want such things done today, for the work has now been localized in the FBI."95

Two days after issuing the FBI statement, President Roosevelt proclaimed a national emergency "in connection with and to the extent necessary for the proper observance, safeguarding, and enforcing of the neutrality of the United States and the strengthening of our national defense within the limits of peacetime authorizations." The proclamation added, "Specific direction and authorizations will be given from time to time for carrying out these two purposes."96

Thereupon, he issued an Executive Order directing the Attorney General to "increase the personnel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice, in such number, not exceeding 150, as he shall find necessary for the proper performance of the additional duties imposed upon the Department of Justice in connection with the national emergency."97 President Roosevelt told a press conference that the purpose of this order expanding the government's investigative personnel was to protect the country against "some of the things that happened" before World War I:

There was sabotage; there was a great deal of propaganda by both belligerents, and a good many definite plans laid in this country by foreign governments to try to sway American public opinion.

. . . It is to guard against that, and against the spread by any foreign nation of propaganda in this country, which would tend to be subversive—I believe that is the world—of our form of government.98

President Roosevelt never formally authorized the FBI or military intelligence to conduct domestic intelligence investigations of "subversive activities," except for his oral instruction in 1936 and 1938. His written directives were limited to investigations of espionage, sabotage, and violations of the neutrality regulations. Nevertheless, the President clearly knew of and approved informally the broad investigations of "subversive activities" carried out by the FBI.

President Roosevelt did use the term "subversive activities" in a directive to Attorney General Robert Jackson on wiretapping in 1940. This directive referred to the activities of other nations "engaged in the organization of propaganda of so-called `fifth columns'" and in "preparation for sabotage." The Attorney General was directed to authorize wiretapping "of persons suspected of subversive activities against the Government of the United States, including suspected spies." The President also instructed that such wiretaps be limited "insofar as possible to aliens."99

With respect to investigations generally, however, the confusion as to precisely what President Roosevelt authorized is indicated by Attorney General Francis Biddle's description of FBI jurisdiction in 1942 and by a new Presidential statement in 1943. Biddle issued a lengthy order defining the duties of the various parts of the Justice Department in September 1942. The pertinent section relating to the FBI stated that it had a duty to "investigative" criminal offenses against the United States and to act as a "clearing house" for the handling of "espionage, sabotage, and other subversive matters."100 This latter "clearing-house" function was characterized as a duty to "carry out" the President's directive of September 6, 1939.

Four months prior, President Roosevelt renewed his public appeal for "police cooperation" and added a request that "patriotic organizations" cooperate with the FBI. This statement describes his September 1939 order as granting "investigative" authority to the FBI and not simply a "clearing-house" function. However, the President defined that authority as limited to
"espionage, sabotage, and violations of the neutrality regulations" without any mention of "subversion."101

The statement was consistent with Attorney General Biddle's internal directive later in 1943 that the Justice Department's "proper function" was "investigating the activities of persons who may have violated the law."102

A similar problem is involved with the authority for "counterespionage" operations by the FBI and military intelligence. President Roosevelt's confidential order of June 1939 explicitly authorized the FBI and military intelligence to handle counterespionage matters, and the 1938 plan used the terms "counter-espionage" and "counter-intelligence." However, none of the President's public directives formally authorized counterespionage measures going beyond investigation; and the Justice Department's regulations made no reference to this responsibility.

Presidential Directive

Directive of the President of the United States
June 26, 1939:

"It is my desire that the investigation of all espionage, counterespionage, and sabotage matters be controlled and handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the Department of Justice, the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department, and the Office of Naval Intelligence of the Navy Department. The directors of these three agencies are to function as a committee to coordinate their activities.

"No investigations should be conducted by any investigating agency of the Government into matters involving actually or potentially any espionage, counterespionage, or sabotage, except by the three agencies mentioned above.

"I shall be glad if you will instruct the heads of all other investigative agencies that the three named, to refer immediately to the nearest office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation any data, information, or material that may come to their notice bearing directly or indirectly on espionage, counterespionage, or sabotage."

Letters To/From ONI

H.G. Dohrman to Ellis

369 South Pacific Avenue
Pittsburgh, Penna.
April seventh 1934

My dear Captain Ellis:-

Have been much disquieted lately by the news constantly trickling in revealing the very widespread scope of existent radical activities.

My own impression is that the calling of the strike at the works of the New York Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., was a tactical error, for thereby it focused the attention of the nation upon the danger to the nation of the interruption of our belated shipbuilding program. Some master mind among the radicals must have been asleep for they well know that strikes called in a half-dozen or more plants fabricating essential elements of naval construction will as effectually block progress towards the completion of the ships, as will a single prominent strike.

Deem it unfortunate that it was publicly noted that the modernization of two ships of the battleship squadron was advisedly postponed.

I write with the full knowledge of the fact that no emergency requires the return to active duty as such officers as myself and that therefore no compensation is either asked or expected.

For something over one year, while attached to the Bureau of Ordnance, worked under the late Commander A.L. Norton, on a very extensive program of anti-radical work, directed towards uncovering such movements, issuing advance warnings of all those likely to interrupt the continuous flow of navy material, or to be destructive to life and property.

My understanding, through my old time friend the late Vice-Admiral Niblack, was to the effect that Intelligence was kept advised of our movements as made or proposed. My number was "7 _ 6".

We were able at that time to command, without expense, the services of the intelligence divisions of several of our greatest corporations, of men prominent alike in civil life and the clergy.

It is not purpose to convey to you the impression that the excellence of that service, and numerous commendatory letters and verbal statements, indicated that it was distinctly serviceable, can be repeated.

Wide and continued travel was necessary and much personal, as well as departmental, expense was incurred. Like almost every other man in business have suffered reverses that prohibit personal expenditures of that nature; however, my desire to be of service to the Navy is as ardent as it has been these forty-odd years.

The basis of that war time interchange of information was based on the inviolability of all such information, which was received, digested and the important portions forwarded where needed. Such Navy information as it was not incompatible with the public interests to reveal was passed along and information from private conversations between Captain Norton and myself and sources were never mentioned.

This afternoon, in the course of a two hour conversation with the executive head of the greatest of these private intelligence organizations, he expressed a willingness to renew in somewhat the same form the old relations. As a matter of fact this man and myself have almost weekly conversations and exchange information upon such subjects, for I still keep in touch with several of the best of our former men. One in particular visits constantly every place of consequence on the Mississippi and all of its tributaries, covering the entire Middle West, inclusive of the extreme northern and southern portions thereof. I am confident that he will gladly report conditions exactly as he finds them, and I may say that such reports as he may make can be absolutely relied upon. Have known him well for thirty-five years, he is professionally highly competent and his judgment sound.

If the idea appeals to you believe I can secure for you the cooperation of at least three of the nation's greatest industrial intelligence organizations, whose services will not cost the Bureau a penny. My own duty would be to act in the capacity of a screen, removing all non-essential information before forwarding the result to you.

I shall be glad to contribute as much time as possible and postage, unless it is in the end the latter should become burdensome, for these days we have to carefully scrutinize even such relatively small items as postage.

In the manner above suggested it will be feasible to cover, in a fairly thorough manner, radical activities promising future potential harm to the Navy, over the most prominent of the centers devoted to the fabrication of steel and to the kindred industries that often are found in steel districts.

In any event am offering the above for your thought; if the idea does not seem either sound or practicable to you, do not hesitate for a moment to say so.

It may be proper to add that in, to me, a highly expensive adventure into the soft coal industry, as president of an operating company kept the Tri-State Operators so fully advised of every movement of the military strikers, that violence and loss of life in our district was almost negligible throughout the strike period of 1922 and 1923.

I fully understand that it is often impossible for a Bureau Chief to do officially what he would like to do personally, even though no cost be attached to the Bureau. I know that much even if we didn't have a General McCord in that day.

Believe me to be with warmest regards and best wishes.


H. G. Dohrman


Ellis to Dohrman

Apr 12, 1934

My dear Dohrman:

I am very grateful indeed to receive your extremely interesting letter of April 7th in regard to radical activities in the shipbuilding and steel industries.

Naturally this office is very much interested in receiving information along the lines you suggest and I assure you that your generous and patriotic offer to devote your time and effort without compensation to securing such information is greatly appreciated.

If you can arrange to keep in touch with the private intelligence organizations which you mention and secure a flow of information regarding the current activities of radical groups, I shall be very glad to provide for the matter of postage.

Thanking you for your communication and with assurance of my personal regards.

Very sincerely,

/s/ Hayne Ellis
Rear Admiral, U.S.N.,
Director of Naval Intelligence


Dohrman to Ellis

April twentieth 1934

My dear Admiral

Thank you for your cordial letter of the 18th, I sincerely hope that your ten days leave will prove to be both pleasant and beneficial.

Am now able to definitely say that we will have the hearty cooperation of the following:-

The Aluminum Company of America,
The Carnegie Steel Corporation,
The Jone and Laughlin Steel Corporation, and
The National Steel Corporation

The first and fourth at present time have no special intelligence service of their own, but do have excellent police organizations together with an unofficial but usually effective inside organization.

These concerns have plants in almost every important manufacturing district of the nation and information will be received from all of them.

Other sources previously mentioned, and some only considered but not yet mentioned, will materially add to the area covered and the efficiency of the service. When all arrangements have been completed, you will be duly advised.

If a list can be procured from C&R Ordnance and Aeronautics giving only the plants holding Navy contracts, the material under fabrication being impossible to obtain elsewhere, we will do our best to advise all such plants in advance of visits from agitators, etc. Plants making material that can be secured from numerous other plants of like type need not be included in such lists. The material being fabricated or the amounts of the several contracts are immaterial: our sole aim will be to insure, if possible, the uninterrupted flow of Navy material.

So far all former members of our old wartime organization who have been approached and had the situation explained to them, have agreed to go along with us.

With sincere good wishes,


/s/ H.G. Dohrman


Dohrman to Ellis

April twenty-seventh, 1934

My dear Admiral:-

Supplementing my informal report of progress made as of the twentieth, am glad to be able to advise you that negotiations have been closed with the following:

New York Central Ry. Lines
The Pennsylvania Railroad
The Westinghouse Electric & Mfg. Co., and,
D.W. Sowers.

The latter is the executive head of a very efficient Buffalo (N.Y.) organization, maintained at private expense and not for profit, whose business it has been for approximately twenty years to combat radicalism. I know by experience in cooperating with it in the past how very efficient it has been. Mr. Sowers is president of a large manufacturing concern there that bears his name., and he had promised us cordial and prompt cooperation. His card files contain the names of some 4,000 actual and semi-radicals.

When our intelligence clearing house once gets going in good shape, we hope that it will be of value to you.

You will note that we gave covered, with the exception of the New England, Southern and far Western states, the heart of the nation's manufacturing, and through one of my old men, to whom previous reference has been made, a considerable portion of the South will likewise be covered.

As you will appreciate, it is something of a task to coordinate these varied sources of information, and to put the information received into shape for instant dissemination.

The time is certainly ripe for action. There were no evening papers here today, one paper had it's large windows smashed with bricks, etc. A strike of the folders.

In each case those cooperating with us have been advised, in advance, that the sources of information would not be revealed, and that each participant would receive only the information appertaining or useful to them. Some of those interested with us have excellent organizations already, others possess the nucleus. As often hapens the organization that needs it most has the poorest present service of information.

With best wishes and regards,


H.G. Dohrman


Dohrman to Ellis

April thirtieth 1934

My Dear Admiral:-

The enclosure103 will illustrate the method of gleaning information adopted. You already know the institutions whose intelligence service has been placed at our disposal and with whom we now arranging inter-communicating services.

If you have two or three hundred of the green second sheets, like the enclosure, can use them to advantage. The green gives quick identification in our files.

The enclosure represents the 18 plants employing almost 17,000 men, the plants being distributed throughout the states enumerated, and all, as you have doubtless already gathered from the keyed numbers, being those of a single concern.

The other concerns are as large or larger, though their interests are not so widely scattered.

While all operations for the present are being conducted from the local Carnegie Steel offices, the probabilities are that the several concerns, later, will provide a separate office, as the work so far gives promise of assuming a considerable volume.

Conditions are not good here; four local theatres were bombed here last night due to the rivalry of two unions, one anti-AFL. A street car strike is brewing, the truck drivers and garage attendants seem likely to "go out," so there is the devil to pay generally around here.

With best wishes and regards,


/s/ H.G. Dohrman


Hoover to Ellis

Division of Investigation
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.

May 21, 1934

Rear Admiral Hayne Ellis
Director, Naval Intelligence
Navy Department
Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir:

I am in receipt of information from the Pittsburgh Office of this Division to the effect that it has been learned from a reliable source there that one Horatio Garrott Dohrman is active in that vicinity in soliciting funds and organizing a unit for the alleged purpose of investigating communistic and other subversive activities. It is reported that Dohrman has represented himself as a former Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, in view of which it is believed that this information may be of interest to you.

Very truly yours,

/s/ J. E. Hoover



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