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J. Edgar Hoover’s Habeas-Suspending Scheme

On Dec. 21, the State Department released a collection of historic documents about “high-level policy plans, discussions, administrative decisions, and managerial actions” at the height of the Cold War. Titled The Intelligence Community 1950-1955, the 867-page volume is the sequel to The Emergence of the Intelligence Establishment, 1945–1950, published in 1996. 

Among the more startling documents included is a proposal submitted to the White House in July 1950 by J. Edgar Hoover, the excitable founding director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In a letter drafted two weeks after the Korean War broke out, Hoover called for mass arrests should the United States experience a “threatened invasion,” an attack on “legally occupied territory,” or a “rebellion” (see below). Hoover addressed his letter to Admiral Sidney W. Souers, previously a director of central intelligence and at that time special consultant on military and foreign affairs to President Harry Truman. Hoover proposed a ready-to-go presidential proclamation and companion order to “suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus” (Page 2). This proclamation would permit Hoover to apprehend and detain “approximately twelve thousand individuals” whose names and “potentially dangerous” activities the FBI had already accumulated and was constantly updating. Ninety-seven percent of these presumed subversives were American citizens. Hoover assured Souers that “Federal detention facilities … have been confidentially surveyed and … found to be adequate” in nearly every region except for those “covered by the FBI’s New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco offices” (Page 3), where the high proportion of  potential detainees would overwhelm the available prison space. These city-dwellers, however, could be placed in “military facilities.”

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