Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Bureau of Investigation: Political Spying - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1982, vol. 5, No. 3
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The Bureau of Investigation: Political Spying - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1982, vol. 5, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The Bureau of Investigation: Political Spying
“The Bureau of Investigation and Its Critics, 1919–1921: The Origins of Federal Political Surveillance.” The Journal of American History 68 (December 1981): 560–579.
In the hope that legislation may bar the resumption of political surveillance, Congress is considering a comprehensive charter for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.). As Mr. Williams sees it, however, history provides scant grounds for optimism over the success of such laws. His article chronicles the activities of the F.B.I.'s immediate forerunner, the Bureau of Investigation (B.I.) during the years following World War I. His study of the origins of federal political surveillance leads to several conclusions.
First of all, the tone of the B.I.'s investigative reports demonstrates not only the agency's extreme antiradicalism but also its hostility toward ethnic and religious minorities. The bureau's narrowly conceived standards classified those who challenged the conservative political order in any way as unpatriotic or “un-American.” The Irish-Americans favoring Irish independence, Jews advocating the establishment of a Jewish national homeland, civil libertarians defending the rights of dissidents, and anyone advocating the recognition of the U.S.S.R. were considered as engaged in subversive activities.
Secondly, while the B.I.'s excesses may have shocked some Americans, Congress and the president made no concerted effort to halt such abuses. Only a few liberal congressmen, lawyers, and clergymen condemned the wholesale suppression of radicals during the Red Scare. Since most Americans assumed that restrictions on the First Amendment rights of radicals were “the price of vigilance,” the libertarian position attracted little popular support. The courts, along with the organized bar, reinforced the belief that the government should protect the public from pernicious radical propaganda.
Next, as head of the G.I.D., J. Edgar Hoover found that Congress and the president would tolerate the bureau's antiradical activities as long as it seemed that its efforts were limited to silencing dissident voices. At the same time, Hoover came to understand the importance of secrecy and confidentiality. Following the controversial deportation raids of 1920, Hoover appreciated the need to respect due process at least publicly and realized that, if the B.I. engaged in constitutionally questionable activities, these activities had to remain secret. As a result, a precedent was established. For the next fifty years, fear of adverse publicity continued to be an important, if not central, element in the formulation of F.B.I. internal security policies.
Finally, a study of the B.I.'s investigations of its critics, especially in the light of newly declassified documents, casts doubt on the widespread belief that federal surveillance abuses result from the “radical impact of the Cold War on American values and institutions.” On the contrary, the development of a strong elite-dominated government as well as the gradual acceptance of government secrecy were well under way before 1945. Given their initial impetus by American involvement in World War I, the B.I.'s domestic intelligence responsibilities grew dramatically during the first Red Scare. By 1924, the foundation of a permanent surveillance apparatus was firmly in place.