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For the past fifteen years I have been studying and writing about the history of the internal security policies of this country. My book, The Price of Vigilance, published in 1968, focused on the surveillance activities of the American Protective League, the Bureau of Investigation, and military intelligence luring the World War I period. Since that time, I have been at work on a larger study of the surveillance of civilians by the military. Thus my interest and concern as a historian and as a citizen predates the current controversy.

I was surprised to learn that during the 1971 hearings on Army Surveillance of Civilians held by the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, it was suggested that the surveillance of civilians during the late 1960's was unique and unprecedented. It is true that the scale and scope of that surveillance was unprecedented; never before had the political activities of so many civilians been computerized and never before had such vast resources been employed by the military to watch civilians. But Army surveillance of civilians did not begin in 1967. During the preceding fifty years, the United States Army monitored political activity during every major home crisis, from the German spy scare of 1917 to the anti-war protests of 1967. This surveillance, like the CONUS program of more recent origin, was initiated and executed without significant supervision and control by civilian officials. This was true regardless of which political party was in control of the executive branch of the government. I would like to sketch that history briefly, and to draw some conclusions from it.


What we now know as Army intelligence was first institutionalized in the War Department as the Military Information Division in 1888. This division was established primarily to provide for continuous collection of information abroad in peacetime as well as war. It also had the task of providing topographical and logistical information on conditions within the United States. It was modeled on the Prussian General Staff system of collecting information and was similar to units which other European nations were establishing in the late nineteenth century.

No structure for military surveillance of civilians existed during the Spanish-Cuban-American War. The focus of Army intelligence was counterespionage and the War Department spent a total of $45.00 in "secret service" funds to hire two detectives to shadow suspected Spanish spies in Tampa, Florida. Civilian surveillance existed but it was handled by the Secret Service of the Treasury Department which President William McKinley gave $50,000 from National Defense Funds to put at the disposal of the War Department. At the request of the Assistant Secretary of War, the Secret


Service investigated the loyalty of civilians and soldiers and placed over 600 persons under surveillance during the few months of war.1

The first military intelligence network for watching civilians was developed during the Philippine-American War in 1899, when insurgents refused to acknowledge American control of the Islands. The Commanding General, Arthur MacArthur, established a Military Information Division which ex, tended a large network of surveillance through the Islands. When the United States intervened in Cuba in 1906. Army intelligence established a similar network there. In both places, surveillance was used to stop political movements which contested policies of the occupying armies of the United States. Political surveillance was also used to a lesser extent by General John Pershing in the Southwest during 1916. Pershing returned from Mexico convinced that labor radicalism in Mexico posed a distinct threat to the internal security of the United States.? Army intelligence networks to watch insurgents and labor radicals in Cuba, the Philippines, and the Southwest were to provide the experience and the model for later surveillance of civilians at home.


The first major use of civilian surveillance in the United States came in 1917 after the United States declared war on Germany and entered the European conflict. Widespread fear of alleged German espionage networks (which never materialized) and doubts about the loyalty of recent German immigrants led to the creation of a widespread domestic surveillance program throughout the country. Army intelligence, in the form of the Military Intelligence Division (MID) of the War Department, played an active role in this effort.

The Military Intelligence Division began its war effort by training 150 officers and 300 sergeants. A few of these officers and fifty sergeants went to France with General Pershing; but most remained in the United States to form what eventually grew to be a relatively large Corps of Military Intelligence Police attached to Army posts, bases, and camps. Additional officers commissioned during the war were assigned to staff special offices in cities. In Washington, a work force of 1,000 civilians was hired to keep records. Their work included assembling extensive clipping files on such subjects as bolshevism, anarchism and feminism, organizing dossiers on groups such as the Industrial Workers of the World, and filing thousands of investigations into the political activities of individuals. By the end of the war, two million dollars had been spent for the work of military intelligence.

Military intelligence also had the assistance of thousands of unpaid volunteers in the field. The largest force was the American Protective League, a group of business and professional men who nominally worked for the Justice Department and carried Justice Department credentials, but who often reported directly to military intelligence. One of the directors of the APL was commissioned as a military intelligence officer, put in charge of a special unit in the MID, and authorized to assign cases for investigation directly to volunteers in the field. The APL eventually reached an estimated 350,000 members which clearly qualifies it as the largest private domestic intelligence group in American history. Military intelligence officers in the Western Department, however, were not content with the information they received from their own agents and APL volunteers. They created, without War Department authority, a Volunteer Intelligence Corps of their own which


1 The only published comments on the Secret Service in the War of 1898 are in Don Wilkie, American Secret Service Agent (New York: Burt, 1934), 6, 12–14. There was never any public report on their total war activities. The first few months were reported in U.S., Secretary of the Treasury, Annual Report (1898), 866. The detectives are mentioned in W. S. Scott to Assistant Secretary of War, July 10, 1898, File 115052, NA, RG 92.

2 “History of the Philippine Department,” undated, MID File 10560–152, NA, RG 165 ; Allan Reed Millett, The Politics of Intervention: The Military Occupation of Cuba 19061909 (Columbus, Ohio : Ohio State University Press, 1968), 130-131, 138-139; Harold M. Ayman, Soldiers and Spruce: Origins of the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen (Los Angeles : Institute of Industrial Relations, University of California, 1963), 25.

3 Some of the information on the MID in World War I has been published in my book The Price of Vigilance (Chicago : Rand McNally, 1968).

drew upon the services of about a thousand civilians to report on suspected opponents of the war. The MID also received reports from the Texas Loyalty Rangers and the Minute Men of Oregon. Elsewhere in the country scores of local Loyalty Leagues reported directly to the military intelligence agents. In New York, the head of the Pinkerton Agency was given an Army commission and asked to use his detectives as volunteer agents. A number of British Military Intelligence agents assigned to watch East Indian and Irish nationalists within the United States also volunteered information on Americans supporting these independence movements.

The scope of the work was broad. In addition to investigation civilians suspected of various types of disloyalty, the military agents and their volunteers also conducted specific investigations of draft evaders, civilians going overseas with the military, civilians suspected of fraud in War Department contracts, civilians involved in labor disputes, and civilians who associated with soldiers. One of the most ambitious surveillance networks existed for some time in Atlanta, Georgia, where the Army's Southern Department put the entire city under surveillance, organized civilian operatives who investigated families which entertained soldiers, checked the loyalty of soldiers' women associates, and watched hotels.

The expansion of military intelligence took place rapidly and secretly. The farther from Washington, the more active the MID offices seemed to be. The Western Department had intelligence offices at thirty posts, five camps, and two stations, plus counter-espionage organizations throughout the civilian population. It had over fifty men in the Corps of Intelligence Police, and thousands of APL volunteers. At its headquarters in San Francisco, eight large rooms housed the soldier investigators. MID agents claimed they censored 100,000 pieces of mail each week. Although this censorship was originally established to check mail going out of the country, it was soon used to intercept the domestic mail of civilian suspects. Surveillance included not private mail, periodicals, and books, but also extended to movie scenarios which were reviewed by the MID on request.

The MID countered what it termed "hostile propaganda and misguided leadership.” It kept the leaders of the Mexican-American community in Los Angeles under surveillance and monitored the activities of such anti-war groups as the People's Council of America and the Theosophists. An investigator was employed to infiltrate the San Francisco Chinese community and informers were encouraged to send in reports on Chinese suspected of draft evasion. MID operatives carried special identification cards and badges which were used when information could not be secured otherwise. Many also were authorized to make arrests by municipal police departments or county sheriffs who deputized them. Occasionally, they were accredited as representatives of the telephone company, gas and electric companies, newspaper publishers, and other commercial concerns to enable them, as the chief intelligence officer for the Western Department later explained, “to enter offices or residences of suspects gracefully, and thereby obtain data."

Accompanying the expansion of military surveillance operations was a move to empower the military to arrest civilians suspected of espionage and sabotage and to prosecute them in military courts. Military intelligence chiefs supported expansion of military jurisdiction around defense plants, and military trials for suspects apprehended there. Army intelligence also endorsed a claim of the Provost Marshal General that the entire country be designated a war zone and that the military be given complete responsibility for surveillance, arrest, and trial of persons accused of treason or espionage.

Although the Attorney General and President Wilson were able to stop the move by the military to take complete control over internal security, the Justice Department had to remain constantly alert to the attempts of Army intelligence to expand surveillance. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker agreed with the Justice Department that Army intelligence should be curtailed, but he was never able to control the expansive military bureaucracy below him. The Justice Department believed, upon good evidence submitted by agents of the Bureau of Investigation, that Army intelligence officers in some areas still intended to supplant the work of the civilians completely.

Part of Baker's inability to control Army intelligence stemmed from MID's aggressive and impatient chief Ralph Van Dieman, who had developed the MID in the Philippines and who attempted to establish a network of military inteiligence agents in the United States in the years before World War I. The Chief of Staff had opposed such an intelligence establishment at home. Van Dieman lobbied behind Baker's back and over the Chief of Staff to get his section established in the War College Division. Later, when conflict with the Justice Department continued, Baker sent Van Dieman to Europe, placed the MID under the Chief of Staíf, and appointed a man with no military intelligence background to head the MID. The changes made little difference; the MID continued to resist civilian control from above. The new head, Marlborough Churchill, considered himself a public relations man for the MID, ran interference with the Chief of Staff and Secretary of War, and continued to expand civilian surveillance.

After the Armistice, at a time when civilians were drastically reducing other agencies of the government, Churchill fought trimming of his agency by Baker. In 1919, Churchill was able to obtain another 400,000 dollars from Congress by arguing that the money was primarily to conduct positive intelligence abroad. The MID did reduce its home front force but it continued to enlist the help of APL veterans, after the Attorney General had ordered them disbanded because of the dangers they posed to the public during peacetime. APL volunteers continued to work for the military and to become involved in harassment of labor leaders during the fall of 1919 when the Army was called into a number of cities for strike duty.

During World War I, Army intelligence defined its own mission with little control by the civilians and began a practice that was to become a pattern: erading control by civilians and refusing to curtail surveillance of civilian political activities when asked to do so by civilian superiors. The structure of counter-insurgency adopted from earlier models in the Philippines and Cuba encouraged Army agents to move from countering espionage to countering dissent.


The expansion of Army intelligence and its vast investigating effort culminated after World War I in the development by the War Department of War Plans White, based on the possibility that there might be a domestic rebellion. These secret plans, apparently also influenced by information gather by the MID from European countries, expected a well organized and controlled movement for the overthrow of the government. The MID subsequently used APL veterans to report on “disloyal" organizations and "loyal" organizations which might be counted upon to combat un-American activities and to aid in preserving law and order in case the military needed assistance.

Less secret were the activities of Army agents among labor groups and other politically active organizations. Newspaper publicity brought questioning of Secretary of War Baker about wartime surveillance, and complaints of its continuance. Baker apparently never investigated these complaints himself but merely passed them on to Army intelligence to compose replies. Baker told inquiring congressmen that Army intelligence had been primarily concerned with counter-espionage during the war; in fact, most of the military surveillance did not involve suspected spies. Congress never found out what Army intelligence had done during the war. Publicity by the press and mobilization of public opinion against MID intrusion into civilian affairs did occur, but the Democratic administration refused to deal openly with the dangers to civil liberties posed by military surveillance. That refusal helped discredit the Democrats. More importantly, it discredited the federal government in the eyes of those politically act people who might have participated in creating alternatives to the system of military surveillance.

Even within the Army, there were complaints that the MID was tyranizing officers and men by investigating the private relations and business of individuals. Officers within the MID itself began to criticize the pro-capitalist bias and the wartime spirit of “getting" pro-labor radicals, and liberals, which had resulted in 1800 separate files being collected on radicals. MID officer Gardiner Harding objected that too many European methods were being used on radicals : spying on individuals, use of agents provocateurs,


terrorism, arrests. Such tactics might be the ruin of the MID, he warned. He recommended that the MID remain purely strategic in peacetime.

Despite recommendations for severe restrictions of the activities of the MID and the curtailing of funds by Congress, military agents continued to collect domestic intelligence directly and through civilian volunteers. American Legion members, for example, furnished information the Industrial Workers of the World, Socialists, and the Non-Partisan League. Orders allowing direct investigations by agents were not rescinded until March 1922 and as late as March 1923 the Adjutant General's office had to issue an explicit order directing intelligence agents not to collect information directly in peacetime. Although agents were warned against using volunteers for individual investigations, no orders were issued banning the use of volunteers to collect information on political groups.

During the 1920's MID, renamed G-2 after General Pershing's intelligence group in Europe, continued to study political groups, propaganda, and unrest in the United States as well as in foreign countries. It attempted to forecast the civil disturbance situation and to identify cities in which labor unrest and racial disturbances might require the use of federal troops. Such studies on groups considered subversive were compiled from questionnaires sent by Army intelligence to "reliable” citizens (often APL veterans), and from information obtained through liaison with the Bureau of Investigation, local police, and state officials. Contacts were made cautiously to give the impression that G-2 was not active in time of peace. In this way G-2 was able to collect information on pacifists and to counteract their work through organizations friendly to the military, without actually continuing active surveillance. Some officers collected information on both radical and counter-radical activities but most sources of information remained narrowly conservative, and counter-radical groups were considered allies of the military. In this form, political surveillance of civilians continued through the 1920's.


Most G-2 activities ceased by the end of the 1920's but the institutional capability and organization structure for civilian surveillance remained. When the depression brought widespread unemployment and urban violence, G-2 responded to the crisis by attempting to reestablish active surveillance of civilians in the United States.

The first attempt to lift the restrictions on corps area and field intelligence officers in February 1931 was disapproved by Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur as “not advisable.” Six months later, MacArthur gave temporary approval to corps area commanders to forward monthly reports on subversive activities in their areas.

In May 1932, when World War I veterans were beginning to arrive in Washington with demands that deferred benefits be given to them immediately because of the depression, the War Department directed all corps area intelligence officers to investigate and report regularly on bonus marchers. A daily memorandum was also prepared for MacArthur describing the current status of marchers already in Washington. War Plans White were revised for Washington and in June secret code messages to corps commanders asked about the presence of communistic elements and the names of leaders of known communistic leanings in bonus groups. Most replies indicated little concern. Some reports, however, bordered on hysteria. The Eighth Corps intelligence officer stationed at Fort Sam Houston, for example, denounced bonus marchers from California as dangerous Jewish communists financed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer backed by Russia. As the date of the Bonus March approached, G-2 agents solicited information from reserve officers, American Legion officials, and volunteer patriotic groups. In Washington, military undercover agents infiltrated the demonstrators and reported their activities.

These reports appear to have percolated through the entire administration causing a sense of fear greatly out of proportion to the actual danger from the assembled veteran protestors. As a result, the Justice Department's plan to clear the area gradually was rejected and federal troops were called out.


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