Hoover's Dirty File: Myths and Mysteries from J. Edgar Hoover's Personal Files
Myths and Mysteries from J. Edgar Hoover’s Personal Files

Myths and Mysteries from J. Edgar Hoover’s Personal Files

Larry Holzwarth - August 23, 2019

Myths and Mysteries from J. Edgar Hoover’s Personal Files
Hoover kept a self-written memo on file stating that he warned JFK about one of his adulterous affairs, though no other record of such a meeting exists. FBI

17. Despite numerous rumors, nobody ever accused Hoover of using the secret files for blackmail

One of the legends surrounding J. Edgar Hoover’s secret personal files was that they were used, or were to be used, to blackmail members of the Washington community to do his bidding as necessary. It is widely assumed by those who assign to Hoover an evil hold on the reins of government throughout his reign as Director of the FBI that he used his ill-gotten information as the source of his almost unlimited power, controlling the government through fear, and when necessary, through the time-honored criminal art of blackmail. Hoover did not use blackmail overtly, he did not demand tit for tat in his dealings with either members of congress or the occupants of the Oval Office. He was far more subtle in his use of the information which the FBI held in its files, including implying that he (Hoover) was not the only FBI official privy to the information.

In March, 1962, Hoover met with John Kennedy in the Oval Office, according to his own notes. The meeting was ostensibly a working lunch during which, according to author Ronald Kessler, Hoover informed the President that the FBI had information regarding Kennedy having an affair with Judith Campbell, a 25-year-old divorcee who also was having a concurrent affair with Chicago Mob boss Sam Giancana. According to Kessler, Hoover simply let JFK know that the FBI had the information, allowing the President to stew over it on his own. According to Kessler, JFK responded by ending the affair. Numerous and conflicting accounts of the affair and Kennedy’s relationship with Campbell (later known as Judith Exner) have been “revealed” ever since, though nothing which could be confirmed as unimpeachable evidence of the affair, or the luncheon in which Hoover revealed his knowledge of it to the President has ever surfaced.

Myths and Mysteries from J. Edgar Hoover’s Personal Files
John Mitchell, Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, and John Erlichman, in a meeting in which they are discussing – ironically – law enforcement. White House

18. J. Edgar Hoover wanted Richard Nixon as President and worked to elect him to the office

When Richard Nixon, then Vice President of the United States, ran for the Presidency in 1960 his boss, incumbent President Dwight David Eisenhower, was tepid in his endorsement. J. Edgar Hoover wanted Nixon to be elected, and after the disappointment in 1960 he worked to ensure Nixon prevailed when he ran again in 1968, and for re-election in 1972. In 1971 the former Attorney General for the United States and erstwhile Nixon law partner John M. Mitchell served as the head of Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President (with the acronym CREEP, surely the most apropos such designation in the history of American politics). Hoover used FBI sources to funnel politically volatile information to Mitchell for use by the Nixon campaign. It was information provided by Hoover which led the Nixon White House to create the White House Investigations Unit, the official name for what became famous as the White House Plumbers.

According to a Hoover memo which eventually found residence in his Confidential files, and which was shared with John Mitchell, information critical of the FBI was being fed to the McGovern campaign by disenchanted agents. McGovern used the information, which included revelations of illegal surveillance on American citizens, to attack Hoover and by extension the Nixon Administration. The names of individuals to which information was linked included journalists and columnists, and Hoover provided their names, as well as the names of their sources. They became the basis of what later was known as the White House Enemies List. Thus Hoover and Nixon, with Mitchell as an intermediary, using illegally obtained information to discredit the Democratic candidate for President, while Nixon ran on a platform which described him as the Law and Order candidate, enjoying a ringing endorsement from the long-term director of the FBI, America’s greatest lawman, J. Edgar Hoover.

Myths and Mysteries from J. Edgar Hoover’s Personal Files
Ernest Hemingway in Venice, Italy, in 1954. JFK Presidential Library

19. The FBI files on Ernest Hemingway contributed to the writer’s suicide, according to close friends

Ernest Hemingway was a living legend as a writer, and as what was in his day considered to be a man’s man. Besides his career as a writer of fiction, he was over the course of his life a war correspondent, big game hunter and fisherman, a noted outdoorsman and adventurer. He was at home with bullfighters and prizefighters as he was with literary critics and agents. By 1959 Hemingway was convinced that he was a constant target of FBI surveillance, and later examination of FBI files indicated that he had been correct. Hemingway, while living in Cuba in 1959, told friends that, “They’ve bugged everything…Can’t use the phone. Mail’s intercepted”. Hemingway insisted on using a friend’s car rather than his own during a pheasant hunting trip, certain that his own vehicle was bugged by the FBI. He often left dinners at public restaurants due to his belief that nearby “diners” were in fact FBI agents.

It was Hoover who directed the surveillance of Hemingway, suspicious that the writer held pro-Castro and communism beliefs. As with other of his surveillance targets, Hoover directed his agents to obtain potentially damaging information on the writer’s friends and sexual liaisons, rather than direct evidence of pro-communist leanings. Hemingway’s friends and family, convinced that the writer’s complaints (coupled with other actions on his part) were part of his increasingly evident mental illness had Hemingway subjected to electro-shock therapy in Minnesota. Just less than two years later he committed suicide with a shotgun. Just over a decade following his death, the revelation of the FBI’s files included a 124-page file on Ernest Hemingway. According to the evidence contained in the file, there was a strong indication that his medical records during his shock treatments – at St. Mary’s in Rochester, Minnesota – were monitored and the writer’s statements recorded by the FBI.

 

Where do we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition”. Athan G. Theoharis & John S. Cox. 1988

“Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover”. Anthony Summers. 1993

“The FBI Pyramid: From the Inside”. Mark W. Felt. 1979

“Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover”. Richard Hack. 2004

“Eleanor Roosevelt”. The Vault, FBI Records. FBI.gov. Online

“U. S. Investigating Missing FBI Data”. John Crewdson, The New York Times. June 7, 1975

“Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-off between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America”. Burton Hersh. 2007

“J. Edgar Hoover’s revenge: Information the FBI once hoped could destroy Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been declassified”. Trevor Griffey. The Conversation. May 31, 2019

“J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets”. Curt Gentry. 2001

“The Secret File on J. Edgar Hoover”. Transcript of Frontline, PBS.org. 1993. Online

“The Truth About J. Edgar Hoover”. TIME Magazine, December 22, 1975

“How the Garage-Rock Anthem “Louie Louie” Became the Subject of a Lengthy FBI Investigation (1964)”. Open Culture. December 15th, 2020

“Charlie Chaplin”. The Vault, FBI Records. FBI.gov. Online

“Louie Louie (The Song)”. The Vault, FBI Records. FBI.gov. Online

“The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI”. Ronald Kessler. 2002

“Nixon and Hoover: Partners in Power”. Nixontapes.org. Online

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