"A program of cooperation": The FBI, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, and the Communist issue, 1950-1956

Christopher John Gerard, Marquette University


On March 15, 1951, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover formally authorized a covert liaison between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS). An extension of the FBI's "educational program" of 1946, the unique FBI-SISS liaison relationship served the ideological and institutional objectives of its participants. In the SISS, the FBI found a congressional committee whose ideology and willingness to preserve the confidentiality of FBI sources provided a reliable forum through which the Bureau could alert the nation to the perceived danger of communist subversion. In the FBI, the SISS found a rich, authoritative, and cooperative source of information which serviced name checks, suggested friendly witnesses, and otherwise provided useful "appropriate leads and suggested clues." Seizing upon this covert assistance, the Committee launched investigations of alleged communist influence among private and government Far Eastern specialists, American employees at the United Nations, college educators, radical trade union leaders, federal government employees, professional entertainers, a southern civil rights organization, and the print media. This study has relied principally upon the FBI file on the SISS, Bureau files on several trade unions, selected SISS papers at the National Archives, congressional hearings, documents from the Truman and Eisenhower Libraries, and the personal and office files of Senator Patrick McCarran and William E. Jenner. Moving beyond the simple focus upon the more notorious activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), it demands that students reconsider their understanding of the anti-communist politics of the 1950s. This reappraisal must include an understanding of the covert political activities of the FBI, which emerged as the nation's most authoritative anti-communist agency during the Cold War, and an appreciation of the SISS, which surpassed the influence of Senator McCarthy and HUAC during the 1950s. In addition, this study asks students to address the broader question of executive oversight, as neither the Justice Department nor the White House questioned the Bureau's authority to collect and disseminate information unrelated to the FBI's formal responsibility to investigate violations of federal law.

Recommended Citation

Gerard, Christopher John, ""A program of cooperation": The FBI, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, and the Communist issue, 1950-1956" (1993). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9325678.