Date of Award

Fall 1981

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


By 1941, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, created in 1908 as the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, had become a vast, influential and semi-independent bureaucracy. Under the close scrutiny of Director J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI publicly promoted its criminal investigation capabilities and highlighted dramatic episodes such as the Dillinger case. At the same time, however, the FBI unilaterally created a covert code of political crimes and conducted numerous illegal investigations of both prominent and ordinary Americans.

This dissertation focuses on the development of FBI political surveillance between 1908 and 1941. Dicussions of FBI enforcement of the criminal law will be limited to the agency's implementation of political surveillance investigations. Special attention is given to analyzing the evolution of surveillance techniques, and the variety of surveillance methods. Who were the targets of political espionage? To what extent did the FBI spy on legal political activities? The study will also discuss efforts of the executive and legislative branches to control FBI political surveillance activism.

This dissertation relies primarily upon FBI investigative files and Bureau memorandums in the custody of the National Archives, and FBI files acquired through the Feedom of Information Act. Other documentary evidence is drawn from the Congressional Record, congressional hearings, court records and decisions, manuscript collections, newspapers, and memoirs.