FBI Index

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Index entry of Martin Luther King Jr.

The FBI Indexes, or Index List, was a system used to track American citizens and other people by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) before the adoption of computerized databases. The Index List was originally made of paper index cards, first compiled by J. Edgar Hoover at the Bureau of Investigations before he was appointed director of the FBI. The Index List was used to track U.S. citizens and others believed by the FBI to be dangerous to national security, and was subdivided into various divisions which generally were rated based on different classes of danger the subject was thought to represent.[1]

General Intelligence Division[edit]

In 1919, during the First Red Scare, William J. Flynn of the Bureau of Investigation appointed J. Edgar Hoover chief of the General Intelligence Division (GID).[2] Hoover used his experience working as a library clerk at the Library of Congress to create an index tracking system which used extensive cross-referencing.[3]

The GID took files from the Bureau of Investigations (later renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation) and 'systematized' them via index cards.[4] The cards covered 150,000 people.[1] By 1939, Hoover had more than 10 million people 'Indexed' in the FBI's domestic file system.[5]

Although the GID was terminated in 1924 after objections from people such as William J. Donovan who questioned its constitutionality,[6] Hoover and the FBI continued to expand the Index system for use by the agency, by Hoover, and by Hoover's political associates well into the 1970s. Presently, the Index files covering an unknown number of Americans are still accessible by the FBI and its 29 field offices.

Titles of the evolving Index catalogs include: the Custodial Index, which included citizens or aliens with German, Italian and Communist sympathies, that could be held in internment camps during World War II;[7] the Security Index, for influential people to be "arrested and held" in case of a national emergency;[1] The Communist Index;[7] The Agitator Index;[1] Sexual Deviant Index; and The Administrative Index, which compiled several earlier indexes.[1]

Even though a complete list of Index titles is currently unavailable, Hoover and the FBI used their Index system to catalog Native American and African American liberation activists during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as Vietnam War protesters and some other college students.

Custodial Detention Index[edit]

The Custodial Detention Index (CDI), or Custodial Detention List was formed in 1939–1941, as part of a program named variously the "Custodial Detention Program" or "Alien Enemy Control".[8]

J. Edgar Hoover described it as having come from his resurrected General Intelligence Division in Washington.[1] According to Hoover, it created large numbers of files on "individuals, groups, and organizations engaged in subversive activities", including espionage, and enabled the Bureau to immediately identify potential threats.[9] Congressman Vito Marcantonio called it "terror by index cards". Senator George W. Norris complained as well.[9]

The Custodial Detention Index was a list of suspects and potential subversives, classified as "A", "B" and "C"; the ones classified as "A" were destined to be arrested immediately and interned at the beginning of war. Category A were officials of Axis-related organizations, category B were members deemed "less dangerous" and category C were sympathizers.[10] The actual assignment of the categories was, however, based on the perceived individual commitment to the person's native country, rather than the actual potential to cause harm; officers of cultural organizations could be classified as "A".

The program involved creation of individual dossiers from information obtained secretly, including unsubstantiated data and in some cases, even hearsay and unsolicited telephone tips, and information acquired without judicial warrants by mail covers and interception of mail, wiretaps and covert searches.[1] While the program targeted primarily Japanese, Italian, and German "enemy aliens", it also included some native-born American citizens. The program was operated without Congress-approved legal authority, without judicial oversight and in excess of the legal authority of the FBI. A person against which an accusation was made was investigated and eventually placed on the index; it was not removed until the person died.[11] According to the press releases at the beginning of the war, one of the purposes of the program was to demonstrate the diligence and vigilance of the government by following, arresting and isolating a previously identified group of people with allegedly documented sympathies for Axis powers and potential for espionage or fifth column activities. The list was later used for Japanese American internment after Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066.[citation needed] Although some say Hoover actually opposed those measures,[12] Hoover and the FBI created the list from which 110,000 people were interned, 70,000 of which were American-born.

Attorney General Francis Biddle, upon learning of the Index in 1941, termed it "dangerous, illegal" and ordered its end. However, J. Edgar Hoover simply renamed it the Security Index,[13] and told his people not to mention it.[8]

Security Index/Reserve Index[edit]

American singer Paul Robeson's index card update form with check marks for which Index and Section

The Security Index pertained to the FBI list of dangerous people who might commit acts inimical to the national defense and public safety of the United States in time of emergency.[14] The list also included those who could be arrested upon the order of a U.S. president invoking the Emergency Detention Program.[1] The Reserve Index, on the other hand, listed all left-wingers and people suspected of being a Communist. By 1950s, for instance, there were 5,000 names on the Security Index, while the Reserve Index had 50,000 in the Chicago field office.[15] A person listed in the Reserve Index could be transferred to the Security Index if such individual posed a threat to U.S. interests in a period of national emergency.[16] A difference between these indices involved their color scheme. The files of those of the Security Index were all in white while the Reserve Index varied in colors depending on the occupation of the subject.[15]

Prominent figures listed in the Reserve Index include Martin Luther King. The FBI had been monitoring his activities with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference since 1957 and by 1962, he was finally listed in the FBI index due to the involvement of two of his advisers with the U.S. Communist Party, although he failed to meet the criteria for inclusion in the Security Index.[17]

The Security Index itself was merged with the Agitator Index and the Communist Index. Renamed the Reserve Index in 1960, this index included a Section A for teachers, doctors, lawyers, entertainers, and other people considered influential and not politically conservative.[citation needed][18] Hoover had King added to the Reserve Index, Section A, in retaliation for his civil rights work and worldwide popularity.[19]

Renamed again to the Administrative Index (ADEX) in 1971 and discontinued during 1978, the records are still kept as inactive at FBI headquarters and 29 field offices.

Rabble Rouser Index[edit]

Rabble Rouser Index entry of Jesse Benjamin Stoner from 1967 notes he is suspected of bombing multiple black churches and schools.[20]

Records of names added to the Rabble Rouser Index are available online from The Vault, which hosts the FBI's FOIA Library, as part of FBI case file 157-HQ-7782.[21] The Internet Archive maintains a copy of this information with additional explanatory material.[22] In addition, a repository of FBI files obtained under FOIA request, including the Rabble Rouser Index, is maintained at the National Archives.[23]


Notable people include:


Notable categories listed on FBI form FD-307 include:

Administrative Index[edit]

FBI rep describing ADEX, 1975[24]

ADEX, or Administrative Index, lasted from 1971 to January 1978. It integrated the Security Index, the Agitator Index, and the Reserve Index.[25] It was used to track people "considered to be a threat to the security of the country".[24] ADEX had four 'categories'.[26]

An illustrative example of these files and the rationale for categorization is the case of historian Howard Zinn, a noted government critic. In his FBI files, there are two separate pages in which an agent says he should be in category III:[26]

He has been a member of the Communist Party, 1949–1953. A chief critic of the United States Government policies. A familiar figure at anti-war demonstrations up to 1972. Organized a protest rally to protest serious indictments against Father Berrigan and other members of the East Coast Conspiracy in the Summer of 1971

It is recommended that subject be included in ADEX, Category III, because he has participated in activities of revolutionary organizations within the last five years as evidenced by overt acts and statements established through reliable informants

Singer Paul Robeson's name was also on ADEX as Category III: "because of his long time close contact with CPUSA leaders. He was honored by the CP as recently as 1969".[27]

See also[edit]

Related topics:


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Rights, United States Congress House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional (1975). FBI Oversight: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Ninety-fourth Congress, First Session ... U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 189–194.
  2. ^ ACLU Massachusetts. "The Emergence of a Domestic Intelligence Bureaucracy". Privacy SOS. Retrieved 2020-10-26.
  3. ^ Oplinger, Jon T. (1990). The politics of demonology: the European witchcraze and the mass production of deviance. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna Univ. Pr. [u.a.] p. 133. ISBN 978-0-945636-11-3.
  4. ^ Walker, Samuel (1990). In defense of American liberties. Internet Archive. Oxford University Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-19-504539-0.
  5. ^ Gentry, Curt (1991). J. Edgar Hoover : the man and his secrets. Internet Archive. New York : Norton. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-393-02404-3.
  6. ^ Riebling, Mark (1994). Wedge: The Secret War Between the FBI and CIA. Alfred A Knopf. ISBN 978-0-7432-4599-9.
  7. ^ a b Gentry, Curt (1991). J. Edgar Hoover : the man and his secrets. Internet Archive. New York : Norton. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-393-02404-3.
  8. ^ a b Theoharis, Athan G. (1999). The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-0-89774-991-6.
  9. ^ a b Gentry, Curt (2001-02-17). J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-393-34350-2.
  10. ^ Batvinis, Raymond J. (2007). The Origins of FBI Counterintelligence. University Press of Kansas. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-7006-1495-0.
  11. ^ Preston, Audra. "Taken Into Custody: the Internment of German and Italian Americans during World War II". uvm.edu. University of Vermont personal homepage. Archived from the original on 28 November 2003. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  12. ^ Le, C.N. (2020). "Construction and Destruction: Japanese American Internment". asian-nation.org. Dr. C.N. Le's personal website. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  13. ^ Kelly, Jack (2002). "The Most Dangerous Institution". Vol. 53, no. 4. American Heritage Magazine. Archived from the original on 9 November 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2011. {{cite magazine}}: Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  14. ^ Zinn, Howard (2012). The Indispensable Zinn: The Essential Writings of the "People's Historian". New York: The New Press. pp. 142. ISBN 9781595586223.
  15. ^ a b Swearingen, M. Wesley (1995). FBI Secrets. Boston, MA: South End Press. pp. 41. ISBN 0896085015.
  16. ^ Babson, Steve; Elsila, David; Riddle, Dave (2010). The Color of Law: Ernie Goodman, Detroit, and the Struggle for Labor and Civil Rights. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 321. ISBN 9780814334966.
  17. ^ Poveda, Tony; Rosenfeld, Susan; Powers, Richard Gid (1999). Theoharis, Athan (ed.). The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide. Phoenix: Oryx Press. pp. 123. ISBN 9780897749916.
  18. ^ Gennaro, Stephen, and Douglas Kellner. "Under surveillance: Herbert Marcuse and the FBI". Nature, Knowledge and Negation.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ Gentry, Curt (1991). J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 231 and following. ISBN 0393024040.
  20. ^ "J. B. Stoner, 81, Fervent Racist and Benchmark for Extremism, Dies". New York Times. April 29, 2005. Retrieved 2010-12-31. While campaigning again for governor in 1977, [J. B. Stoner] was indicted on charges of bombing Bethel Church in Birmingham in 1958; there were no casualties. He was convicted in 1980 and served three and a half years of a 10-year sentence.
  21. ^ "FBI Records: The Vault". vault.fbi.gov. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  22. ^ Lazar, Ernie (5 July 2018). "FBI Rabble Rouser: Agitator Index — HQ 157-7782, Sections 1 thru 4". archive.org. Internet Archive's lazarfoia collection. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  23. ^ "Digitized FBI Files: Freedom of Information Act". archives.gov. National Archives and Records Administration. 18 May 2016. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  24. ^ a b FBI FOIA on Surreptitious Entries (Black Bag Jobs), File 62-117-166, part 13&14 of 30, Hearings Before the Select Committee on Intelligence, Staff Interview, Nov 5 1975, Washington DC, Present: James Oliphant, John Atkisson, Richard Vermeire, and Wannall.
  25. ^ FBI Central Records System, from FBI, by way of Federation of American Scientists, by way of archive.org
  26. ^ a b FBI FOIA files on Howard Zinn, Part 3 of 4, page 86-92 of the PDF
  27. ^ FBI FOIA file on Paul Robeson Senior Page 29 of the PDF file.