Saturday, September 15, 2012

President Hoover ... authorizing a break-in

As the Great Depression continued in the early 1930s, U.S. President Herbert Hoover faced growing criticism, and that bothered him greatly – so much that he went to great, and illegal, attempts to stem it, writes Christopher Andrew in his 1996 book For the President's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush.

It seems that Lawrence Richey, Hoover’s personal assistant who previously worked closely with the Secret Service, ensured that people on the president’s enemies list were kept under surveillance as needed. And possibly as a result of that effort, Hoover received a report indicating that New York Democrats had collected some type of information – its nature unknown – that would damage him politically.

Hoover turned to a former aide, Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss, to find out more. Strauss approached U.S. Navy intelligence officer Glenn Howell, who wrote in his log, according to Andrew’s book: “Strauss told me that the President is anxious to know what the contents of the mysterious documents are, and Strauss is authorized by the President to use the services of any one of our various government secret services.”

When Howell and another man broke into the office in which the damaging information was said to be held, they found it vacant.  So then they identified and followed the former tenant, a Democratic operative named James J. O’Brien.

“We shadowed him for a bit and then came to the conclusion that no President of the United States need be afraid of a ham-and-egger [someone not possessing any particularly striking qualities] like O’Brien,” Howell later wrote. He added that after reporting their findings, they received word to end the operation.
The incident remained secret for many years, but became public after Rutgers University history professor Jeffrey M. Dorwart discovered evidence of it in the early 1980s.

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