A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the FBI, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison about 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.
Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.
Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to "protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage." The FBI would "apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous" to national security, the proposal said.
The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. "The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven percent are citizens of the United States," he wrote.
"In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus," it said.
Habeas corpus, the right to seek relief from illegal detention, has been a fundamental principle of law for seven centuries. The Constitution says habeas corpus shall not be suspended "unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it." The plan proposed by Hoover, the head of the FBI from 1924 to 1972, stretched that clause to include "threatened invasion" or "attack upon United States troops in legally occupied territory."
Hoover's plan was declassified Friday as part of a collection of documents concerning intelligence issues from 1950 to 1955. The collection makes up a new volume of The Foreign Relations of the United States, a series that by law has been published continuously by the State Department since the Civil War.
The prisoners would eventually have had a right to a hearing under the Hoover plan. The hearing board would have been a panel of one judge and two citizens. But the hearings "will not be bound by the rules of evidence," his letter noted.