“Undesirable” Groups and Federal Employees

Today’s post comes from National Declassification Center Archives Specialist Stephanie Coon.

In today’s digital world, we receive emails that make us wonder how we ended up on a mailing list for such a group or product. The same goes for snail mail, when advertisements for candy companies or random catalogs appear in your mailbox. In the 1940s and 1950s, being on the mailing list for an “undesirable group” could mean an investigation into your loyalty, and for federal employees, the end of your career.

In 1947, President Truman issued Executive Order (E.O.) 9835, which established the first loyalty program in the United States, designed to root out communist influence in the federal government. The E.O. created the Employee Loyalty Board to conduct name checks of federal employees, and authorized further investigations upon discovery of derogatory information. Agents applied additional scrutiny if there were indications of espionage, treason, disclosure of confidential information, advocacy of violent overthrow of the U.S. government or membership in a subversive organization.

Pollack Archives letter

The executive order created the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations (AGLOSO). Appearing on the mailing list for one of these groups led to an investigation into the loyalties of federal employees. In 1941, Federal Register and National Archives employee, Melvin Pollack, found himself as a subject of investigation because his name appeared on the mailing lists of the American Peace Mobilization, the Washington Committee for Democratic Action and the American League for Peace and Democracy.

In spite of the risks, Pollack willingly appeared before the FBI to answer questions regarding his loyalties. He admitted to being a member of the American League for Peace and Democracy, which he joined because of their boycott of Japanese goods in support of the Chinese people. Pollack’s statement said that he never participated in any activities but joined for social rather than political reasons.

American League of Peace and Democracy  acknowledgement

The investigation did not find further derogatory information. In a move that was rare for these cases, Pollack’s boss, Archivist of the United States Solon J. Buck, sent a letter to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover defending Pollack, and thus ended the inquiry.

Over the course of the ten years, over two million federal employees underwent initial investigations because of the name checks. According to Wikipedia, officials dismissed 378 employees for spying, and another 5000 federal employees voluntarily resigned.

Archivists letter

This case file is located in the Federal Bureau of Investigation Classification 101 – Headquarters Case Files and Index (UD-UP 31), Folder 101-1720. This entry was declassified under NND 58337.

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6 Responses to “Undesirable” Groups and Federal Employees

  1. David says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. Very interesting and informative

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  2. Nick Baric says:

    I also found it very informative. As a NARA staffer, I like the way you wove our agency’s history into the blog

    I had come across the Attorney General’s list while processing INS central files from that era.

    The posting highlights that the antecedents of what became known as “McCarthyism” began well before McCarthy gave his (in)famous speech in West Virginia where he claimed to have a list of Communists in the State Department.

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  3. Ellie Kesselman says:

    Don, could you clarify where in Wikipedia you found the following please?
    “According to Wikipedia, officials dismissed 378 employees for spying, and another 5000 federal employees voluntarily resigned.”

    A URL would be best, but even the article name would be helpful. Why are you using Wikipedia as a source when you could source directly from the FBI or news media?

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  4. Wikipedian says:

    Specialist Stephanie Coon misnumbered Truman’s 1947 E.O. It should be 9835—not 9825, which prescribed allowances for quarters and subsistence to enlisted members of the Armed Forces.

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