Three Plans in One
A FOIA request filed earlier this year for an FBI file on the Bureau’s plan to build a secret network of “stay behind” agents that would become active in the event of a Communist invasion in Alaska yielded a 2,050 page file. Later, FBI posted a version of the file on the “reading room” of their FOIA website – albeit with several hundred pages removed. The file actually covers three different but closely related plans for Alaska, and reveals that their reasons for wanting to engage in them were petty at best. Hoover’s determination to maintain control over every possible intelligence function resulted in his seeking to take over planning some military aspects of operations in Alaska. Memos in the file also reveal that Bureau personnel thought some of the best advantages of the plan were that it would screw over CIA and ensure the Bureau’s supremacy in their ongoing feud with other intelligence agencies.
The three overlapping plans proposed in the file were for:
- Intelligence coverage in Alaska in the event of an invasion. This explicitly included military intelligence.
- A stay-behind agent program which would operate covertly behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion. Like the first proposed plan, this included fulfilling “military needs.”
- An escape and evasion program for people caught behind enemy lines. Like the two other plans, this included military personnel and needs.
What went wrong?
The Bureau’s efforts in these programs were hampered from the beginning from a relatively poor understanding of both military operations and rigorous intelligence collection outside the United States. This lack of experience began to show itself when in the Bureau’s not-so-subtle racism when it came to selecting agents for the stay behind network. Natives shouldn’t be used as agents “because of their basic unreliability.”
While racism was hardly unique to the Bureau when the file was written in 1950, their mistake of excluding local natives was a large one. Had they consulted with CIA, the expertise of which drew on the OSS operations of World War II and British operations before that, they would have known that natives can be some of the best sources possible. Unfortunately for the Bureau, the requirements that they foresaw also precluded many of the categories they sought to select agents from. Among others, businessmen, farmers and “unskilled laborers” were all immediately precluded from the list of potential agents, due to the potential that some or all of them might be deported.
The memo goes on to admit that the Bureau had no idea how many people in Alaska might meet those requirements. Yet the FBI was more than willing to continue with the onerous project.
The Bureau’s reasons for wanting to continue with the proposed plans were hardly ideal or necessarily in the interest of the United States or the Intelligence Community. According to one of the memos in the file, the biggest advantage to the proposed plans was that it would prevent the projects from going to CIA. This was hardly atypical for Hoover’s Bureau at the time, which was more than willing to cross swords with the Agency whenever possible. When it came to intelligence coordination and management, Hoover fought intensely against anyone but himself overseeing it and being the primary conduit for the President and other policy makers.
Further, the Bureau was quite clear that if they didn’t assume responsibility for these programs, they would have to turn over information to someone else. Although redacted, the width of the typed matches perfectly with the unredacted instances of “CIA” from within the same memo. Not only would the Bureau have to share its sources and informants, they would potentially lose control over them to CIA.
The FBI was quite clear that many of the responsibilities they would be assuming were purely military in nature. The Bureau acknowledged that these activities, which fell outside its civilian jurisdiction, would consume a great deal of the FBI’s time and money. To the Bureau, jurisdiction was something to be conquered – not an important hierarchical reality or a method of protecting civil rights and preventing over-centralization.
However, if the Bureau withdrew they were certain that the Air Force (heavily involved in the plans, especially the evasion and escape program) would bring in CIA.
The statement that this would “definitely place CIA in the domestic intelligence field” was rather disingenuous, since the Agency still would not be handling things until after an invasion had occurred and the territory was no longer U.S. controlled. Therefore while it would have been a domestic territory, it would not have been domestic intelligence in any meaningful sense of the word. However, the mere possibility was unacceptable to J. Edgar Hoover, who was concerned with his own powerbase more than any sense civil rights and jurisdiction.
Despite all of the concerns raised and noting that the an invasion of Alaska would force the Bureau to turn over it’s agents and sources, the Bureau decided to proceed with the planning (to be explored in future articles).
You can read the cited section of the FBI file below.