9 Intriguing Excerpts From Old FBI Files

Keystone, Hulton Archive // Getty Images
Keystone, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Under J. Edgar Hoover, everybody who was anybody had an FBI file. Here are some interesting things we found while poking around their archives.

1. Albert Einstein

Our favorite scientist’s file is over 1800 pages long. Einstein’s German roots always made the Bureau nervous. It didn’t help that he was an outspoken pacifist and socialist (not to mention a harsh critic of Sen. Joseph McCarthy). When Einstein was asked to join the Manhattan project in 1939, the FBI concluded that, “In view of his radical background, this office would not recommend the employment of Dr. Einstein on matters of a secret nature without a very careful investigation, as it seems unlikely that a man of his background could, in such a short time, become a loyal American citizen.”

The FBI suspected that Einstein was a German spy, and it planned to deport him once they found proof: “Notwithstanding his world-wide reputation as a scientist, [Einstein] may properly be investigated for possible revocation of naturalization.” The Bureau came up empty.

2. Colonel Sanders

Colonel Sanders admired J. Edgar Hoover and occasionally requested favors from him. One time, the Colonel asked Hoover to come to his birthday party, in a letter which now rests in his FBI file:

After searching the Colonel’s criminal record, Hoover gently declined.

3. Extra Sensory Perception

In 1957, William Foos began pretending to read through walls. Weeks later, the FBI was at his door asking if his powers were real:

“Should his claims be well-founded, there is no limit to the value which could accrue to the FBI—complete and undetectable access to mail, the diplomatic pouch; visual access to buildings—the possibilities are unlimited insofar as law enforcement and counterintelligence are concerned… It is difficult to see how the bureau can afford to not inquire into this matter more fully. Bureau interest can be completely discreet and controlled and no embarrassment would result.”

Foos went on to perform elaborate card tricks for FBI agents, CIA members, and leading military officers, but the government became suspicious when he refused to divulge his methods. After consulting a slew of psychologists and university studies, the FBI dropped the case, leaving behind this 40-page file on ESP.

4. The Grateful Dead

Most of the Grateful Dead’s pages are suspiciously blacked out with marker. The file does show, however, how clueless the FBI was about pop music trends. When mentioning the Grateful Dead for the first time, it says, “It would appear this is a rock group of some sort.” The FBI had suspected Jerry Garcia’s group was tied to the criminal drug circle: “LSD originates from San Fransisco, California through a renowned rock group known as Grateful Dead.” Despite its suspicions, the FBI decided not to investigate further.

5. Liberace

The FBI holds over 400 pages on Liberace. Most pages focus on a robbery in 1974, when someone stole hundreds of Liberace’s jewels. Other pages look into numerous extortion attempts that attacked Liberace’s sexuality. A meager two pages, however, show that the rhinestone-clad pianist illegally bet on horse races through a bookie in Buffalo, NY. The FBI considered roasting Liberace before a Grand Jury, but later decided against it.

6. Louie, Louie

The FBI spent 30 months investigating the song Louie, Louie because the lyrics were thought to be dirty. The song was playing across America, and naughty lyrics would have violated a code that forbade “the distribution of obscene material.” Agents listened to the record at different speeds, interviewed band members, and even researched analyses made by teenagers who claimed to know the song’s “true meaning.” The Bureau eventually gave up because they “were unable to interpret any wording in the record.”

7. Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In

The FBI can’t take a joke. In 1971, the bureau penned a 21-page report after Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In made fun of Hoover and the FBI. In one sketch, a troupe of ditzy cheerleaders wore FBI garb. In another, actors pretended to talk to Hoover through a potted flower, suggesting that the FBI had bugged the plant. It obviously hurt the Bureau’s fragile feelings: “Some of the so-called jokes were not only not humorous but did not make any sense, the sight-gags were ridiculously stupid and the fight song featuring the cheerleaders was to a great extent unintelligible.” According to the file, the most hurtful line was this knock-knock joke, which it called “vicious” and “sick-type”:

“Knock, knock”

“Who’s there?”

“Hoover”

“Hoover who?”

“Hoover heard of a 76-year old policeman?”

8. I Was a Communist for the FBI (Movie)

In 1941, an FBI agent named Mathew Cvetic joined the Communist Party with the objective of spying on its members. A decade later, Cvetic wrote about his spy adventures. His story appeared in the Saturday Evening Post and was eventually picked up by Warner Brothers, who turned it into an ultra-patriotic (but romanticized) film called, I Was a Communist for the FBI. The film made the Bureau a little nervous. Some parts revealed how the FBI operated; others were just gross misrepresentations. The FBI reported that “Cvetic has no right to presume to speak for the FBI…it might be necessary for us to publicly deny Cvetic’s alleged insinuations.” The FBI later denied that Cvetic had ever been an agent.

9. Roswell’s UFO

You may be surprised to learn that the file that made UFOs (and weather balloons) famous is only one page long:

Text:
“Headquarters eight air force, telephonically advised this office that an object purporting to be a flying disc was recovered near Roswell, New Mexico, this date. The disc is hexagonal in shape and was suspended from a balloon by cable, which balloon was approximately twenty feet in diameter. (censored) further advised that the object found resembles a high altitude weather balloon with a radar reflector, but that telephonic conversation between their office and Wright Field had not borne out of this belief. Disc and balloon being transported to Wright Field by special plane for examination. Information provided this office because of national interest in case. And fact that National Broadcasting Company, Associated Press, and others attempting to break story of location of disc today. (Censored) advised would request Wright Field to advise Cincinnati office results of examination. No further investigation being conducted."

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65 Years Ago, a Bus Driver Had Rosa Parks Arrested. It Wasn't Their First Encounter.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks made her historic civil rights stand by refusing to give up her seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Had she noticed who was behind the wheel, she probably wouldn’t have gotten on in the first place, as the day Parks protested wasn’t her first encounter with bus driver James Blake.

More than a decade earlier, in November 1943, Parks had entered a bus driven by Blake and paid her fare. Instead of simply walking to the designated section in the back, she was told to exit and reenter through the back doors, as was the requirement for Black riders at the time. When she got off the bus to do so, Blake pulled away—a trick he was notorious for pulling.

The restored Montgomery, Alabama bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, on display at the Henry Ford Museum
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Parks avoided his buses for the next 12 years; of course, we all know what happened the next time they met, on a day Parks said she was too tired and preoccupied to notice who was driving. Parks and three other black passengers were ordered to give their seats up for a white passenger, and when Parks refused to move, Blake had her arrested. He had no idea that his actions—and more importantly, hers—would be the catalyst for a civil rights revolution.

Though the times eventually changed, Blake, it would seem, did not. He worked for the bus company for another 19 years before retiring in 1974. During a brief interview with The Washington Post in 1989, the driver maintained that he had done nothing wrong:

"I wasn't trying to do anything to that Parks woman except do my job. She was in violation of the city codes. What was I supposed to do? That damn bus was full and she wouldn't move back. I had my orders. I had police powers—any driver for the city did. So the bus filled up and a white man got on, and she had his seat and I told her to move back and she wouldn't do it."

In the rest of his short encounter with the reporter, Blake—who passed away in 2002—used the n-word and accused the media of lying about his role in the historic moment.

Parks had at least one more run-in with Blake, and it must have been incredibly satisfying. After bus segregation was outlawed, the civil rights leader was asked to pose for press photographs on one of the integrated buses. The bus they chose was driven by Blake.