INT: Right. And looking back, do you think you actually achieved very much? Was there a real threat to the country? What did the FBI actually manage to do?
WS: (Interrupts) Well, it's hard to say, because those people who were in charge back then and who are still alive, would say, well yeah, we accomplished something, because the Communist Party fell apart. But we didn't have anything to do with the Communist Party falling apart in the Soviet Union, so I don't know how much we accomplished. I don't think we accomplished that much, because people like William Sennet who... and Richard Kriley, who were leaders back in the fifties, finally saw the light and they quit and it wasn't anything that we did. They just saw that, you know, this is going to work in the United States and this is not what it's meant to be. And so they went their way and I'm sure a lot of them did.
But of course, the FBI's going to say, well, see, Sennet and Kriley would not have left if it hadn't been for the FBI, which is nonsense.
INT: Sort of sledgehammer to crack open a very small...
WS: Yeah. But I don't think that we were that effective. I mean, now if you wanted to compare it with the Ku Klux Klan, that's something else, because the FBI really went after them and put a lot of people in jail, legitimately in jail. So that, you know, it's a different attitude.
INT: OK, can we pause for a moment.
(Break in interview)
INT: So looking back, you know, do you think you achieved very much? Was there really a real threat to America from spies and Communists?
WS: Well, we were told there was a threat, but I don't think we really achieved much, because the only person I ever arrested for a violation of Smith Act 1940 was later released on appeal to the Supreme Court, because the Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional. So, we didn't catch any spies in the Communist Party, the only people we put in jail were those who violated the Smith Act, which was declared unconstitutional, so we didn't accomplish much. I mean, we collected a lot of names and we had a lot of information on people who were on the Security Index.
INT: But it was just beliefs, wasn't it, political beliefs?
WS: A lot of it was, and that belief came from the fact that there were people like, well Claude Lightfoot, who went to one of the schools over in the Soviet Union, and another leader of the Communist Party, I can't think of his name, so Hoover used that to try to convince the American people that it's a very serious threat and if you have someone like Claude Lightfoot who attended a special school at the Kremlin on Communism, and now he's leader of the Communist Party in Illinois, people would say, hey, man, maybe Hoover knows what he's talking about.
INT: Was it like a state of undeclared war and could you use that phrase in your answer?
WS: Well, that's what I thought it was, was an undeclared war at the time, because I honestly thought it was just a matter of, you know, at a time weeks or days before atomic bombs would fall on Lake Michigan, in fact we even had a conference in the office, one time, an all-agents conference and we were supposed to be told what to do in case, you know, bombs started dropping on Chicago. We'd come into the office and destroy the files - we didn't have shredders back then - and there was an agent who had a very good sense of humour and he said, I'm supposed to tell you all this, you know, Washington gave me instructions to tell you what to do in case there's an atomic bomb dropped on Chicago. He says, if that happens and you're still alive, he says, forget it, don't come to the office because Chicago wo't be here!
INT: Now J. Edgar Hoover, how far do you think he was personally responsible? What do you think he was doing? Was he generating the fear, you know, how did he use it?
WS: Well, my personal opinion was that I think he was a maniac...
WS: My personal opinion of Hoover was that he was a maniac, dressed in a suit and tie and he used his position to try to convincCongress and the President and the Attorney General and the general public that we had a very serious problem in the United States.
INT: Do you think he saw it as a personal crusade and can you be sure to use that sort of phrase?
WS: I think Hoover was on a personal crusade and I say that because this is the same kind of thing that he did when he was in the Department of Justice. He was on a crusade back in 1919 and 1920 to go after foreigners and when he became Director, he was still on a crusade to go after anything that he thought might be subversive, whether someone was giving a political speech that was different from his theories, to him that's subversive. And I think it was... Hoover was on a personal vendetta to go after these people, whether they were actually members of the Communist Party of not.
INT: It seems there was probably a certain sense in which he was personally responsible for public education generating the fear, in order to continue being Hoover, head of the FBI.
WS: Well, Hoover generated all kinds of publicity, from his unauthorised publicity department about Communism and subversion and spies and so on. So, he was trying to get the public behind him, because, you know, if he can scare everyone to death, then maybe he can stop this, what I consider, you know, a little bit of an imaginary threat, because everything seemed to fall apart with a few years, but when, as this threat was growing in, say in the forties and early fifties, Congress and some other people were saying, well, you know, really is it that much of a threat? And all of a sudden, the membership in the Communist Party started to fall off, according to Hoover. I mean, we were still putting thousands of people on the Security Index, but Hoover would change the record of whether he had X number of Communist Party members or others in other organisations, depending upon whether he was being criticised or admired. And if someone said, hey, you're doing a good job, then he upped the figure. If they said, you're doing a bad job, then he'd lower it.