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The Roosevelt Administration's Rating System

The Roosevelt Administration's Rating System

By Editor Sam Smith

The Roosevelt Administration also used a rating system but later dropped it. Here's how I came to know about it:

When I applied for Coast Guard Officer Candidate School in 1960 at the age of 23, I found myself in the same grim situation as Milo Radulovich, whose case kicks off "Good Night and Good Luck," the film about Edward R. Murrow. I too was considered of questionable loyalty because of things my parents had done, people they had known and groups to which they had belonged. I successfully convinced the government otherwise and served a number of years as a Coast Guard officer. But I would forever more be in a file. The incident is described in my memoirs that are on this site.

But there was a twist that makes the story significant in light of Homeland Security Department's just revealed rating system for travelers. As I described it:

|||| My father [who had worked for the Justice Department]was no less angry at being impugned by the US government. He wrote a lengthy defense, emphasizing his family's 300 year history in America, the loss of his brother in WWI and the similar fate of my mother's brother, the numerous honors he had received, Supreme Court justices for whom he had worked, and important people who had written him nice letters. He noted other prominent individuals who had belonged to the Lawyers Guild (including several Attorneys General) and why his participation in various other organizations and friendship and/or contacts with communists were insignificant. . .

There was something else in my father's response whose significance I was too overwhelmed to note at the time but leaped out much later when I reopened my security file for the first time in years. It came in the part where my father was explaining his work at the Justice Department:

"I stimulated the drafting by the Solicitor General's department of the opinion . . . under which we seized, among other things, 10,000 copies of Lenin's teachings. I reviewed for the Attorney General all the legislation relating to espionage and sabotage, and on July 2, 1941, made detailed suggestions covering (a) Nazi, (b) Communists, and (c) Italian and Japanese and other Fascist groups...

"I led in Congress the successful submission by Justice in support of the broadening of the coverage of the Foreign Agents Registration Act to cover Nazis, Fascists and Communists when directed from abroad.

"Prior to the outbreak of the war, with the FBI and the Attorney General, we established policies, and classified thousands of individual cases of Nazis, Japanese, Fascists, and Communists, in terms of danger. Incidentally, the FBI, on outbreak of the war, was able to arrest 3,000 persons in three days, an outstanding record...

"I was also criticized by IF Stone in the Nation and by some in the department for my toughness on subversives."

Six months after my father's memo to the Attorney General, Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 and the first of 120,000 Japanese Americans were sent to concentrations camps, a move supported by California Attorney General Earl Warren, Walter Lippmann and Time Magazine, which called California 'Japan's Sudetenland.'"

My father also assisted efforts to deport the radical labor leader Harry Bridges who led the longshoreman's union and was briefly Pacific coast head of the CIO. All these efforts failed.

Forty years later I would obtain government files containing further hints of my father's involvement as chief of the department's special defense unit. Thirteen days after Pearl Harbor, J Edgar Hoover wrote him concerning a German alien about whom the FBI had uncovered some information. Said Hoover, "In view of the above fact, advice is requested as to whether or not the apprehension of this individual is desired." A note at the bottom, perhaps by my father, says, "Not at this time. 12/22/41."

In another report, this same alien is ranked:

Will to Aid Enemy: 18 out of 25 Capability to Aid Enemy: 13 out of 15 Opportunity to Aid Enemy: 7 out of 20 Overt Acts: 31 out of 40 Numerical Rating: 69 out of 100

In March 1942 my father wrote Hoover advising him that the alien's classification had been raised from B-2 to A-1, adding that "if additional information is received concerning this individual which necessitates further change in his dangerous classification you will be promptly advised."

I also found a directive to Hoover and the Assistant AG from the Attorney General in July 1943 that refers to one of my father's memos in which he had reviewed the "history, development, and meaning of the special case work and of the danger classifications that were made as a part of that work." The Attorney General then declared:

"It is now clear to me that this classification system is inherently unreliable. The evidence used for the purpose of making the classifications was inadequate; the standards applied to the evidence for the purpose of making the classifications were defective; and finally, the notion that it is possible to make a valid determination as to how dangerous a person is in the abstract and without reference to time, environment, and other relevant circumstances, is impractical, unwise, and dangerous . . . Accordingly, I direct that the classifications heretofore made should not be regarded as classifications of dangerousness or as a determination of fact in any sense. In the future, they could not be used for any purpose whatsoever. . . "

The Attorney General further ordered that a card be placed attached to each past classification starting that:


In 1999, a new book shed further light: Free Speech in the Good War by Richard Steele. . . Of my father, Steele wrote:

"In April 1940. . . the department announced creation of the Neutrality Laws Division. The new agency would be directed by Lawrence M. C. Smith, a 37-year-old graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School who had come to government in 1932 after a short period of private practice. Although he had investigatory experience from service on the Securities and Exchange Commission, there was nothing in Smith's career suggesting a special interest in either counter-subversion or civil liberties. Jackson gave Smith, who would be remembered as an "idea man" and a planner, considerable latitude, telling him only to survey the situation in regard to sedition and foreign propaganda and do what was necessary to establish department policy to deal with the problems. . . It would also compile, from files supplied by the FBI, a list of potentially dangerous persons who might be seized in case of national emergency. Over the next several years Smith would build the Neutrality Laws Division and successor operations into a large and important component of the department's national defense apparatus. . .

"The specter of department excesses in World War I hung over the undertaking. Jackson set aside a room in the Justice Department building in which documentation related to the department's anti-radical and counter-subversion operations in 1917-20 was gathered for ready reference. The official who collected the data also gave Smith a study, based on these and other records of the era, that provided lessons concerning the things, as he put it, that 'good government in time of crisis or war should seek to avoid.'

"[Encounters with the past] strengthened Smith's determination to prevent "excessive zeal against suspects by over enthusiastic United States Attorneys," and to ensure a relatively disinterested balancing of national security and personal rights. The new office significantly changed the way the department would deal with persons suspected of disloyalty. . . By inserting Washington into the close cooperative relationship that hitherto existed between U.S. attorneys and the FBI agents in their districts, Jackson had undercut the power of both and greatly diminished the role of local political pressure in arrests and prosecutions for "un-American activities:' . . .

"The sub-headline of a New York Times story on the new unit declared 'Civil Liberties In Mind, FBI's Findings Face Scrutiny Before Any Authority for Prosecution Given.' Hoover immediately took exception to the implied criticism. Hurried consultations among officials produced a White House announcement insisting that Smith's operation was intended to 'help' the FBI and 'not [to] overlap or subtract from anything.'". . .

Perhaps Euripides was right. Perhaps the gods had visited me with a taste of what my father and his colleagues had visited upon various people who had happened to be born of the wrong parents at the wrong time. If true, I had gotten off easily.

My father, of course, did not know that at home was a little boy who would one day be drawn into madness similar to that which had left him battling Harry Bridges and J Edgar Hoover at the same time or that the scars of that experience would help lead his son almost inexorably towards a career in the "divisionist press" of another time.




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