Jack Levine ’55 vs. J. Edgar Hoover

by Jack Levine ’55
After graduating from Bucknell, I attended the New York University School of Law. The FBI had posted recruitment notices on the bulletin boards there. Thinking it could lead to an exciting career, I decided to file an application. After a 14-week program at the FBI academy, I went to work for J. Edgar Hoover in the FBI’s Detroit field office, where agents were investigating Jimmy Hoffa.

I loved the bureau, the agents and the work. But I resigned after only 11 months because I couldn’t tolerate Hoover’s policies. He made us spend time making him look good politically at the expense of fighting crime.

I pursued a job with the organized crime section of the U.S. Department of Justice, which was under the leadership of Attorney General Robert Kennedy. During my interview, I was asked about the FBI’s investigative work. I hesitated. Should I be talking about this confidential information? I concluded that I should. The FBI falls under the justice department; Kennedy is Hoover’s boss.

black and white photo of Jack Levine
Photo: The Associated Press
In 1967, Jack Levine ’55 was escorted from a meeting of the House Subcommittee on Un-American Activities in Washington, D.C., a committee created to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities. Levine disrupted a hearing in defense of the Women Strike for Peace organization. This photograph appeared on the front page of major newspapers across the country.
As I started to reveal the FBI’s secrets, including its informant program and wiretapping activities, the interviewers’ eyes widened. “Wiretapping? What wiretapping?” They requested I prepare a detailed report for Kennedy.

Before I even finished my report, Hoover found out about it. I received calls from agent friends telling me my life was in danger.

To protect myself, I went public. I wrote an article for The Nation magazine about how Hoover exaggerated the threat of the American Communist Party for his own political purposes. It was a national sensation. It now resides in the JFK Library in Boston.

Hoover responded by putting me under 24-hour surveillance. I could not obtain a job anywhere. Hoover continually roadblocked me.

Not too long after this, I met Corinne, my future wife. We decided to begin a new life together in Phoenix, Ariz., and I applied for admission to the Arizona bar. Hoover found out and wrote a letter to the admissions committee saying I shouldn’t be allowed to practice law because I couldn’t be trusted with confidential information. The members of the committee voted 9-0 to reject my application.

The only recourse I had was to appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. Ultimately, the court overruled the admissions committee, holding that my criticism of Hoover was speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Hoover’s retaliation against me was extremely unpleasant and had an adverse effect on my life. Despite this, I am very proud of my efforts to expose the detrimental consequences Hoover’s policies had on the FBI and its agents, with whom I was otherwise proud to be associated with.

This story is an edited excerpt from Jack Levine ’55’s book, A Chapter in the History of the FBI — S.A. Jack Levine vs. J. Edgar Hoover, which he self-published.