One of the reasons I sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI for any and all files they had on the late U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye was because his career in national politics started in 1959, when then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was at his height of calcified power. Hoover, who ruled over the Bureau from its 1935 creation to his death in 1972, was a hysterical anti-communist. To Hoover, anything and anyone to the left of John Wayne and Red Skelton was in league with Moscow.
Hoover was also power-mad, and compiled massive dossiers on each and every member of Congress. His agents dutifully collected all manner of dirt, gossip, rumors and allegations–many of them salacious–and filed them away for use should anyone on the Hill even hint at cutting the Bureau’s budget or calling for his retirement.
Enter Daniel Kenneth Inouye. In 1959, he got himself elected as Hawaii’s first true member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Immediately thereafter, Hoover’s agents began sifting through Inouye’s 34 years, looking for anything they could label red. What they found was meager and even silly, but they still recorded it in the files the FBI released on Sept. 16. Just two days after Inouye’s election, the files show, the FBI began compiling dirt on him.
“Reliable sources in Honolulu reflect that Inouye has often been endorsed by the International Longshoreman’s and Warehouseman’s Union (ILWU) since 1950 in his political efforts,” FBI agent Milton A. Jones wrote in a July 31, 1959 memo to Hoover adviser and confidant Cartha DeLoach. “He was endorsed by ILWU in his campaign for election to the House of Representatives.”
The ILWU was an old target of the FBI, which considered the union to be communist. In 1951, FBI agents even arrested Jack Hall, ILWU’s Hawaii regional director, along with six others on charges of violating the Smith Act. According to the FBI, Hall had advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government.
It was nonsense, but that didn’t much help Hall, who was soon convicted. It took him and his fellow defendants years to get the convictions overturned on appeal. But at the time of the arrest, ILWU officials say today on their website, the FBI had hoped to squeeze Hall in an attempt to break the union:
“Federal agents tried to get Hall to make a deal: if he would lead a revolt to take the Hawaii membership out of the International Union, they would arrange to have his indictment suppressed. He refused, and was convicted along with the other defendants after a trial that always focused on their political beliefs-not on their actions. Union members greeted the June 1953 ‘guilty’ verdict with an all-Islands walkout.The United States Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his verdict in 1958, in time for Hall to help the ILWU close out its successful campaign for statehood for Hawaii-and to celebrate a victorious sugar strike which for the first time saw the employers indicate their acceptance of the ILWU as the chosen representative of the Islands’ sugar workers.”
In a later, Aug. 12, 1959 FBI memo, Bureau agents reported more ties between the ILWU and Inouye:
“The name of INOUYE appeared on a list of persons receiving the ‘Honolulu Record‘ issue of February 9, 1956. It was indicated that his subscription had expired on November 10, 1955.”
The Honolulu Record, for those not steeped in the history of now obscure left-wing Hawaii publications, was a muckracking paper published in postwar Hawaii by the Nisei labor activist Koji Ariyoshi. The paper was left-wing and pro-labor, but the circulation never exceeded 5,000 (though it was reportedly at least somewhat influential) and it finally went out of business in 1958.
Of course, Hoover’s FBI considered it part of the supposed global communist menace, and classified it as such in the Aug. 12, 1959 memo on Inouye:
“This newspaper, which ceased publication July 3, 1958, was described as the journalistic mouthpiece of the Communist Party in the Territory of Hawaii and followed the Communist Party line, and following 1955 took a much less militant viewpoint.”
And though the FBI did note in the memo that “Sources have reported that mere receipt of this newspaper is of no security significance,” they still felt the need to add it to Inouye’s permanent file within the Bureau–a file that would, over the next 40-plus years, grow to include many hundreds of pages.
Click here to read the FBI’s files on Inouye.
Click here to read my previous story on what happened when Inouye worried aloud about FBI wiretaps to a Hilo newspaper editor.
Click here to read about what the FBI did when in 1989 an anonymous caller alleged that Inouye had taken ‘payoffs’ from Matson Navigation Co.
2010 photo of Senator Inouye: Lance Cpl. Reece E. Lodder, USMC/Wikimedia Commons