They were assembled on public time, with public money, and thus belonged to the American people. Although “secret,” and apart from the normal filing system, their existence was known by scores of persons. It was suspected, at least, by anyone with an intimate knowledge of the government of the era.
These are the so-called secret files that J. Edgar Hoover kept on anyone with the power to do him favors, or do him ill, a huge swath of America’s power structure. All serious biographers of Hoover recognize the existence of the files, a sort of “second set of books” at the top of American law enforcement. The files were culled through and illegally destroyed, it appears, in the weeks after Hoover’s death by trusted associates, especially his life-long secretary, Helen Gandy.
Because the documents were sent to the shredder, we will never know precisely what was in them, but surely enough scandal to keep a tabloid paper filled for several years. The historical record indicates that the new, incoming Bureau director, L. Patrick Gray, asked about the alternative files but was outmaneuvered by FBI insiders. Did authorities really want to find those files? Is there more we can learn about, or learn from, perhaps the largest cache of secret police files ever assembled on our continent?