In the 1940s, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation published a guide to investigative strategies, which included advice on impersonating police officers and porn stars.

A recently declassified trove of Federal Bureau of Investigation documents includes a 70-year-old guide, from 1947, to investigatory techniques, provided to all field agents. On top of suggesting a number of troubling methods of covertly surveiling targets, obtaining confessions and training informants, the files are riddled with racism of an extremely casual kind.

One eerie means of photographing suspects without their knowledge suggested was impersonating a “child photographer” and calling upon the target’s home, offering to snap their offspring for free, and “actually obtaining photographs” of them “without them being aware of this action.”

Given in the 21st century calling unannounced upon an individual’s private residence and asking to take photos of their children could well result in assault by the homeowner and arrest by law enforcement, it’s likely this technique is no longer in contemporary operation.

However, perhaps the most salacious strategy was the apparently tried and trusted method of becoming a porn star.

In an investigation of “interstate transportation of obscene material” (pornography), an agent was apparently able to infiltrate a blue group by “producing and merchandizing [their] obscene products” — becoming a salesman of the group’s films. Eventually, the agent was invited to “participate in the production of various obscene pictures.”

Other impersonation strategies mooted were decidedly less saucy — for instance, pretending to be a target’s college buddy.

“In one case it was necessary to maintain 24-hour surveillance on a subject, who lived with his father — who operated a rooming house near Harvard University, making it impossible to gain access to the subject’s room,” the report notes.

To circumvent this issue, an agent dressed as a college freshman, and equipped with the necessary books, registered at Harvard. The agent “became acquainted with the subject and they became quite good friends” — and when the subject left every morning for classes, their personal belongings “were readily available” for the agent to rifle through, meaning “all necessary information was obtained.”

Offensive Terminology and ‘Dirty Tricks’

Alternatively, agents could impersonate plainclothes policemen — and accuse targets of crimes they didn’t commit.

“The following method was used to gain access to an apartment. A n***o was stopped by agents leaving his home, on the pretext the agents were plain clothesmen of the Chicago Police Department. She was told a woman fitting her description was known to be stealing from apartments and it was desired her keys were examined,” the guide states.

The keys were procured and taken to a nearby car, where “an impression was obtained” — the agents then returned, said it was unfortunate case of mistaken identity, and “were sorry to have bothered her.”

While the use of racist terminology offends 21st century sensibilities, the suggested techniques are positively trifling when compared with the strategies employed under COINTELPRO, an FBI operation that targeted groups and individuals Bureau Director Edgar J. Hoover deemed subversive between 1956 and 1971, including civil rights activists and the Black Power movement.

Agents infiltrated groups and used “dirty tricks” to undermine movements, planted false media stories and published bogus leaflets in the name of targeted groups, forged letters, set up pseudo-groups and bullied employers, landlords, school officials and others into causing trouble for activists.

The FBI also abused the legal system to harass dissidents, with law enforcement officers giving perjured testimony and presenting fabricated evidence as a pretext for false arrests and wrongful imprisonment.

The Bureau also conducted illegal break-ins in order to search dissident homes and commit vandalism, assaults, beatings and assassinations. Over the course of many FBI-sponsored raids, police ended up killing members of the Black Panther Party, most notably Chicago Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton December 4, 1969.

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