Lately, there has been debate regarding Federal investigation and actions towards domestic groups and individuals that are either front organizations or have ties to support foreign objectives. Countless articles and speeches from politicians have made it seem that this is a new phenomenon.
However, the history of nations and especially the United States is replete with foreign influence operations, both large and small, innocuous, and insidious in intent.
The first half of the 20th Century was a time of dynamic change in the political structure of many nations. The move from monarchy to national based democracy meant that the "hearts and minds" of the populace were more critical than before, and many national and sub-national organizations focused on shaping those opinions and beliefs. Sometimes these efforts were patently obvious and transparent, other times they seamlessly were integrated into the "background noise" of public discourse so as to be indistinguishable from organic domestic dialog and institutions.
American society was particularly vulnerable to influence operations due to the open nature of the society, and the structure of the educational system and corporate emotional entertainment programs commonly refered to as "News" exacerbated this vulnerability.
To counteract the influence of foreign governments and sub-national groups upon the American populace, the FBI took upon itself the fascinating role of canvassing political, cultural, religion, corporate emotional entertainment outlets (News), and other programs to discover which were "foreign-influenced or directed" and which were domestic controlled. In addition, the FBI surveyed American institutions and organizations that were in a position to help counter the foreign influence operations and maintain American based influence.
The program was most notable in the late 1930s and early 1940s when major powers were vying to shape American opinions, votes, and finance. The hearts and minds of the American population was another battlefield for the warring and soon to be warring powers. To get an idea of the depth of the program, we have posted the source documents of the Quarterly Summary of the FBI National Defense Investigations Nov 15, 1940. (Part 1) and Quarterly Summary of the FBI National Defense Investigations Nov 15, 1940. (Part 2 Charts) in the Evidence Locker section here.
The documents were investigated and written at the high point of influence operations of the early 20th Century was when a multitude of nations were seeking to alter the perceptions of the American people. Europe especially is fascinating in this period as Germany, Italy, France (Vichy), and Russia were on the same side during this period and were desperate to keep the Americans out of the war and stop Lend Lease from the British and Free French forces. Many Americans forget that in 1940, Russia (USSR), Germany (Nazi), Italy (Fascist), and after July France (Vichy) were on the same side, and all wanted Americans to stop supporting England and her puppet states commonly known as the "Commonwealth".
Only during July of 1941 did Russia and Germany suddenly become enemies and Russia, who had previously wanted Americans to remain neutral or to go to war against Japan, abruptly had a volte-face along with her influence groups in the US and spurred the US to support Britain in the fight against the Soviets former ally, Nazi Germany. The US as well, had to abruptly change direction in monitoring the Russian influence groups who in one day went from adversary to ally.
But from August of 1939 to July 1941, the four nations had one common goal: Manipulate the US population to keep them out of the war and stop supporting Britain. Many US groups found themselves working toward the common goals and the FBI had it's hands full.
Japan, contrary to modern misconceptions, had long been seen by many American sectors as an adversary. Some purely from a geopolitical rivalry standpoint, but others, from a domestic racial conflict. Since the 1900s, large American media conglomerates like the Hearst Empire, and Western papers such as the Sacramento Bee had focused on the Japanese as the next enemy of the US, and the US intelligence agencies such as the US Navy OSI and FBI were constantly investigating, monitoring, and recording Japanese activities in the US, to include ethnic Japanese born in the US. The relationship between Japan and black American civil rights groups was of particular focus for the FBI, as Japanese support for black organizations was seen as a national security threat. The concept of Pan Asianism during the 1900s through the 1930s extended to the "African Race" for many Japanese and their supporters, and many black organizations in the US sought Japanese support against the then oppressive governmental policies, especially those enacted by Woodrow Wilson, who also vetoed the "equal rights for all races and religion" clauses introduced by the Japanese at the treaty of Versailles.
Finally, the FBI anticipated eventual American involvement in the global conflict in it's November 1940 report. The reorganization of the Bureau during wartime in order to counter, arrest, and dismantle the French, Italian, Russian, German, and Japanese influence operations and their domestic supporters and allies is laid out in detail in these documents. The agency would see a larger role than that envisioned in the 1940 document as Americans involvement in the war would see a more total mobilization than previously anticipated, but it also saw an information campaign at all levels by the US government that successfully mobilized the American people to isolate and reject the foreign influence by the then enemies of Italy, Germany, Japan, and France. However, Russia, Britain, and later France (Free) were permitted much leeway during the war, to the detriment of America after it's conclusion especially in the case of Russia.
Today, nothing has changed. A variety of foreign managed, manipulated, or supporting organizations exist within the US and are active in attempting to shape American hearts, minds, and spending habits to the benefit of their overseas agendas, rather than organic US interests and goals.
SummaryThe question is; does the US have as organized and focused a program to identify, catalog, and report them as the FBI did in 1940?