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By Edward Price Bell

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With the outbreak of the First World War, there was widespread surveillance and persecution of citizens with German sympathies, anti-war views, and left-wing opinions. The privately organized but not-forprofit American Protective League reported to federal law enforcement agencies on the political views of citizens in local communities. Then, following the Bolshevik triumph in Russia in 1917, the communists became the new internal enemy. Under J. Edgar Hoover at the head of the Justice Department’s Alien Enemy Bureau, an illiberal chapter in the history of American surveillance began.

From a Catholic family, he grew up in County Armagh and went to a 37 OUP CORRECTED PROOF – FINAL, 31/12/16, SPi The Pr i vate Eye In vades our Pr i vacy illustration 2. James McParland (1843–1919), image from the 1890s. As a service to employers and on behalf of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, he organized the infiltration of American labour unions from the 1870s to the early years of the twentieth century. Presbyterian school, giving him the capacity to ‘pass’ both ways. He had the further professional attribute of being a ‘cold soak’— he could drink other men under the table while keeping his ears open and his wits about him.

Antiunion work was a prime source of income for the agency, and the early history of organized surveillance for this reason overlaps with the history of American labour. In a letter to the Glasgow Sentinel in 1869 Pinkerton expressed sympathy with labour unions. But this is misleading. The letter was a throwback to his Scottish radical days. Like other radicals, when he arrived in America he became a conservative in a very short space of time. He saw two things: universal franchise, meaning he could now uphold instead of challenging the establishment, and opportunity.

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