The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the investigative branch of the United States Department of Justice, was established by Attorney-General Charles J. Bonaparte (1851-1921) in 1908. The original function of the FBI was the investigation of violations of federal law. However, it also assists the police and other criminal investigation agencies in the United States.
In 1924 John Edgar Hoover was appointed director of the FBI. Under Hoover's leadership, the FBI also became involved in counter-intelligence activities. This included the collection of information on those with radical political beliefs. For example, the FBI secretly supplied information to Joseph McCarthy and members of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
In 1961 William Sullivan was appointed assistant director of the FBI's Intelligence Division. Sullivan gradually moved up the hierarchy and eventually became the FBI's third-ranking official behind J. Edgar Hoover, the director, and Clyde A. Tolson. Sullivan was placed in charge of FBI's Division Five. This involved smearing leaders of left-wing organizations.
Sullivan was a strong opponent of the leadership of Martin Luther King. In January, 1964, Sullivan sent a memo to Hoover: "It should be clear to all of us that King must, at some propitious point in the future, be revealed to the people of this country and to his Negro followers as being what he actually is - a fraud, demagogue and scoundrel. When the true facts concerning his activities are presented, such should be enough, if handled properly, to take him off his pedestal and to reduce him completely in influence." Sullivan's suggested replacement for King was Samuel Pierce, a conservative lawyer who was later to serve as Secretary of Housing under President Ronald Reagan.
William Sullivan disagreed with J. Edgar Hoover about the threat to national security posed by the American Communist Party and felt that the FBI was wasting too much money investigating this group. On 28th August, 1971, Sullivan sent Hoover a long letter pointing out their differences. Sullivan also suggested that Hoover should consider retirement. Hoover refused and it was Sullivan who had to leave the organization.
In 1975, Frank Church became the chairman of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. This committee investigated alleged abuses of power by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Intelligence.
The committee looked at the case of Fred Hampton and discovered that William O'Neal, Hampton's bodyguard, was a FBI agent-provocateur who, days before the raid, had delivered an apartment floor-plan to the Bureau with an "X" marking Hampton's bed. Ballistic evidence showed that most bullets during the raid were aimed at Hampton's bedroom.
Church's committee also discovered that the CIA and FBI had sent anonymous letters attacking the political beliefs of targets in order to induce their employers to fire them. Similar letters were sent to spouses in an effort to destroy marriages. The committee also documented criminal break-ins, the theft of membership lists and misinformation campaigns aimed at provoking violent attacks against targeted individuals.
One of those people targeted was Martin Luther King. The FBI mailed King a tape recording made from microphones hidden in hotel rooms. The tape was accompanied by a note suggesting that the recording would be released to the public unless King committed suicide.
The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover collected information on all America's leading politicians. Known as Hoover's secret files, this material was used to influence their actions. It was later claimed that Hoover used this incriminating material to make sure that the eight presidents that he served under, would be too frightened to sack him as director of the FBI. This strategy worked and Hoover was still in office when he died, aged seventy-seven, on 2nd May, 1972. Clyde Tolson arranged for the destruction of all Hoover's private files.
In its final report, issued in April 1976, the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities concluded: Domestic intelligence activity has threatened and undermined the Constitutional rights of Americans to free speech, association and privacy. It has done so primarily because the Constitutional system for checking abuse of power has not been applied.
William Sullivan was shot dead near his home in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, on 9th November, 1977. An inquest decided that he had been shot accidentally by fellow hunter, Robert Daniels, who was fined $500 and lost his hunting license for 10 years.
Sullivan had been scheduled to testify before the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Sullivan was one of six top FBI officials who died in a six month period in 1977. Others who were due to appear before the committee who died included Louis Nicholas, special assistant to J. Edgar Hoover and his liaison with the Warren Commission; Alan H. Belmont, special assistant to Hoover; James Cadigan, document expert with access to documents that related to death of John F. Kennedy; J. M. English, former head of FBI Forensic Sciences Laboratory where Oswald's rifle and pistol were tested; Donald Kaylor, FBI fingerprint chemist who examined prints found at the assassination scene.