An FBI Life
By: Dr. Paul Kengor
America has lost a good man and dedicated servant. Edward S. Miller, a lifetime FBI man, has departed this country and this world, leaving behind a trail of fascinating tales and deeds — involving characters as diverse as J. Edgar Hoover, Presidents Nixon, Carter, and Reagan, the Communist Party USA, Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, and the Weather Underground — that merit remembrance.
Ed Miller was born on Veterans Day, November 11, 1923, in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He grew up in the smoky steel town of McKeesport along the Monongahela River. As a teen, he worked as a lifeguard at a large, sandy beach pool at historic Kennywood Park. Directly out of high school, he headed to the Pacific Theater, where he was a platoon sergeant in Okinawa.
Discharged from the Army in February 1946, after four years of war, Miller attended Grove City College (where I teach) in Grove City, Pennsylvania. He studied political science and law and earned his bachelor’s degree. An even greater achievement, he met his future wife, Pat.
Wasting no time finding his place and mission in the wider world after graduation, Miller joined J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI in November 1950 — and would never look back. He was assigned first to Los Angeles, then to San Francisco, Washington, Mobile, Honolulu, Chicago, and finally back to Washington, where in 1971 he rose to lead the Intelligence Division. By October 1973, Miller was named assistant to the director, placed in charge of all investigative operations. By the time he retired in 1974, the kid from the mill-town was credentialed as the 8th highest ranking person among 10,000 serving the FBI.
But those titles, impressive as they are, obscure the dramatic details of Miller’s everyday duties. Ed Miller spent many hours tracking radicals and communist subversives operating on American soil. Among them was the insidious Weather Underground, led by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn and others who today have found reincarnation as tenured professors and “Progressives for Obama.” Miller and his men worked hard trying to locate Ayers and Dohrn and friends as the domestic bombers fled law enforcement as literal “Most Wanted” fugitives. It sounds like exciting work, and it was. It was also dangerous.
In Chicago, in October 1969, the Weather Underground launched its brutal Days of Rage, a violent political rampage. The young revolutionaries clashed with over a thousand police. They left over 30 officers (whom they called “pigs”) injured and one city official paralyzed. Their organized riot had commenced on October 5, when the “flower children” dynamited the statue commemorating the Chicago police who had been killed in the 1886 Haymarket Riot. It was one of the ugliest days in Chicago history (which is saying something). Comrade Dohrn was anointed the commissar of the “Women’s Militia” for the wondrous event. Her beaming beau, Billy Ayers, stood proudly at her side.
Ed Miller’s work in Chicago was exciting but also perilous. It was not the most enviable assignment — and would ultimately create havoc in his life. Four years after his retirement, in 1978, Jimmy Carter’s Justice Department prosecuted Miller and other agents for authorizing alleged “questionable investigative techniques” in their attempts to find the Weather Underground terrorists. These were techniques the FBI had used for years. Miller’s counsel made that case in court. Carter’s Justice Department disagreed. It was a slap in the face after so many years of noble service. Even worse, Ayers and Dohrn did no jail time. “Guilty as hell, free as a bird!” Ayers later triumphantly exclaimed.
Miller was buoyed by a strong show of public support, including the presence of a huge number (over 1,000, by one account) of FBI agents who came to the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia in April 1978 to rally behind him during his arraignment. A joint resolution was introduced in Congress by Rep. Leo Zeferetti (D-NY) and Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R-Cal.) urging dismissal of all charges. Nonetheless, the Carter administration’s “justice” moved forward, and Miller and his good friends L. Patrick Gray III and Mark Felt — who we now know as Watergate’s “Deep Throat” — were convicted in November 1980.
It was grossly unfair. Mercifully, however, the same week that Miller was convicted his countrymen evicted Jimmy Carter from the White House. Ronald Reagan had been outraged by Miller’s treatment, and said so openly. Shortly after Reagan’s inauguration in January 1981, while Miller’s conviction was on appeal, the new president pardoned the FBI veteran, saying in a formal statement: “America was at war in 1972 and Miller followed procedures he believed essential to keep the FBI Director, the Attorney General, and the President of the United States advised of the activities of hostile foreign powers and their collaborators in this country.”
In his typical fashion, Reagan went further. He sent a personal letter to Miller on April 28, 1981, not even a full month after being struck by an assassin’s bullet, apologizing for the slowness of his pardon. “I’m sorry it took so long,” wrote the president, just out of the hospital, “but I couldn’t push bureaucracy into a higher speed.” Miller had thanked Reagan, but Reagan responded: “You owe me no thanks.”
I PERSONALLY FIRST MET Ed Miller only a few months ago, though I knew of him before then. He had contacted me in September 2012 after reading my book The Communist, which examined Frank Marshall Davis, Barack Obama’s communist mentor in Hawaii. Davis had left Chicago’s Communist Party USA circles for a new network of agitators in Honolulu. Having been stationed at both the Honolulu and Chicago offices of the FBI, Miller thus knew and worked with several of the figures I chronicled. He wrote to thank me for “sharing” Davis with the people of America. He also informed me how he had been rudely thrust out of lovely Honolulu and into ugly Chicago courtesy of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn and friends. In his letter, he remarked almost in passing that “Jimmy Carter persecuted me for trying too hard to capture Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.”
Ed and I met in March 2013, at his modest townhouse in Fairfax, Virginia. His mind was razor sharp, an encyclopedia of dates and names and figures, and he was a ball of energy. He told me about his lifetime of FBI work, showed me personal notes and signed books he received over the years from Richard Nixon, talked about Soviet espionage and its tentacles into America, about the Hawaii and Chicago offices, about the Weather Underground, about Watergate.
As to the latter, Ed Miller was not involved, but he certainly had valuable insight. He was a close friend, after all, of Mark Felt. Ed gave me a copy of a lengthy document he had written on Watergate and endeavored to get into the hands of Bob Woodward. This was something he badly wanted to pass along — one of the final things he wanted to do. He had sent it to Woodward in August 2011 but never heard back. I have a copy of the document, as does Miller’s family. From my reading, it contains no bombshell revelation, but it most definitely has unique information of clear value to any student or historian of Watergate, Mark Felt, J. Edgar Hoover, or generally this important period in the history of our government. (Mr. Woodward, are you listening?)
That said, among the most interesting things Ed Miller wanted people to know were his sentiments about the late, great, embattled, and controversial J. Edgar Hoover. What he told me isn’t the standard Hoover narrative we hear in Hollywood today. Quite the contrary:
“He was terrific!” Miller said, his eyes wide open, a big smile. “Absolutely brilliant. He was great. And he was sharp as could be.”
Miller saw J. Edgar Hoover as a model boss who wanted truth and integrity and “backed us totally and always.” He wanted reliable, accurate information from his men. Hoover told Miller and his colleagues: “There’s one thing to remember: You need to be entirely objective.” This was true for information collection and for the kind of men hired into the agency. Miller recalled an instance where Lyndon Johnson three times sent letters to Hoover demanding that Miller hire a certain individual from New Jersey. This was the typical LBJ political pressure. Miller didn’t agree with the hire. A frustrated LBJ called Hoover and asked, “Why do you keep turning down this guy?” Hoover answered: “Because my men don’t want him.”
When Miller was newly hired as acting director of the Intelligence Division, Hoover asked him to “go over there and remove the bad apples.” Hoover was a man of action, quick action. When he hadn’t heard back from Miller in three weeks, he called to follow up. Miller answered, “I haven’t decided yet.” Hoover was silent before saying only “okay.” Three weeks later, Hoover called again. Miller responded, “I’m still considering.” Hoover gave a short, “Hmmm.” Another three weeks passed. This time Miller told Hoover: “I’ve decided that all the bad apples are already gone.” Hoover replied: “Is that your decision?” Miller said “yes.” Hoover then finished, “Okay, thank you.”
Said Miller: “I gave him not what I thought he wanted but what was best for the FBI, and he appreciated that. He respected that.”
In fact, that was indeed what Hoover wanted: what was best for the FBI.
Miller had tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat as he related a final story. Stationed in Hawaii in 1967, he had been invited to speak about the FBI to Marines getting some much needed R&R from Vietnam. (Miller would throughout his life lecture on the FBI, and regularly lectured at the academy at Quantico as late as 2012.) He began by telling the men that the bureau and Marine Corps had much in common; in fact, he added, that very day happened to be the 43rd anniversary of Hoover’s start as director of the agency.
Miller was stunned when suddenly, at that simple acknowledgment of Hoover’s lengthy tenure, every man in the audience started applauding loudly and vigorously. It wasn’t “the usual kind of applause,” recalled Miller, “but firm cadence applause where you could hear every beat and they didn’t quit.”
“I was destroyed,” Miller said, “choked up by two or three hundred young warriors from all over the country whom I thought couldn’t have known much about Mr. Hoover, but they did. If only his critics could see this!” Miller promised the young men that if he got the chance he would personally inform Hoover of their appreciation.
He made good on that promise about four-and-a-half years later. Hoover had been taking quite a public beating in the press. Miller felt that Hoover was “really hurting,” and he shared the story just as he left the boss’s office. The boss heard every word, and didn’t respond. Six months later, J. Edgar Hoover was dead.
ASKED ABOUT THE RUMORS and sexual innuendo regarding Hoover, Miller insisted they were “absolutely false.” He said that Hoover and Clyde Tolson (his alleged “partner”) lived in separate places and that Hoover was a heterosexual who dated women, including glamorous actress Dorothy Lamour, whom Miller says Hoover nearly married: “She dumped him because he was married to his job, which he was…. Hey, he had one hell of an interesting job! And he was always very busy.”
Miller chalks up the rumors to Hoover’s political enemies, especially the left and far left — and communists in particular. That is hardly an unreasonable assertion. No one excelled at disinformation and blatantly vicious lies and character assassination quite like the Communist Party. Communists and liberals/“progressives” generally long despised Hoover and the FBI, whom they vigorously portrayed as McCarthyite reprobates and witch-hunters. CPUSA had good reason to hate the FBI. As Miller told me, the FBI’s work on “surreptitious entries” (aimed at Soviet agents/espionage) was “what killed Communist Party USA.”
It certainly helped. To this day, the left has never forgiven J. Edgar Hoover for his unflagging anti-communism. “He was very conservative,” said Miller of Hoover’s politics. “And the liberal politicians, especially Frank Church, really went after him. Going after him was a great way for them to get publicity.”
I cannot confirm all that Miller told me about Hoover (especially about the Tolson and sexual allegations), but his take on the left’s contempt and attacks on Hoover absolutely makes sense.
After a conversation that went way too long, I left for the snowy drive back to Grove City. Ed Miller gave me a parting gift: an American flag. That, too, absolutely makes sense. If there was one thing that Ed Miller loved more than the FBI and his family, it was America and that flag. He served it dutifully.
Ed Miller passed away on July 1, 2013, surrounded by Pat, his beloved wife of six decades, and his three children and their families. It was a life of integrity, well lived, fascinating and full — including full of faith for his family, country, and for God.
Ed Miller, FBI man, requiescat in pace.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism," and his latest release, "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."