Mormons and the FBI – A Bleg

The Associated Press reported in the early 1980s that “The CIA does some of its most successful recruiting in predominantly LDS Utah.”[1]  According to this article, but also countless folktales and accounts in popular culture, the American national security complex has particularly recruited Mormons since the 1950s.  According to the Associated Press, security agencies had entirely pragmatic reasons for this: Mormons’ command of foreign languages usually learned while on the missionary service Mormon young men are expected to provide in their college years, made them appealing to agencies like the CIA and FBI.

But other groups interpreted the Mormon presence in national security agencies in different ways. Mormons took it as evidence that American society had embraced the Latter-day Saints and celebrated their value system as normative for American citizenship. As Gary Williams, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University said, offering his own explanation for the recruitment success national security agencies enjoyed on his campus, “Our Mormon culture has always been more supportive of the government than American culture as a whole” – a striking shift in rhetoric from nineteenth century Mormon separatism.[2]

On the other hand, by this point in the twentieth century – post-Watergate, post-Vietnam – Americans generally were skeptical of easy associations between the national security apparatus and patriotism, and Mormon recruitment took on a more sinister tone. In the crime novels of James Ellroy, for instance, the Mormon Church has erected a political machine that controls the state of Nevada, and the Mormons use the façade of religion to quietly engage in organized crime – money laundering, extortion, and occasionally more violent wrongdoing. Yet at the same time, their image of purity and patriotism allows them to penetrate high into American government.  Howard Hughes hires them because they embody that dichotomy, and can get away with murder while presenting a pristine image to the world.  J. Edgar Hoover does as well.  As one Mormon character muses, “His father was a big Mormon fat cat. Wayne Senior was jungled up all over the nut right. He did Klan ops for Mr. Hoover and Dwight Holly … He knew about the JFK hit. It was multi-faction, Cuban exiles, CIA, mob.”[3]  For Ellroy, Mormons represent all that is most disappointing about America: its seeming pretensions to virtue and righteousness that serve as a thin veneer over decay and corruption and conspiracy.

I’m interested in other sources that associate Mormons with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or with the national security complex more generally.  Comments welcome.

[1] Donna Anderson, “Mormon Missionaries Mistaken for CIA Agents Abroad,” Salt Lake Tribune, 1 October 1981.

[2] Anderson, “Mormon Missionaries Mistaken for CIA Agents Abroad.”

[3] James Ellroy, Blood’s a Rover (New York: Knopf, 2005) 16.

  • RaymondSwenson

    I disagree strongly about your assertion that LDS rates of military service are low. In my high priest group in Washington State, four of forty are retired career military, meaning at least twenty years service apiece. That is in addition to those who served just a few years, such as doctors, dentists and optometrists who received their professional education under Uncle Sam’s sponsorship. One of those has a son in the Air Force JAG Corps, where I served. One of my daughters-in-law has a brother who is an MD in the Air Force. One of my wife’s nephews is an Air Force explosive ordnance demolition tech. And there are others who have worked as civilans for the DOD, such as at Hill Air Force Base, one of the largest employers in Utah which maintains stealth bombers, F-22 and F-16 fighters, and the land-based ICBM force. LDS rates of service in and to the armed forces are much higher than among members of Congress.

    • Rick Haywood

      Raymond, I understand what you are saying. I am looking at it statistically. Utah is in the bottom 5 of states’ participation rates in the military. When I was bishop of a military ward and when I was the cadet commander of the BYU army ROTC, we occasionally were given the numbers for members in the army. The numbers were low in total, and the numbers within certain branches were abysmal. As an anecdotal for instance, I was in armored cavalry. In my regiment of 5000 I was the only active member and there were 3 other inactive members. Go outside the regimental area to the quartermaster battalion and that increased 5 fold. Why do members eschew the fighting branches?

      What you are saying is true for a specific population, a handful of wards are like that. Those around JBLM Lewis McChord in Washington, Hill AFB, Ft. Bragg, etc. Probably 50 wards out of 30,000. I wouldn’t feel comfortable extrapolating a statistical finding out of those wards. We are 15 million and I think you have to see the broader picture beyond your ward. In my opinion.