News & Politics

FBI: Ben Bradlee Did Not Have “Any Potential as a Double Agent”

Bradlee in 2010. Photograph by Flickr user Miguel Ariel Contreras Drake-McLaughlin.

The FBI decided against recruiting Ben Bradlee as a double agent in 1961 “because of certain aspects of subject’s background,” according to the bureau’s files on the legendary Washington Post editor released Tuesday. Bradlee’s FBI file, made public seven months after his death, show that while he was never officially dinged for associating with subversive organizations or materials, his relationship with the FBI was frosty for decades.

“He has been proven to be a colossal liar,” FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover scribbled on a 1965 agency memorandum about Bradlee’s appointment as the Post’s deputy managing editor. Hoover was apparently displeased with a profile Bradlee had commissioned as Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief and, after the story ran, wrote that he would “trust him as much as I would trust a rattlesnake.”

While still with Newsweek, Bradlee was considered for inclusion in the FBI’s Development of Selected Contacts program, which eyed him as a potential source within the Washington Post Company. (The program was ended in 1974.) It wasn’t the first time the FBI snoped around Bradlee, though. The bureau checked him out in 1951 when he applied for a job with Voice of America, and had extensive documentation about his Navy service and friendship with the Kennedy family.

Still, Bradlee didn’t come away with an entirely clean record. The FBI took note of his association with known “liberal” Walter Lippman and his attempts to break up a local newspaper monopoly in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Bradlee and the FBI tried to patch things up after Hoover’s death, though. A 1973 memo about a potential meeting between Bradlee and then-Director Clarence Kelley quotes the Post editor as saying “I think we are paranoid about you and the FBI is paranoid about us.”

Read Bradlee’s full FBI File:

Benjamin Bradlee FBI File

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.