Athan G. Theoharis


Theoharis, Athan G. Abuse of Power: How Cold War Surveillance and Secrecy Policy Shaped the Response to 9/11. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2011.

Peake, Studies 56.1 (Mar. 2012), notes that this is the latest contribution to the author's "series of books, all critical of Bureau operations.... The thesis of Theoharis's work is that the [FBI] abused its powers [after 1936] and continues to do so today." This work "is carefully documented to support Theoharis's position, and while alternative explanations are possible, he does not provide them. Nevertheless, this book is deserving of scholarly attention."


Theoharis, Athan G. Chasing Spies: How the FBI Failed in Counterintelligence but Promoted the Politics of McCarthyism in the Cold War Years. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002.

For the first chapter of Chasing Spies see:

Zaid at says that Theoharis "offers an extraordinary amount of fascinating -- though often dry -- details of the FBI's counterintelligence efforts against the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.... [This] work reveals the FBI's crucial hidden role in generating a culture of suspicion and blacklists that helped fuel McCarthyism['s] beliefs." For Whitaker. I&NS 17.3, this work documents that "Hoover and the FBI transformed an investigation of Soviet espionage into a conservative anti-Communist witch hunt that missed most of the spies, but damaged American democracy."

Robarge, Studies 47.3, calls this "a useful, although at times tendentious, cautionary tale about how the FBI conducted counterintelligence against the Soviets from the 1930s through the 1950s." According to the author, "the FBI’s investigations of Soviet espionage in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were far more extensive and intrusive than we have previously known, yet few spies were caught and even fewer tried." However, Theoharis "tends to play down the scope and effect of Soviet espionage in America.... Although Theoharis has compiled a troubling account of FBI abuses, he overstates the extent to which the Bureau still operates in Hoover's shadow."

To Wannell, IJI&C 16.3, the author seems fixated "against the FBI's interest in or investigation of Communists." The FBI's history from 1924 to 1936 indicates that Theoharis's report that "FBI officials authorized wide-ranging investigations of Communists ... is, at a minimum, an overstatement.... Theoharis's intimate knowledge of certain FBI matters is impressive. But his assertions that the Bureau during the Cold War failed in counterintelligence and instead served to promote the politics of ... McCarthy lead to the conclusion that he perhaps has an agenda to be served."


Theoharis, Athan G. "A Creative and Aggressive FBI: The Victor Kravchenko Case." Intelligence and National Security 20, no. 2 (Jun. 2005): 321-331.

Victor Kravchenko defected from the Soviet Union in April 1944. His "case confirms that FBI officials had willingly employed intrusive investigative techniques..., and further had initiated aggressive non-criminal intelligence investigations."


Theoharis, Athan G. The FBI: An Annotated Bibliography and Research Guide. New York: Garland, 1994.

Rosswurm, I&NS 11.2, says that "Theoharis knows more about the history of the FBI than anyone else. This guide reflects this knowledge. It is a must for novice and expert alike."


Theoharis, Athan. The FBI and American Democracy: A Brief Critical History. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004.

Jeffreys-Jones, Chronicle of Higher Education (21 Jan. 2005), refers to the author as "the most authoritative critic of the FBI's civil-liberties malpractices." Theoharis argues "says that current scaremongering and unthinking support for the enhancement of FBI powers 'could, in the extreme, undermine both the spirit and the foundations of our cherished democracy'.... His is an excellent narrative of FBI excesses since 1908, but he blinkers his analysis of current security problems by disregarding the roles of the CIA and the National Security Agency."


Theoharis, Athan G. "The FBI's Stretching of Presidential Directives, 1936-1953." Political Science Quarterly 91 (Winter 1977): 649-673.


Theoharis, Athan G. "Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)." In Government Agencies, ed. Donald R. Whitnah, 214-219. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1983. [Petersen]


Theoharis, Athan G. J. Edgar Hoover, Sex, and Crime: An Historical Antidote. Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee, 1995.

Theoharis, Athan G. The Quest for Absolute Security: The Failed Relations Among U.S. Intelligence Agencies. Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee, 2007.

Keiser, Proceedings 134.3 (Mar. 2008), notes that the author believes "'absolute security' is an illusory quest." This work "is a most useful historical review." Noting the author's claim that "increased centralization will only lead to more abuses by the intelligence agencies," Peake, Studies 52.1 (Mar. 2008) and Intelligencer 16.1 (Spring 2008), finds that the book fails in its effort to make its point.

[CIA/Overviews/00s; FBI/00s/Gen; PostCW/00s/911Com/07]

Theoharis, Athan G. "Secrecy and Power: Unanticipated Problems in Researching FBI Files." Political Science Quarterly 119, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 271-290.


Theoharis, Athan G. Spying on Americans: Political Surveillance from Hoover to the Huston Plan. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978.

Theoharis, Athan G., ed. Beyond the Hiss Case: The FBI, Congress, and the Cold War. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978.

This is an earlier work by this long-time FBI/Hoover critic.


Theoharis, Athan, ed. The Central Intelligence Agency: Security under Scrutiny. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.

Peake, Studies 50.3 (Sep. 2006) and Intelligencer 15.2 (Fall-Winter 2006-2007), identifies this work as "a research guide to the Central Intelligence Agency from its origins in 1947 to the end of 2004." The reviewer notes that this book is "already out of date in terms of organization and key personnel assignments"; however, "it is the most current book available on the CIA.... There are no sources cited..., a peculiar omission considering it was written by scholars. Thus it must be viewed as tentative, and where a point of interest arises in its use, students should look to primary sources for validation."

[CIA/00s/Gen & CIA/Overviews]

Theoharis, Athan G., ed. A Culture of Secrecy: The Government Versus the People's Right To Know. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998.


Theoharis, Athan G., ed., with Tony G. Poveda, Richard Gid Powers, and Susan Rosenfeld. The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide - - From J. Edgar Hoover to the X-Files. New York: Oryx, 2000.

Jonkers, AFIO WIN 15, 16 Apr. 2000, recommends this "excellent," "informed," and "readable" overview.


Theoharis, Athan G., ed. From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1991.

Theoharis, Athan G., and John Stuart Cox. The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988. New York: Bantam, 1990. [pb]


Return to Tb-Thn