Marc Becker's Home Page


Find on
FBI in Latin 
The FBI in Latin America

The Project | Reviews | Documents | Writings | Research Guide

Marc Becker, The FBI in Latin America (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017; also available on and as an audio book). Read the introduction now!

Commonly the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is thought of as a domestic political police force inside the United States, whereas the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is responsible for intelligence gathering efforts outside of the United States, even as neither agency completely respects this division of responsibilities. During World War Two, however, through a little known or studied program called the Special Intelligence Service (SIS) Franklin D. Roosevelt placed the FBI in charge of political surveillance in Latin America. The original justification for this program was to combat German nazi influence in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Based on this justification, the FBI presence rapidly grew to hundreds of agents spread across Latin America.

The FBI’s mission did not stop in countries with a large German population or with geopolitical significant to the United States. The agency placed 45 agents, many of them undercover, in Ecuador, a small country that never was the target of German espionage networks that might justify such a dedication of resources. With the decline of the nazi threat by 1943, the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover shifted the entire intelligence apparatus to focus on his primary obsession with communism. Not only was there a disconnect between the justification for the FBI presence in Latin America (fascism) and the focus of their field reports (communism), an additional gap existed between the perceived threat of communism and the acknowledged danger that communism actually presented in Ecuador. As a result of this political surveillance, however, historians are left with a rich source of documentation of the history of the Latin American left during the 1940s.

| Marc Becker's Home Page | |