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FBI investigated LDS President Hinckley to see if he was a spy

Published October 20, 2008 2:06 am

FBI file: He was a 'loyal American'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Four decades before he became president of the LDS Church, the U.S. government investigated whether Gordon B. Hinckley was a foreign spy.

The answer appears to be no, according to an FBI file released last week. The file shows that in 1951 the FBI conducted a background check on Hinckley in anticipation of him receiving a government job.

The job would have been with Voice of America, a U.S. State Department-run radio network still broadcasting today. For much of the Cold War, federal law prohibited foreign agents from working at the network.

In the summer of 1951, FBI agents from Salt Lake City interviewed church leaders and verified the 41-year-old Hinckley's biographical facts and his academic record. (The FBI noted Hinckley's grades at the University of Utah were "above average.")

Agents in Hollywood, Calif. and Chicago spoke with members of a broadcasters association who knew Hinckley from his work with the radio arm of the LDS Church. G-men in Colorado interviewed his bosses from his days working for a railroad there.

The FBI also conducted a cursory check on Hinckley's siblings, documents show, and checked whether Hinckley had an arrest record. The FBI did not find one.

No one offered any disparaging remarks on Hinckley, who served as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from 1995 to his death earlier this year at age 97. Throughout the file, former supervisors and acquaintances referred to Hinckley as a hard worker and a "loyal American."

There's also one letter from Hinckley to the State Department, in which Hinckley explained why he was missing an employment history from 1932 to 1935.

The first year was spent working for his brother at a Salt Lake City gymnasium, Hinckley wrote. Then in 1933, Hinckley went to England on a mission for the church.

"I received no monetary compensation for the two years spent in this effort," Hinckley explained.

Matthew Armstrong, a public diplomacy consultant who has studied American propaganda, said anyone applying for Voice of America was scrutinized in those days. Only people applying to work in the atomic weapons program received a more-thorough background check, Armstrong said.

"There's just great concern the State Department folks that were going to be involved in [Voice of America] were going to be sympathetic to the Communists," Armstrong explained.

The documents do not specify whether Hinckley applied to Voice of America or was recruited. There's no evidence he took or received the job.

There's no mention of the network in the biographical information on Hinckley published by the LDS church, nor is it discussed in his 1996 biography, Go Forward With Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley.

According to that book, Hinckley took over day-to-day operations of the church's missionary department shortly after the April 1951 installation of LDS Church President David O. McKay.

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