Peace Corps History: FBI Investigated Sargent Shriver for Links to Communists

shriverinternationalliving

Caption: Sargent Shriver participating in one of the first experiment in international living programs in 1934.

Here is an interesting piece of history that came out recently related to the founding director of the Peace Corps, about two FBI investigations of Sargent Shriver, one in 1968 when Shriver was under consideration for US ambassador to France, and another in 1972 when he joined McGovern’s ticket as the nominee for vice-president.

Remember when volunteers joined the Peace Corps in the 1960’s, every applicant was subject to an FBI investigation.  Now USA Today reports that the FBI also investigated Sargent Shriver on two occasions for alleged ties to communists but concluded that any communist connections were tenuous.

Experiment in International Living

Shriver had a life-changing experience in 1934 as a participant on one of the first Experiment in International Living programs. Two years later, he returned to serve as an Experiment group leader to Germany and Austria and later as a group leader to France. These experiences helped Shriver craft the founding principles of the Peace Corps. He ultimately invited Experiment President Gordon Boyce to help train the first Peace Corps volunteers to Gabon and Pakistan - the start of a deep decades-long partnership.

In 1968 when Shriver was under consideration for US ambassador to France, the FBI’s Albany office investigated Shriver and found that when Shriver had traveled with a youth group through the Experiment in International Living to Germany and Austria in 1934, the group had been led by progressive educator Carmelita Hinton and included her two children, William and Jean Hinton, whom the FBI had investigated for their sympathies with Chinese communists. The FBI investigated the 1934 trip, but did not pass along that information to the State Department. “Since investigation does not indicate any association between Shriver and those people and since the tour occurred 34 years ago when he was 18 years of age, the information is not being disseminated,” an FBI memo concluded.

Allegations of a Soviet agent on Shriver’s campaign payroll in 1972

Later in 1972 when Shriver ran for vice president under Democrat George McGovern, the FBI investigated an informant’s tip that a Soviet agent was on Shriver’s campaign payroll. The FBI concluded that David Karr, who had a “particularly close personal and business relationship” with Shriver, probably wasn’t a full-fledged KGB agent but likely provided information to the Russian spy service.

David Harold Karr, born David Katz (1918, Brooklyn, New York – 7 July 1979, Paris) was a controversial American journalist, businessman, and Communist who began writing at a relatively young age for the Communist Party USA publication, the Daily Worker. David Karr frequently boasted of having close ties with prominent U.S. senators and presidential candidates, and that he transmitted information between the Soviet and American governments on such issues as détente, trade, and strategic-arms negotiations. Karr, who was at that time living in Paris, was head of a Franco-American firm called Finatech. According to KGB files, Karr arranged meetings between Sen. Edward Kennedy and Soviet leaders. A KGB file describes Kennedy in 1978 trying to help a close friend, former Sen. John Tunney of California, get some business in the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, in the new atmosphere of openness, Soviet investigative journalist Albats published an article in Izvestia quoting documents from KGB archives that Karr was “a competent KGB source” who ‘‘submitted information to the KGB on the technical capabilities of the United States and other capitalist countries.” Karr died in 1979.

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Caption: Shriver meets with Lyndon Johnson in the oval office in 1964.

Interestingly enough the FBI investigated Shriver only after President Johnson began to consider Shriver for US ambassador to France in 1968. Shriver somehow never had a full FBI background check when President John F. Kennedy appointed him first director of the Peace Corps in 1961, or when President Lyndon Johnson tapped him to head his “War on Poverty” in 1964.

Of course, the FBI investigations of Shriver say more about the culture we lived in during the cold war than about Sargent Shriver or the Peace Corps. Many of us remember clearly the FBI background checks that the Peace Corps required of volunteers in the 1960s. Does the Peace Corps still do “background checks,” require three written letters of recommendation, or ask potential volunteers to take a Peace Corps entrance examination?

For the curious, the complete information in Shriver’s FBI file, recently released under the Freedom of Information Act following his death in January at age 95, is available on the FBI web site by following the link below.


References and Links:

USA Today. “FBI investigated Sargent Shriver’s links to communists” June 8, 2011

Wikipedia. “David Karr”

FBI Records on Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr

The Experiment in International Living. ” The Pioneer in International Education”