Even to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Muhammad Ali was "untouchable"

Even to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Muhammad Ali was “untouchable”

When notified of an attempt by the Treasury to arrest Ali on smuggling charges, FBI Director privately expressed doubts it would stick

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Edited by Beryl Lipton

An incident from Muhammad Ali’s Federal Bureau of Investigation file shows that no less that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover himself doubted the Bureau’s ability to get charges against Ali to stick.

In February of 1966, the Bureau’s domestic intelligence chief Bill Sullivan received a memo alerting him to a possible arrest of Ali by the Department of the Treasury for smuggling.

An anonymous source in Germany had informed the Treasury that while Ali was in the country for his fight against European Champion Karl Mildenberger, Ali had purchased $3,000 in jewelry which he hadn’t declared upon his return to the U.S.

(As an aside, Ali had won the fight in the 12th round, making “retaliation” a possible motive for the anonymous tattletale.)

The Treasury wanted the FBI’s help to find Ali, which the Bureau eagerly agreed to to do through their extensive network of informants within the Nation of Islam. The Bureau had been monitoring Ali for his comments on the Vietnam War and association with the NOI for years, and the prospect of actually arresting him for something that was actually illegal must have felt like a major payoff.

Hoover was less optimistic. In a margin note in his characteristic immaculate cursive script, Hoover wrote: “I doubt they will be able to arrest Clay. He is an ‘untouchable.’“

If Hoover couldn’t get you, then nobody could.

Hoover’s pessimism was prescient. The very next day Sullivan received a follow-up memo, which indicated that while the Bureau’s informants had managed to track down Ali …

Ali had literally managed to talk himself out of the charges.

The Treasury accepted Ali’s offer to settle out of court, and as for how Hoover felt about that, it’s still redacted some 50 years later.

Guess “I told you so” fits within the law enforcement exemptions. Read the relevant section of Ali’s file embedded below and the rest on the request page.


Image via Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0