How powerful are national security bureaucrats? In the United States, they seem to be more than mere administrators, while remaining subordinate to elected politicians. However, despite a rich literature in American political development on bureaucratic autonomy across a variety of policy areas, national security remains undertheorized. Although the origins and evolution of the national security bureaucracy have received substantial scholarly attention, the individuals within this bureaucracy have not. In this article, I examine a case study of how one of these individuals bluntly ran up against the limits of his power. After the Second World War, J. Edgar Hoover's plans for a “World-Wide Intelligence Service” were swiftly shot down by the Truman administration, which adopted a sharp distinction between domestic and global intelligence instead. I pin this abject defeat on three interrelated factors: the resistance of President Truman, the array of bureaucratic competitors emerging from the Second World War, and deep aversion among key decision makers to the prospect of an “American gestapo.” While tracing this historical narrative, I also challenge accounts of Hoover as a near-omnipotent Washington operator, question the extent to which war empowers national security bureaucrats, and foreground the role of analogies in shaping the national security state.