Author's Journey to John Lennon's FBI File Book Recounts Struggle to Release Federal Grip on Records <http://www.apbnews.com/media/gfiles/lennon/lennon0422_01.html> See the files here --> <http://www.apbnews.com/media/gfiles/lennon/index.html> April 21, 2000 By Peter Duffy NEW YORK (APBnews.com) -- The U.S. government has always had a thing for John Lennon. After he moved to the United States in the fall of 1971, the FBI began monitoring Lennon's contacts with left-wing individuals and organizations. Then the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), at the behest of high-ranking officials in the Nixon White House who had access to the FBI's intelligence, spent 3 years trying, unsuccessfully, to deport the ex-Beatle. Even after Lennon's death in 1980, the government steadfastly refused to release all but a small portion of the 281 pages of documents that it had collected on him, arguing that distributing materials on a dead rock star would endanger national security and compromise confidential informants. Finally, in 1997, the bureau settled a 14-year lawsuit with historian Jon Wiener. It agreed to make public all but 10 of the remaining documents. And earlier this year a federal judge ordered the FBI to allow Wiener access to those, which are believed to have been provided to the FBI by the British intelligence agency MI5 detailing Lennon's financial assistance to, among others, the Irish Republican Army. Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, has denied the charge. No legitimate reasons stated Wiener's long and winding road is recounted in his book, Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files (University of California Press, $17.95). The work, which reproduces and annotates 100 of the files, argues -- as did Wiener's American Civil Liberties Union lawyers throughout a litigation that included an appearance before the U.S. Supreme Courtthat the FBI had no legitimate law enforcement purpose in investigating the musician. "There is nothing in the Lennon FBI file about crimes that Lennon was committing or was planning to commit," Wiener said. "It is all about political activism." FBI spokesman Paul Bresson would not comment on Wiener's book or its thesis. Ono, who had no role in the book's publication, also had no comment, said Elliot Mintz, her spokesman. Wiener said he regularly updated Ono on the progress of the lawsuit. Lennon, a staunch critic of the Nixon administration and of the Vietnam war, first walked into the FBI's sights Dec. 10, 1971. He appeared at an Ann Arbor, Mich., concert for John Sinclair, a political activist who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling two marijuana joints to an undercover officer. Jerry Rubin, William Kunstler, Bobby Seale and other radicals delivered speeches. Lennon sang a song urging the release of Sinclair: "It ain't fair, John Sinclair/In the stir for breathing air." The lyric transcription comes courtesy of the FBI. Fears of a concert tour During the following months, the FBI kept close tabs on Lennon and his leftist friends as they started organizing what they hoped would be a national concert tour bringing together rock music and anti-war political activism. This information made its way to Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who was then chair of the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In February 1972, Thurmond sent a memo to Attorney General John Mitchell and Nixon aide William Timmons, outlining the concert-tour idea. Lennon's popularity, the memo speculated, would result in the financial success of the endeavor, which would "inevitably lead" to "a clash between a controlled mob organized by this group and law enforcement officials in San Diego," the location of that summer's Republican National Convention. The memo, first printed in Rolling Stone magazine in 1975, suggested that Lennon's visa be revoked as "a strategy counter-measure." A month later the INS commenced deportation hearings against Lennon, arguing that a 1968 marijuana possession conviction in Great Britain warranted his immediate expulsion from the country. Ex-Beatle knew he was being followed As the case was being litigated, the FBI continued to closely watch the ex-Beatle. J. Edgar Hoover, in an April 10, 1972, memo, notes that Lennon and Ono "might be preparing for lengthy delaying tactics to avert their deportation" and thus could still "engage in activities in U.S. leading to disruption of Republication National Convention." Hoover ordered that the New York office "initiate discreet efforts to locate subject and remain aware of his activities and movements." Apparently they weren't so discreet. Lennon's immigration attorney, Leon Wildes, said his client was fully aware of the FBI's snooping. "John was annoyed that they were following him and making it a point that he know they were following him," he remembered. "They would be across the street fixing a bike and they would take out cameras and fool around with them. They came to fix his phone when there was nothing wrong with his phone. "He used to answer the phone in a high-pitched feminine-sounding voice, and I would say, 'OK, John, it's Leon.' He didn't want to talk on the phone." Planning a sting? On April 25, 1972, Hoover again showed his personal interest in Lennon in a letter to President Nixon's powerful chief of staff (and Watergate co-conspirator) H.R. Haldeman, updating the White House on Lennon's deportation status. Wiener argues that the letter provides "crucial evidence" that the FBI's interest in Lennon was purely political. Wiener also charges that since the FBI could find no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it was prepared to set the singer up for a bust. He points to a July 27, 1972, memo that reads: "Local INS has very loose case in NY for deporting subject ... if LENNON were to be arrested ... he would become more likely to be immediately deportable." The FBI describes Lennon "as reportedly a heavy user of narcotics known as downers." But Lennon's file also includes some patently wacky items. Case in point: a top-secret report on a talking parrot. In the course of a March 5, 1972, memo, an FBI informer describes how someone named "Linda" trained a parrot to say "'right on' whenever the conversation gets rousing." A friend of Linda's was attempting to get the parrot to say "'eat [expletive]' whenever he argues with anyone but the bird now says it to him whenever he sees him." Lennon himself is barely mentioned. A frustrated bureauone memo sadly points out that Lennon wasn't among the 1,200 people arrested during the national political conventionsfinally gave up its surveillance Dec. 8, 1972. "In view of subject's inactivity in Revolutionary Activities and his seeming rejection by NY Radicals captioned case is being closed in the NY Division." Concert tour didn't happen anyway In the end, the concert tour that so ticked off powerful government officials never happened. And long after Nixon had resigned and Hoover had died, Lennon was allowed to stay in the country. The U.S. Court of Appeals barred the deportation order in October 1975. In the ruling, the court voided Lennon's drug conviction because of differences in U.S. and British law regarding guilty intent. It also blasted the Nixon administration for trying to punish an ideological foe. Judge Irving R. Kaufman praised Lennon's efforts to remain in the country as "testimony to his faith in the American dream." Wiener says the FBI's behavior in fighting the file's release was contrary to American ideals of justice. He estimates that the government spent close to $400,000 waging the court battles. "I was astounded that the FBI had gone to the Supreme Court to keep this information secret," he said. "Some of the information was so trivial and indeed ludicrous. It was just a waste of resources." ---- Peter Duffy is an APBnews.com correspondent.
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