During the Vietnam War, FBI used the press as a cover to “avoid embarrassment” while surveilling protests

Files on Howard Zinn show the Bureau hiring a freelance photographer to capture Selective Service protest on Boston Common

Written by JPat Brown
Edited by Beryl Lipton

A memo from Howard Zinn’s FBI file shows how the Bureau relied on third-party contractors and press coverage to avoid scrutiny of its surveillance of Vietnam protestors.

Near the end of the first section of Zinn’s file, released after a FOIA request by Chris Caesar, is an April 1968 memo from the FBI’s Boston office regarding a coordinated nationwide protest against the draft.

Locally, the New England Resistance was planning a demonstration on the Boston Common with an estimated 10,000 people to attend - including Professor Zinn and a relatively youthful Noam Chomsky.

To gather the “best possible evidence” regarding anti-draft rallies, the Boston office was requesting funds to hire the independent photographer ██████.

The Boston office had used ██████’s equipment and services before, they’d been quite satisfied …

and, all things considered, ██████ worked pretty cheap.

Most importantly, because this would all take place in a public space and draw considerable press attention, there was no chance of any “possible embarrassment” to the Bureau.

With all that going for it, the memo suggested the Bureau pull the trigger ASAP.

While the FBI’s response isn’t included in the file, it’s hard to believe they could have passed up on this valuable opportunity to capture an act of civil disobedience. Read the file embedded below or on the request page.


Image via Good Free Photos