Subjects Matter: FBI Files
For every $50 raised, we’ll write up a file we already have, as well as request one we don’t have yet. If there’s a write-up or request you really want us to see, let us know at email@example.com.
Backed by Phil Mocek, Chris Meller, Linda Tolbert, Courtney Selby, and 10 others.
- Phil Mocek
- Chris Meller
- Linda Tolbert
- Courtney Selby
- Patrick Mannion
- Samuel Lichtenstein
- 8 anonymous backers
$1,850.00 raised out of $5,000.00.
Academics / Activists / Artists / Business Figures / Comedians / Events Groups / Film and Television / Government Officials / Journalists / Miscellaneous / Musicians / Politicians / Religious Figures / Scientists / Sports Figures / Writers
Burt Shavitz (Founder of Burt’s Bees)
Winter Hill Gang (Notorious Boston-based criminal organization)
Film and Television
Efram Zimbalist (Star of ABC’s The FBI)
William F. Buckley (CIA Station Chief in Lebanon)
C. Everett Koop (Flamboyant Surgeon General during the Reagan Presidency)
Danny Casolaro 1
Irving Adler (Serviceman who shared name with prominent activist)
Stig Bergling (Swedish Soviet Spy)
Vincent Bugliosi (Attorney who prosecuted Charles Manson)
Fred Lee Crisman (Figure at the center of many 20th century conspiracies)
Lady Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Philanthropist and “prolific instigator”)
John Hinckley Sr. (Father of Reagan shooter)
Edward Lee Howard (CIA defector)
Loyd Jowers (Found culpable for Martin Luther King Jr. assassination)
Jordan MacTaggart (American anarchist who died fighting ISIS in Syria)
Hunter Moore (Founder of revenge porn site IsAnyoneUp)
Yuri Nosenko (Soviet Defector)
Barney Rosset (Avant-garde book publisher)
Andrew Carter Thornton II (Cocaine cowboy)
Samuel Dickstein (Alleged Soviet spy)
Vo Nguyen Giap (General known as the “Red Napoleon” of Vietnam)
Bess Myerson (First Jewish Miss America and New York commissioner)
FBI file shows just how easy it was for governments to listen in each other’s phone calls in the ‘50s
A heavily redacted section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s file on Technical Security Surveys shows just how easy it was for embassies to tap government phones in the mid-’50s. After discovering that the French were listening in on the White House, the FBI to uncovered dozens of phone lines belonging to the governments of American allies that were vulnerable to Communist governments. While securing these lines, a phone tap on the Soviet United Nations delegation had to be pulled - leaving the Bureau with no choice but to go through the Italian embassy.
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.
A recent FBI FOIA release prompted by the author’s lawsuit shows that in early 1985, L. Ron Hubbard’s son Ronald DeWolf wrote the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division a letter detailing a number of accusations - including Scientology’s alleged, and unsubstantiated, KGB connection, and that his father had once asked him to steal a hydrogen bomb.
A recent FOIA release shows the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Director’s Office responded to FOIA requests for known files on deceased FBI officials by presenting options that seemingly included a law enforcement investigation/proceeding against the requesters, with one email calling the requests “SUSPICIOUS.”
The interagency CACTUS program served as the conduit between CIA’s Operation CHAOS and FBI’s COINTELPRO
A little known but extremely important part of the history of domestic surveillance by intelligence agencies is the CACTUS program. CACTUS was a highly classified channel used by agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to transmit information about “the New Left, Black Militants and related matters.” This channel was never disclosed in the Church Committee reports, even when the reports discuss information that was transmitted through CACTUS.
FBI leadership claimed Bureau was “almost powerless” against KKK, despite making up one-fifth of its membership
In testimony before the Church Committee, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Deputy Director acknowledged that the Bureau at one point made up as much as one-fifth of the Klu Klux Klan’s total membership - but were still powerless to curtail the KKK’s violence. His testimony also acknowledged police participation in Klan violence, and that the Bureau had three times as many “ghetto informants” as they did those targeting white supremacist domestic terrorists.
Evidence compiled from Federal Bureau of Investigation files, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s notes, and statements from Deep Throat, along with Congressional testimony and the files of Senate investigators, all implicate journalist Jack Anderson as having helped set up Watergate - or at least having foreknowledge of it and benefiting from it.
After nearly half a century as one of the most notorious criminal masterminds in the popular imagination, Charles Manson, 83, passed away last month in a Kern County hospital bed. On Friday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released the first part of its files on the famed cult leader, which focuses primarily on the confusion following the August 1969 murders that made him famous.
As part of an ongoing series on MuckRock staff’s infatuation with figures from the Federal Bureau of Investigation file project, Caitlin Russell lists five reasons why Bureau surveillance records shows there’s room for just one Marx in her life. Well, two.
Shortly before he was set to testify before Congress, Soviet defector Sergei Kourdakov’s “accidentally” committed suicide with a gun the Central Intelligence Agency allegedly told him to illegally get - and the Federal Bureau of Investigation refused to investigate.
Sergei Kourdakov’s story is controversial, unusual, and utterly unforgettable. From when the Soviet defector swam from a Russian trawler to Canada until his supposed accidental suicide with a gun a Central Intelligence Agency officer allegedly told him to illegally get shortly before he would testify before Congress, his tale is straight out of a pulp fiction spy thriller - with an evangelical twist complete with bible smugglers who may have had CIA ties of their own.
Bayard Rustin was being investigated by the FBI while, unbeknownst to the Bureau, he was working for the CIA
Bayard Rustin was many things: He was a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, an advocate for Soviet Jewry, and, “a convicted homosexual,” according to his Federal Bureau of Investigation file. Despite being what many would consider a textbook lefty, Rustin also moonlighted for the Central Intelligence Agency. While that might seem like an irreconcilable contradiction for a man who sat in prison for two years because he refused to serve in World War II, but contradictions aren’t there to be reconciled, they’re there to confound.
J. Edgar Hoover once called the Bill of Rights “literature favorable to Russia and in opposition to the U.S. foreign policy.”
A recently released Federal Bureau of Investigation file shows that then-director J. Edgar Hoover personally wrote to the head of the Internal Revenue Service to complain about the tax exempt status of pro-peace groups, alleging they were led by ‘concealed Communists’ and that they sent out “literature favorable to Russia and in opposition to the U.S. foreign policy” - literature such as the Bill of Rights.
Recently released Federal Bureau of Investigation files show that just over a year after L. Ron Hubbard created the the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation, a precursor to the Church of Scientology, he offered to become an informant for the Bureau, and provide the FBI with a list of its members and copies of their fingerprints.
In 1968, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had a run-in with a young Joe Trento early in his reporting career. According to the FBI’s version of events, it didn’t go well.
U.S. Naval Intelligence tasked FBI with digging up dirt on Eric Williams to sway Trinidadian elections
A FOIA request to the National Archives from early 2015 has finally yielded the Federal Bureau of Investigation file on historian and first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams. In addition to the FBI monitoring Williams during his tenure at Howard University, the file contains reports from Naval Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency, who closely monitored his shift from academia into politics, including a request by Naval Intelligence that the FBI gather embarrassing personal details from William’s ex-wife in an attempt to hurt his chances during an election.
Files posted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s FOIA reading show that for over 20 years, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had to politely clarify that the Bureau was in fact, not in possession of Nikola Tesla’s plans for a death ray.
Soon after legendary spymaster and CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton’s intelligence career supposedly ended with his forced retirement in December 1974 due to the exposure of CIA wrongdoing, he returned to the Agency, where counterintelligence operations reportedly remained under his purview until late 1975.
Mexico’s “Dirty War,” nestled in the middle of what the Central Intelligence Agency called a period of “stability” for the country was carried out in part by their asset Miguel Nazar Haro and his secret police. Nazar would later be arrested for his role in the “disappearance” of 1,200 dissidents, and investigated for torture, murder, and even genocide, all while working with, and protected by, the CIA.
When Mexican spymaster Miguel Nazar Haro was implicated in a car theft ring operating in both the United States and Mexico, the Central Intelligence Agency moved to prevent prosecution of one of their most valuable assets. As the ensuing investigation revealed, however, the web of corruption surrounding Nazar connected to more than just grand theft auto, with ties to narcotics trafficking, the torture and disappearance of numerous dissidents, and at the murder of a DEA Agent.
Fleeing marijuana possession charges, Ken Kesey successfully hid from the FBI … in Marijuana City, Mexico
The FBI spent the summer of 1966 playing cat-and-mouse with beatnik icon Ken Kesey, best-selling after he fled the country to avoid prosecution for two charges of marijuana possession.
From national security threat to J. Edgar Hoover’s pal - the FBI file of California congressman Jack Shelley
Labor organizer, Californian congressman, and mayor of San Francisco John Francis “Jack” Shelley is typically cited among the most prominent figures on J. Edgar Hoover’s “Emergency Detention” list of “subversives” that were to be arrested if war with the Soviet Union became “inevitable.” However, as Shelley’s FBI file shows, being marked as a potential threat to the country didn’t stop Hoover and Shelly from enjoying a cordial, if not down downright friendly, relationship during the latter’s time on the Hill.
After decades as a West Coast leftist, Ramparts editor Warren Hinckle finally landed a place in the FBI’s files after his magazine ran a pro-IRA ad and credited a Michigan Senator for its creation.
Earlier this month, Insane Clown Posse fans marched on Washington D.C. to protest the FBI’s 2011 designation of Juggalos as a “loosely-organized hybrid gang.” However, Bureau files show that ICP first came on the FBI’s radar three years earlier, when the Bureau threat assessment of the annual Gathering of the Juggalos included allegations that the Family was engaged in a full-on turf war with MS-13.
Breitbart News’ FBI file details how site accidentally DDoS’d itself … but withholds over a thousand pages
On January 17, 2016, the alt-right news site Breitbart found itself under siege: A number of IP addresses were sending a large amount of traffic its way, straining its servers. Writing to the FBI two days later with the subject line “Request for assistance,” someone (identity redacted) shared the source of the IP addresses and asked that the FBI “explore the possibility that the identity of the criminal … be identified from this fingerprint.” It turns out, it was an inside job.
FBI files on publisher Bennett Cerf show the Random House co-founder trying to use his leverage with the Bureau to get them to vouch for author Truman Capote’s investigation into the 1959 Clutter murders, which would eventually become the seminal true crime novel In Cold Blood.
Ellsworth Kelly spent nearly all of his 92 years creating geometrically-concerned works of abstract and colorful art - a focus he tuned for some time as a Camouflage Technician for the U.S. Army during World War II. But when he applied to participate in the European Recovery Program - popularly known as the Marshall Plan - he generated 50-odd pages in the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, not for his military exploits but for concerns that an art school friendship might have been something more.
As hordes of white men with dopey haircuts take to the streets to denouce progress, it’s worth taking a look at a moment in American history when a bunch of rich dudes attempted to turn the country in a fascist dictatorship through overt violence, before they realized they could just hijack the electoral system - the story of General Smedley Darlington Butler and the Business Plot.
Diana, Princess of Wales, died twenty years ago this month. Her surprisingly slight FBI file, released via the Bureau’s FOIA reading room, covers two separate investigations into possible threats against her life. It includes someone “sarcastically” claiming they mailed her and Charles a bomb as a wedding present.
While popular media has often portrayed Jim Garrison, the New Orleans District Attorney behind the infamous Clay Shaw trial, as having been targeted by the federal government for retribution, a look at his FBI file reveals the exact opposite - according to the documents, Garrison’s investigation was considered so toxic and aggressive that Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered no agents have any contact with him. When third parties began providing the FBI with evidence that Garrison had engaged in fraud against the government, the Bureau cautioned against investigating him, precisely because of how Garrison would inevitably frame it.
With a career spanning the early decades of the Bureau’s existence and a list of acquaintances that could have passed as an FBI radicals watchlist, I.F. Stone was a well-established person of interest to the federal government.
Brigadier General Edwin Black is best known for his role in the Nugan-Hand scandal, in which the Australian bank was accused of being used by the Central Intelligence Agency for narcotics and arms trafficking and money laundering purposes. To learn more about the scandal, Emma Best filed FOIA requests for all the people associated with it, and General Black’s file reveald two things: First, the FBI file’s only mention of his ties to Nugan-Hand is in the form of a Wall Street Journal clipping. Second, Hoover’s FBI briefly investigated him for being a librarian.
Russell Means’ FBI file offers a day-by-day account of the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee
Russell Means was a seminal figure in Indigenous politics for decades, rising to the rank of National Director of the American Indian Movement in 1970. His 178 page FBI file, however, only includes records regarding one incident Means was involved in - the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, a months-long standoff between AIM activists carrying small arms, and local and federal law enforcement packing 133,000 rounds of ammunition, armored personnel carriers, and .50 caliber machine guns.
To mark the 49th anniversary this week of the founding of the American Indian Movement (AIM), we’re taking a look at the FBI files of John Trudell, esteemed Santee Dakota poet, writer, speaker, and musician who was a key member of AIM, rising to the rank of National Chairman by the mid seventies. To the Bureau, Trudell was a renowned “agitator,” but within his community he was a motivator who inspired Indigenous peoples across the nation to strive for a better life.
During the Vietnam War, FBI used the press as a cover to “avoid embarrassment” while surveilling protests
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.
FBI files released to Connor Skelding reveal that the Bureau was so sufficiently alarmed about author Norman Mailer’s accusations about their role in Marilyn Monroe’s death that they investigated if they had, in fact, wiretapped the actress phone. After determining they hadn’t, the Bureau considered getting Mailer to retract the claim - until they discovered he was just sort of making stuff up.
Eleven years before the House Select Committee on Assassinations declared they were “certain Yuri Nosenko lied about Lee Harvey Oswald,” the Central Intelligence Agency’s internal security report ignored evidence and abandoned logic to conclude that the Soviet defector was a trustworthy individual who hadn’t been sent over by the KGB.
The FBI file of Aldous Huxley, released after a FOIA request by Joseph Lloyd, reveals that while the English author was never under official investigation, the Bureau found his dystopian view of the future interesting enough to follow him and take notes.
Sir Robert Maxwell is mostly remembered as the Czech-born British media mogul who owned the Daily Mirror and was a Member of Parliament. Less remembered is that he was an alleged spy for both the U.K. and Israel, and was accused of ties to the Mossad abduction of Mordechai Vanunu - accusations which he denied shortly before his apparent suicide. All but forgotten, however, are his alleged ties to the PROMIS affair, thanks in no small part to the FBI withdrawing his file from public view.
The release of Steve Jobs’ FBI file was one of MuckRock’s first big stories, and it even set the framework for what would become the Subjects Matter project. With the iPhone turning ten this week, here’s a look back at some of the most surprising finds from the Bureau’s investigation.
FBI files released to CJ Ciaramella reveal that as that Bureau investigated a group of Dungeons and Dragons players as potential leads in the Unabomber case. A 1995 memo notes that the loosely-knit group of gamers were “armed and dangerous,” as well as “overweight and not neat in appearance.”
FBI investigated Ayn Rand superfan who saw himself as the heir apparent to her Objectivist philosophy
Ayn Rand had a competitor for status as the most dizzyingly incoherent and morally questionable writer of the 20th century: her stalker. FBI files released to Emma Best show that the unnamed man sent Rand dozens of mommy issue-riddled letters over the course of the late ’60s, some making threats on her life.
Washington insider wanted J. Edgar Hoover to leverage his friendship with Walt Disney so he’d produce religious cartoons
As we’ve written before, Walt Disney and J. Edgar Hoover enjoyed a decades-long professional and person friendship, with fringe benefits including union busting and free admission to Disneyland for FBI Agents. There were downsides, however - such as when one unnamed DC insider tried to leverage the Director’s relationship to pressure Disney into making religious cartoons.
The FBI file on Majestic-12 may be the Bureau’s most X-Filesy file of all - full of hoaxes, planted documents, and allegations of aliens. The Bureau, however, was essentially disinterested in the case, did no actual investigating, and barely pursued the very real crime that had been committed by forging government documents, only adding fuel to the suspicion that the papers were government sponsored, or at least tolerated, disinformation.
In a fitting birthday tribute to the man the FBI deemed “bizarre, but not dangerous,” we rounded up the strangest lines from the Bureau’s security report - some of them poetry unto themselves.
The last section of Malcolm X’s 10,000 plus page FBI file concerns the Bureau’s electronic surveillance of the activist shortly before his death. For months, agents listened to X’s phone calls, photographed his comings and goings, and even considered bugging his Queens residence - only to hastily discontinue the operation for fear it would taint a potential conviction.
FBI file casts doubt on Bureau’s investigation into the suspicious death of journalist Danny Casolaro
The FBI file for the suspicious death of journalist Danny Casolaro is obviously incomplete, but does reveal several key things. First, the FBI’s sources contradicted what the DOJ would declare were the motives behind Casolaro’s “suicide.” Second, the file shows that the Bureau lied to members of Congress about not investigating Casolaro’s death. Third, documents show that the FBI agents who did investigate it questioned the conclusion of suicide, even though doing so was understood to be a threat to their careers.
Actress Ethel Merman and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had a friendship spanning from 1938 until Hoover death in 1972. But personal insights aside, was there any benefits to being among the Bureau’s BFFs? According to the singer’s personal FBI file, to be rich in friends isn’t always enough to keep you in riches.
In the white heat of the Red Scare, journalists were often at the center of the unceasing national probe over patriotism. Over 700 pages of files on Edward R. Murrow detail the FBI’s intricate special inquiry into the legendary American newsman.
An incident from the height of J. Edgar Hoover’s reign as FBI Director illustrate the lengths the Bureau would go to squash rumors surrounding Hoover’s sexuality - and the dire consequences for those found spreading those rumors.
Andrew Carter Thornton II (ACT II) is a name unknown to most except as a piece of historical trivia - the man who fell from the sky in 1985 with millions of dollars of cocaine strapped to his body. To a few others, he’s one of the men tied to a drug operation that was fueling and fueled by government corruption, whose roots were traced as far as the Kentucky Governor’s mansion. But reality, revealed through his FBI file, is even stranger, tracing the corruption surrounding ACT II all the way back to the CIA.
FBI Records released by the National Archives confirm confidential informants were reporting on Gavin MacFadyen over forty years before WikiLeaks and the Courage Foundation - even providing the Bureau with some of MacFadyen’s correspondence and his address book.
Back in 2011, the FBI’s Memphis field office hosted an intelligence briefing for the local Joint Terrorism Task Force. Topics included the latest issue of Inspire magazine, “white powder” letters, and updates on the notorious domestic terror groups Aryan Nations, Anonymous, and Occupy Wall Street.
While the FBI file for Timothy Leary has several interesting pieces of information, what really stands out are some conspicuous - and revealing - absences.
For Groucho Marx, sharing a surname with the author of the Communist Manifesto wasn’t winning him any friends in Middle America at the height of the Red Scare, and his pathological inability to hold anything sacred wasn’t helping, either. But according to files released to Emma Best, where he finally crossed the line for one couple - leading to them calling on the FBI to investigate him immediately - was when he used the country’s name in vain.
While some aspects of the investigation into the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remain unknown to the public - such as NSA’s tracking of James Earl Ray - others are unknowable simply because they were never properly investigated. The most egregious example is Loyd Jowers, who in 1993 confessed to participating in an alleged conspiracy to, with the U.S. government and the mafia, kill Dr. King, and was found culpable in court. While the Department of Justice denied the veracity of these claims, the FBI, however, never investigated the matter and have no files on the man.
FBI files on the White Nationalist group the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas describe how a policy of segregation helped turn a prison gang into a paramilitary organization of domestic terrorists.
When we first looked at Cesar Chavez’s FBI file, the Bureau was questioning the young labor organizer’s integrity. Decades later, a different Department of Justice component cast doubt on Chavez and the union he ran - even going so far as to suggest they had bombed themselves for the “publicity.”
20 years later, a look at the FBI’s investigation into the infamous death of Christopher George Latore Wallace AKA The Notorious B.I.G. AKA Biggie Smalls offers some useful details - but not the important one.
In late 1919, Margaret Sanger, founder of what would become Planned Parenthood, mailed out something familiar to anybody who’s worked in the non-profit world: an end of the year fundraising appeal. But whether Sanger knew it or not, records released by the National Archives show that on the receiving end of one of those letters were agents from the FBI’s predecessor trying to bust her for distributing obscene material.
When an FBI file opens with a paragraph that describes the case “a most complex case involving foreign intrigue, murder and the highest echelons of the Vatican,” then you know have something interesting. That was just how the file for Banco Ambrosiano began.
February, 1981. In a smoky bar in Alexandria, Virginia, an FBI informant just happens to overhear a conversation that could change the course of the free world: a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. If that sounds a bit too contrived to be true, well, that might explain why the Bureau couldn’t find any evidence that it was.
A Priority Teletype from the FBI’s Legat in London to the Director outlined an interesting opportunity - the Bureau had been asked to help with a case involving Stig Bergling, a Swede who had apparently been spying for the Soviets, and a woman in the Tampa area might have information as to his whereabouts. There was just one snag - they were afraid it might lead to a confrontation with the Church of Scientology.
A request for FBI files on sexologists Masters and Johnson reveled that while the Bureau never investigated the duo, it did field several requests from concerned church groups seeking dirt.
As a prominent figure in the women’s liberation movement during the 1960s and 1970s, Betty Friedan was not without critics. And as her FBI file shows, on at least one occasion a scheduled speech resulted in a bomb threat mailed to her home.
In honor of Black History Month, we’ll be accepting submissions and suggestions all week for new requests to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for prominent members of the African American community. Each suggestion will be submitted free-of-charge and made publicly available.
A report intended to clear the FBI of any wrongdoing in the Martin Luther King, Jr. murder investigation instead uncovered the extent to which Hoover’s Bureau had engaged in illicit, illegal activity in their personal vendetta against the civil rights leader.
He gave his name to what would become the biggest private detention company in the world. But he got his start over sixty years ago here at home in Hoover’s FBI. Meet George Wackenhut.
A recently released copy of John Tower’s FBI file deals with long under-examined allegations that the Tower Commission, officially known as the President’s Special Review Board, was part of a whitewash for the Iran-Contra affair – which, it turns out, Senator Tower had personal connections to, along with a pivotal role in the 1980 “October Surprise.”
In celebration of our 100th article in the Subjects Matter: FBI Files Project, we put together a chronological guide to the work we’ve done so far, documenting over a century of fear and filing cabinets.
The passage of the PATRIOT Act has been decried as one of the most widespread attempts by the government to overreach in order to bypass the judicial and legislative restrictions that had otherwise been placed on it. The FBI file for former CIA Station Chief William F. Buckley details one such attempt, over a decade after his murder.
Richard Feynman’s sprawling FBI file covers two-thirds of the legendary physicist’s career, from drama over his invitation to speak a Soviet science conference to an unnamed colleague citing his hobby of cracking safes at Los Alamos as evidence he was a “master of deception and enemy of America.” But the file stops abruptly in 1958, and for a very Feynmanian reason: Feynman asked them to.
J. Edgar Hoover feared a cabal of ultra-liberal economists with CIA ties would hijack the American economy
A letter released via FOIA documents FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s private fears that a CIA-backed cabal of ultra-liberal reformist economists were plotting a takeover of the American economy.
The man who would climb the ranks of United States Intelligence, from his World War Two stint in the Office of Strategic Services to his post as Director of Central Intelligence for CIA to his appointment as ambassador to Iran, is remembered by the public for his secrecy, his lies, and his commitment to the cloak-and-dagger code of his agency - none of which, of course, appear (at least in the negative) in Helms’s FBI file.
A request for FBI files on a figure at the center of dozens of 20th century conspiracy theories reveals a rare glimpse into the Bureau’s real-life “X-Files” - and tell a story of flying saucers and secret assassins stranger than anything on the show.
On what would have been the radical’s 80th birthday, we look back at one of the strangest incidents in Abbie Hoffman’s ten-thousand plus page FBI file: when they tried to bust him for the “anti-American” publishing of the government’s own records.
As a fixture in both the civilian and military worlds of politics, the FBI file for General Alexander Haig promised to be quite interesting. Although much of the file focuses on standard background issues and threats against the general several new facts stand out. One section, in particular, sheds new light on the Watergate scandal and the ensuing Saturday Night Massacre.
Part of an ongoing investigation into John Lennon, FBI files show informants infiltrated antiwar groups and documented in detail their nefarious activities - even if that activity was training a parrot to swear.
Earlier this week, we looked at how the FBI spent two years hot on the heels of a bloodthirsty cult, only to find out it didn’t exist. Inspired by this magnificent waste of time and money, we decided to round up some of the more dubious cases the Bureau’s top men have cracked over the years.
In 2005, the FBI launched an investigation into the “Church of the Hammer,” a fundamentalist Christian sect which called for the wholesale slaughter of practitioners of the goth subculture. Two years later, the investigation was closed, on grounds that the Church didn’t exist.
Vincent Bugliosi’s FBI file shows the prosecutor of infamous Manson Family murders got a few threats of his own
During his time as a Los Angeles County attorney, Vincent Bugliosi successfully prosecuted over 99% of his cases, including the murder trial of the still infamous Charles Manson. Two in particular, according to materials recently released by the FBI, warranted further investigation as evidence of Charlie’s appeal even beyond prison walls.
Emma Best’s attempt to mine the FBI file of the father of would-be assassin John Hinckley Jr. for evidence that could confirm or debunk some of the conspiracy theories regarding the attempt on Reagan’s life took a rather weird turn - as in imaginary, time-hopping Nazis weird.
Steal This Bear: FBI file documents strange history between a prominent sixties radical and the National Park mascot
You never know what you’re going to find digging through old government records. Case in point: how Abbie Hoffman’s FBI file uncovered an arcane law regarding Smokey Bear.
Brian Sparks’ FOIA request for the FBI’s file on an American anarchist killed while fighting the Islamic State was rejected on grounds that it was part of “pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding,” or the “open investigation” exemption. What that investigation is is anyone’s guess.
Twenty years ago this week, rap icon Tupac Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas by unknown assailants. His FBI file reveals that a month after the murder, the Bureau launched a full inquiry, which linked Tupac’s death to a larger conspiracy involving Eazy-E, the feud between Ruthless Records and Death Row, and the Jewish Defense League.
In honor of Labor Day, we’ll be accepting submissions and suggestions all week for new requests to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their files on the activists that made the holiday possible. Each suggestion will be submitted free-of-charge and made publicly available.
Anyone with Google, a passing interest in espionage, or a love of Amy Adams knows by now that the life of television personality and French cook Julia Child was entwined in the U.S. intelligence apparatus. More ambiguous, however, is Child’s relationship to the FBI as the U.S. moved out of the joyous tidings of V-J Day and into the cold uncertainty of McCarthyism.
Holocaust survivor and tireless activist Hedy Epstein dedicated her long life to fighting for human rights. The organizations she founded, led, or worked with are too numerous to recount, but it was her involvement in two particular causes which attracted the attention of the FBI.
When novelist Ayn Rand found out that FBI director J Edgar Hoover was an adherent of her Objectivist philosophy, she was thrilled, and immediately tried to set up a personal meeting. There was just one problem: Hoover had no idea what she was talking about.
James Baldwin’s unflinching critique of racial unrest in America - and the government’s role in perpetuating it - earned him a spot on several FBI watchlists, and Bureau surveillance of his every move. However, Baldwin’s files show that on at least one occasion he was able to turn that scrutiny to his advantage.
When we last looked at J. Edgar Hoover’s personal files, the newly-minted FBI Director was America’s criminal justice wunderkind, settling into his role as Number One G-Man amid nearly universal acclaim. Almost half a century later, the file shows a very different Hoover, neither wunder nor kind - a paranoid recluse scouring the tabloids for bad press while fighting the constant threat of forced retirement.
While the meeting between Nixon and the King is the stuff of legend, hidden within Elvis’ FBI file is a lesser known but equally bizarre epilogue. While in Washington visiting the president, Elvis Presley repeatedly tried - and failed - to gain an audience with the man he called “the greatest living American,” J. Edgar Hoover.
On the anniversary of the death of the infamous FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, MuckRock takes a look through his earliest files and finds that Hoover was a apparently a pretty swell guy … at least according to Hoover.
As we’ve written about before, the FBI’s classification of “economic disruption” as a form of terrorism comes dangerously close to criminalizing activism. Never is that more clear than in their files on the international environmentalist organization Greenpeace, which was labeled a terror threat despite tactics that typically involve launching a protest with some fairy wings, a toilet-shaped dunk tank, and some pointed questions.
Despite his outspoken views on pretty much everything, famed astronomer Carl Sagan’s surprisingly light FBI file only concerns an investigation into a letter he received in 1983, identifying Dr. Sagan as one of the few figures capable of preventing a global apocalypse. Eerily enough, the reason the letter caught the Bureau’s interest was its prediction that the space shuttle Columbia would explode - a prediction that would come true almost exactly twenty years later.
Tomorrow marks the 35th anniversary of Food Not Bombs handing out its first free meal outside of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston. Despite seemingly the non-controversial nature of the activist group’s titular three-word mission statement, FBI files released earlier this week show that serving up home-cooked vegan moussaka is apparently enough to warrant suspicions of terrorism.
When Lana Peters - AKA Svetlana Alliluyeva, AKA Josef Stalin’s daughter -died in Wisconsin at 85, she had accrued a Federal Bureau of Investigation file over 200 pages long. But the FBI’s involvement with her was limited, mostly capturing their sideline vantage the year she defected, beginning two decades of something like her American Dream.
March 8 is International Women’s Day. Born of socialist roots and now officially celebrated by the United Nations and multiple countries around the world, IWD is meant to be a global celebration of women’s achievements and progress, and MuckRock wants to help you join in this year.
A black man successfully brandishing a pen was cause enough for alarm in Hoover’s FBI. Hundreds of pages released in response to a request by MuckRock user Conor Skelding sketch the Feds attempts to keep track of African-American novelist James Baldwin, capturing soundbites from the stir of sixties’ Civil Rights Movement that continue to resonate today.
A request for documents related to “ecoterrorism” in the possession of the FBI’s Countering Violent Extremism Office produced an intelligence bulletin warning that “animal rights extremist” activity may be on the rise, as well as a report from researchers at the University of Maryland on recent trends in terrorism.
Terry Southern’s career is the stuff of Hollywood legend, but the celebrated satirist is perhaps best known for his work as the principle screenwriter for Dr. Strangelove. While that film appeared to have raised a few eyebrows at the Bureau, it was a different kind of strange love that finally earned Southern the FBI’s attention - files released to Shawn Musgrave show the DOJ’s finest legal minds grappling with the question of whether his satirical pornographic novel Candy was pornography or satire.
One of the best-selling authors of all time, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels pioneered the modern military thriller. Tales of the square-jawed CIA analyst using cutting-edge tech to take out the bad guys on the global stage earned Clancy millions, and according to his FBI files, some friends in high places.
As we mentioned in our earlier write up, the FBI’s files on outlaw icon Johnny Cash are surprisingly tame. Well, once you get past that part where he burned down a national forest. After that youthful indiscretion, the file consists mainly of investigations into various death threats the House of Cash received over the decades - including one that stands out due to the odd choice of medium, and the even odder investigation.
In 1981, Walt Disney World was getting ready to unveil a new gem in its crown of amusement parks, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT. Revolving around a massive sphere called “Spaceship Earth” and a lagoon that initially called for cultural installations from nine countries, EPCOT was intended to be the ultimate harmonious international village, a shining example of global unity. Naturally the FBI had a problem with it.
Death threat to Dick Clark leads the FBI on a real-life “Twin Peaks” investigation in White Bear Lake, Minnesota
As the host of “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” on ABC for nearly 40 years, Dick Clark is as much a part of the holiday as party hats and cheap champagne. However, FBI files released after his death in 2012 reveal that somebody wanted to cut his career short a good five decades earlier.
John Lennon’s sizable FBI file begins in the midst of his 1972 deportation battle with INS. While Lennon argued in court that the motive behind the deportation was political, the Bureau worked to secure a narcotics charge that would get him out of the country before the Republican National Convention that year.
Cesar Estrada Chavez, Mexican American icon and prominent leader of an historic strike of California farm workers, was the subject of hundreds of pages of FBI correspondence throughout the ’60s, speculating on the nature of his humanitarian and civil rights activism - much of which seems to suggest skepticism in regard to the sincerity of Chavez’s intentions.
In a special edition of the FBI file project, we take a look at some of the director’s greatest disses from over the decades.
Files on Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., star of ABC’s The FBI, give an idea of how the Bureau managed its reputation when given the opportunity to do so favorably, not to mention meticulously - the crime drama was directly overseen by the Bureau’s Crime Records Division and drew material from actual case files.
47 years ago this week, Russell Jones - better known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard of the Wu-Tang Clan, or simply ODB - was born in New York City. FBI files released to Rich Jones (no relation), offer a glimpse into the multitude of investigations involving Mr. Jones, both as perpetrator and victim.
Though now eternalized as the familiar face of Burt’s Bees personal care products, Ingram Berg Shavitz was not always a mild-mannered beekeeper. In fact, recently released FBI files show that during his youth as a globetrotting photographer, Burt found himself the accidental protagonist in a Cold War spy thriller.
During the height of the “Satanic Panic” of the ’80s, the FBI twice investigated Anton LaVey’s infamous Church of Satan over allegations that it was kidnapping children for use in unspeakable rituals … and twice they had nothing to show for it.
Saboteur: FBI worked behind the scenes to remove lines from an Alfred Hitchcock script they didn’t like
When the FBI found out that an upcoming episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents featured an unscrupulous former agent willing to exploit his Bureau contacts for personal gain, they were furious at the slander … and reached out to a former agent working studio security to do something about it, by any means necessary.
Before rock legends KISS embarked on their 1980 “Unmasked” Tour of Europe, then FBI Director William H. Webster put out a request to field offices for information regarding instances of “civil unrest” associated with the band’s concerts, particularly an incident in Texas which escalated to open attacks on police. The field offices’ response was unanimous - they had no idea what the Director was talking about.
From the first Jewish Miss America to the Bess Mess, the FBI had an eye on Bess Myerson for her entire career
When the FBI first officially encountered Bess Myerson, she was a well-known television personality still wearing the glow of her historic Miss America crown. When they last investigated her, she was at the crux of a scandal that cost her her job and the tarnish-free sheen of a successful life in the public eye.
J. Edgar Hoover’s inability to understand irony ended his decades-long friendship with William F. Buckley
Author and journalist William F. Buckley, Jr. is an icon of American conservatism, quite literally defining the political philosophy in the very first issue of his seminal magazine, National Review. Buckley’s nearly 40-year relationship with the FBI began back in 1950, when J. Edgar Hoover himself was urged to meet with the then twenty-five-year-old phenom.
Walt Disney’s decades-long friendship with J Edgar Hoover and the FBI began with the anti-Communist hysteria of the Hollywood blacklists, and nearly lead to children’s shows and amusement park rides normalizing law enforcement for entire generations of Dumbo-loving children.
Decades before Johnny Depp stepped into the role for Black Mass, the real-life James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger, Jr.’s crime organization didn’t need the Hollywood treatment to deliver drama.
After an 11-month wait, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has finally released the file it maintained on renowned Marxist historian Philip S. Foner. Although the file is short - only 45 pages - it is heavily redacted, with even most of the dates blocked out. A document dated 1984 makes reference to a “security matter case” that prompted an investigation in 1946 - however, those files appear to have been entirely withheld.
The 29th annual Burning Man festival kicks off this week in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Among those paying close attention to the festivities will be the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Special Events Management unit, who have kept files on “burners” since at least 2010.
Science fiction - a commie plot to undermine American values? It’s an idea that the FBI was strongly considering during the height of the Cold War, as its lengthy investigation into acclaimed author Ray Bradbury shows.
Documents from the FBI reveal that J. Edgar Hoover took personal offense to comedian George Carlin following his appearances on “The Carol Burnett Show” and “Jackie Gleason.”
Files released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation reveal that early twentieth century activist and co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn predictably spent at least 1921 to 1924 under surveillance by undercover agents. The documents specifically focus on a speaking tour Flynn launched after the July 1921 conviction of Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti for murder.
The FBI spent decades tracking mathematician Paul Erdős, only to conclude that the guy was just really into math
A Hungarian born in the early 20th century, Paul (Pal) Erdős, mathematician, was well-known and well-liked, the sort of eccentric scientist from the Soviet sphere that made Feds’ ears perk up in mid-century America. But, try as they might, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was never able to find much motivation behind his movements and acquaintances beyond the math of it all.
Former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee’s role in covering some of the biggest stories of the 20th century - most notably Watergate - has made him a legend in the industry. It also earned him the ire of several figures in government, including FBI director J Edgar Hoover, who felt he was “a colossal liar.”
The FBI file on outlaw icon Johnny Cash spans the years between 1969 and 1982, capturing the transition from his dark, drug-fueled days (and the associated property damage that came with it) to a concerned parent worried about anonymous threats against his family.
Ninety years ago today, Malcolm Little entered the world by way of Omaha, Nebraska, beginning a life in which he would gather many pseudonyms, many followers, many detractors, and a FBI file thousands of pages long — hundreds more still undisclosed — that traced the movement and doings of the infamous black leader Malcolm X.
Years after quietly being removed from the FBI’s public archive, agency files on the outspoken author and atheist Christopher Hitchens have returned to the web.
It’s a running joke that DEF CON - Las Vegas’ annual gathering of notable members of the hacker community - is a rather obvious target for nosy government agencies. So much so, that the conference has made it into a contest: spot the fed, win a t-shirt. While organizers insist it’s all in good fun, FBI files released this week show the agency is not amused.
FBI agents were warned against interviewing Allen Ginsberg, fearing it would result in “embarrassment”
Documents released to MuckRock indicate that Ginsberg first came to FBI attention in September 1963, nearly eight years after Ginsberg first performed “Howl” in a San Francisco art gallery and six years after Lawrence Ferlinghetti was acquitted of obscenity charges for publishing the poem.
The FBI has released the file of Fred Phelps, notorious leader of the Westboro Baptist Church. The file reveals some information not previously publicized, including Phelps application for a government position in the late sixties, and the Bureau’s extensive investigation into the parody site “Godhatesgoths.com.”
The FBI has released its file on Congressman Samuel Dickstein, who was among the founding members of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. While he was in the position, it has been alleged that he was simultaneously a Soviet agent for the NKVD - a detail not mentioned in file, which consists mostly of three decades of mutual back-patting between Dickstein and J. Edgar Hoover.
Rejecting a request for the FBI’s files on Gamergate and its affiliates, the bureau stated that, while they have responsive documents related to the loose coalition, those files are part of an ongoing investigation, and release “would interfere with law enforcement proceedings.” Who or what is being investigated remains an open question.
Last week, MuckRock received over 500 pages in documents from the FBI file of the late Sun Myung Moon, religious leader of the cult-like Unification Church. Along with his widespread influence, Moon also attracted controversy - his file details allegations of slavery and involuntary servitude, death threats against Moon’s son, arson, and possible kidnapping of church members.
Paul Crouch, founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world’s largest Christian television network, always had a knack for avoiding scandal, brushing off allegations of embezzlement and sexual harassment with ease. However, the televangelists’ FBI file, released after his death, reveals that his criminal ties potentially go a lot deeper - and weirder - than anybody could have imagined.
Hunter Moore, founder of now-defunct revenge porn isanyoneup.com, claimed that all he did was post pictures people sent in.
An FBI file detailing an federal investigation into the site appears to tell a different story.
Spurred by an invitation for then-director J. Edgar Hoover to appear on the show, the FBI’s surprisingly comprehensive file on journalist David Frost and his eponymous talk show is a master’s class in sixties establishment paranoia.
An FBI memo dated August 13, 1968 regarding Susan Sontag ended with the determination that “her activities do not warrant further investigation. By December 4 of the same year, the Bureau was calling for a full report in two weeks. “Give this immediate attention,” Hoover wrote to the New York office. Why had Hoover instructed New York to reopen their file on Sontag?
Newly disclosed documents reveal FBI field offices around the country took measures to prepare for an anticipated U.S. visit by legendary Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap in 1993. But, for reasons that remain unclear, the potentially historic trip never came to pass.
In the mid 1970s, the FBI considered approaching expert negotiator Roger D. Fisher to gather information on a Soviet diplomat the Bureau believed to be a KGB spy. Unable to uncover any dirt on the professor, agents decided they didn’t have enough leverage to bring Fisher to the table.
Despite a distraught father’s fears that she had “corrupted” her daughter with European wanderlust, the FBI declined to investigate Professor Hannah Arendt in 1956.
Lady Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton’s extensive FBI file reveals the philanthropist and socialite’s failed efforts to connect with J. Edgar Hoover.
The FBI twice conducted background checks on Boston University president John Silber, both before his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 1990. While acquaintances emphasized Silber’s eloquence and headstrong nature, the file makes only brief mention of perennial battles with BU staff and student body or the federal bribery investigation around Boston mayor Kevin White.
As the Surgeon General who rolled out tobacco warning labels and sent a pamphlet about AIDS to every household in the country, C. Everett Koop had his share of critics. While the FBI’s background check came up exemplary, they twice investigated threats against his life.
By September 14, 1960, Isaac Asimov had been a professor of biochemistry Boston University for 11 years, and his acclaimed “I, Robot” collection of short stories was on its seventh reprint. This was also the day someone not-so-subtly accused him of communist sympathies in a letter to J. Edgar Hoover.
The FBI file of James A. Hood, who led the push to desegregate the University of Alabama, includes a letter he sent to J. Edgar Hoover seeking reports about crime statistics, which the Director denied. A year later, the Freedom of Information Act went into effect to ground such requests in legal entitlement rather than an official’s good will.
How the FBI’s inability to keep its watchlist straight made one federal employee’s life a McCarthyist nightmare
One Irving Adler was a a serviceman and federal employee. The other Irving Adler was a renowned activist and author. The FBI had trouble telling the difference.
The FBI has released its file on Rodney King, whose beating by police sparked mass riots in Los Angeles in 1992. The 725-page file consists primarily of news clippings related to the LAPD excessive force investigation.
The FBI kept track on Michael Hastings’ “controversial reporting,” even investigating his Rolling Stone piece on Bowe Bergdahl for veracity.
As one of the oldest and largest youth organizations in the country, the Boy Scouts of America have been on the FBI’s radar since the Hoover era. The Bureau’s 500-page file spans 70 years, including recent allegations that BSA leaders manipulated enrollment numbers and even created “ghost” units to qualify for federal funding.
While the FBI had followed the Earth Liberation Front (ELF)’s actions for years, it was apparently the environmental group’s opposition to the Iraq war that really piqued the Bureau’s interest.
While the Federal Bureau of Investigation kept close tabs on many civil rights activists, its records on Thelma Glass aren’t related to her advocacy. A lead organizer in the Women’s Political Council, the Alabama group that organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, her file focuses on an incident more than 30 years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.
How a husband and wife team of ex-spies outwitted the FBI and pulled off the most daring escape in Cold War history
On August 9, 1990, two U.S. Embassy employees trying to enjoy a beer at the Mezhdunarodnaya Hotel in Moscow were interrupted by a stranger, who ended up sharing a bottle of wine. The embassy workers would later learn they had come face-to-face with one of the FBI’s most wanted: Edward Lee Howard, an ex-CIA officer trained in counter-surveillance who only a few years earlier had outwitted the Bureau to escape the county.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s 18-page FBI file relates mostly to name checks for presidential appointments. A visit by two tourists to Armstrong’s home town, however, caused concern.
Records released to MuckRock user Rich Jones show that the FBI’s Salt Lake City office conducted a 14-month investigation into the horrorcore duo’s fanbase. The file identifies Juggalos and Juggalettes as a “violent street gang” numbering in the thousands, whose members “sometimes paint their faces to look like wicked clowns” and “continue the dress by carrying small axes.”
After a request by Rich Jones, the FBI has released its file on singer Whitney Houston. The documents chronicle interactions between the Bureau and Houston over a ten year period, including potentially threatening fans and allegations of extortion, one by a man claiming to be “President of Europe”
Under J. Edgar Hoover, one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s top priorities was to keep tabs on the director’s critics. Unsurprisingly, the 35-page FBI file on Gore Vidal reads like an enumeration of the liberal author’s slights against Hoover, all of them reported by Bureau agents or Hoover’s fans.
The FBI has released its file on the late transparency activist Aaron Swartz. The files make no mention of his alleged intrusion into the JSTOR academic journal system, for which Aaron was facing criminal charges when he ended his life. Instead, the 21-page file mostly focuses on Swartz’s bulk download of PACER records - and the FBI’s inability to understand how he was doing it.
As mayor of Boston, Kevin White oversaw what many have called its transformation into a world-class city. During his four terms in office, from 1968 through 1984, he oversaw revived development in the city’s downtown and led the way through a bitter struggle with school integration. White’s tenure was also marked by corruption allegations. But even as many of his associates were convicted on corruption charges, several FBI investigations into White’s activities as mayor came up dry.
Which article in the November 1985 issue of Cosmo so infuriated one reader from Phoenix, Ariz., that they mailed editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown a death threat with a razor blade taped to the letter? Was it “An Intimate Look at Adultery?” “Twelve Hideaways for Lovers?” Or could it have been the pro-pagan “Astro Forecast for Your Man?”
For nearly seven decades, General Vang Pao served as a warrior for his people in a campaign that spanned from his native Laos to California. Between World War II and the Global War on Terror, Vang went from decorated veteran and CIA confidante to defending himself in a federal courtroom against charges of attempting to funnel almost $10 million of weapons to Laos.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. is remembered as one of NASCAR’s most successful drivers and tragic figures, given the shocking Daytona 500 crash that killed him in 2001. But followers of the sport had elevated him to mythic status long before the fatal accident. An FBI file obtained by MuckRock user Jason Smathers documents how Earnhardt faced danger on and off the track.
While his roguish charm won over classrooms and the public, physicist Richard Feynman was subjected to years of espionage and scrutiny as the Federal Bureau of Investigation trailed him and his associates, intent on rooting out communist sympathies from the man who helped make America the world’s first nuclear power.
While the vast majority of letters, interviews and other data gathered by the FBI regarding Richard Feynman pain the picture of a loyal genius who helped America build the first atomic weaponry, one interviewee saw a more sinister purpose: A methodical, patient path towards betraying the country from its very highest ranks.
When Steve Jobs was considered for a presidential appointment in 1991, the FBI embarked on a routine background check. And for the not-insignificant number of enemies Jobs had made over the years, this was a golden opportunity to settle old scores.