Subjects Matter: FBI Files

From Abbie Hoffman to Malcolm X, Ol' Dirty Bastard to the Insane Clown Posse, FBI files read like a veritable Who's Who of the 20th Century. This project aims to sift through the hundreds of thousands of agency archival material we've managed to get released, so we can better understand why the Bureau had an eye on these people - and through that, better understand who they're keeping tabs on today.

Crowdfund the Subjects Matter: FBI Files Project

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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 info@muckrock.com.

Backed by Phil Mocek, Chris Meller, Linda Tolbert, Courtney Selby, and 8 others.

$1,725.00 raised out of $5,000.00.

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Academics

Hannah Arendt

Paul Erdős

Phil S. Foner

John Silber

Activists

Cesar Chavez

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

Thelma Glass

Abbie Hoffman 1, 2

James Hood

Rodney King

Toshi Seeger

Aaron Schwartz

Malcolm X

Artists

Allen Ginsberg

Business Figures

Walt Disney

Roger Fisher

Steve Jobs

Burt Shavitz (Founder of Burt’s Bees)

Comedians

George Carlin

Events/Groups

Boy Scouts of America

Burning Man

Church of Satan

Church of the Hammer (Westboro Baptist Church Parody)

DEF CON

Earth Liberation Front

Food Not Bombs

Gamergate

Greenpeace

Winter Hill Gang (Notorious Boston-based criminal organization)

Film and Television

Alfred Hitchcock

Dick Clark

Efram Zimbalist (Star of ABC’s The FBI)

Government Officials

William F. Buckley (CIA Station Chief in Lebanon)

Alexander Haig

Richard Helms

J Edgar Hoover 1, 2, 3, 4

C. Everett Koop (Flamboyant Surgeon General during the Reagan Presidency)

Robert Mullen

Journalists

Ben Bradlee

Helen Gurley Brown

David Frost

Michael Hasting

Hunter S. Thompson

Miscellaneous

Irving Adler (Serviceman who shared name with prominent activist)

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)

Jordan MacTaggart (American anarchist who died fighting ISIS in Syria)

Hunter Moore (Founder of revenge porn site IsAnyoneUp)

Barney Rosset (Avant-garde book publisher)

Musicians

Johnny Cash 1, 2

Elvis

Whitney Houston

KISS

John Lennon 1, 2

Ol’ Dirty Bastard

Insane Clown Posse 1, 2

Tupac Shakur

Politicians

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)

Vang Pao

Kevin White

Religious Figures

Paul Crouch

Fred Phelps

Sun Myung Moon

Scientists

Isaac Asimov

Neil Armstrong

Richard Feynman 1, 2, 3

Carl Sagan

Sports Figures

Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

Writers

James Baldwin 1, 2

Ray Bradbury

William F. Buckley

Tom Clancy

Christopher Hitchens

Ayn Rand

Susan Sontag

Terry Southern

Gore Vidal

108 Articles

FBI fielded requests from churches seeking dirt on sexologist Dr. William Masters

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.

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B(7e) Mine: MuckRock’s FBI file crushes

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, MuckRock staff is declassifying their infatuation with figures from our FBI Files project.

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FBI investigated a death threat against women’s rights activist Betty Friedan by Leon Trotsky

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.

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File a FOIA for free in honor of Black History Month

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.

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1977 report found the FBI had engaged in gross misconduct while surveilling Martin Luther King, Jr.

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,

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From FBI reject to private warlord: the rise of George Wackenhut

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.

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John Tower’s FBI file reveals role in Iran-Contra cover-up

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.”

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A century of surveillance: an interactive timeline of FBI investigations

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.

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FBI attempted to retroactively use the PATRIOT Act to sidestep FOIA

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.

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Richard Feynman put himself on the FBI’s Do Not Call list

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.

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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.

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FBI file offers insight into the CIA’s “gentlemanly planner of assassinations,” Richard Helms

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.

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FBI’s real-life “X-Files” documents strange connection between UFOs and the JFK assassination

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.

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The FBI tried to bust Abbie Hoffman for publishing public records

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.

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He’s in charge: FBI file reveals Alexander Haig as architect of the Saturday Night Massacre

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.

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The cringeworthy comedy of J. Edgar Hoover

A year before he died, J. Edgar Hoover tried something he hadn’t done before in his nearly five decades as FBI director. He tried to be funny.

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FBI files on John Lennon’s New Left turn up foul-mouthed parrots and bad b.o.

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.

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The five most embarrassing uses of FBI resources

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.

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The FBI’s years-long investigation into a fictional anti-goth cult

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.

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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.

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Reagan, Bush, and the time-traveling neo-Nazis: John Hinckley Sr.’s FBI file

Michael 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.

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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.

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FBI rejects request for ISIS fighter Jordan MacTaggart’s file on “open investigation” grounds

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.

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All Eyez on Me: The FBI’s investigation into Tupac’s death

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.

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File a FOIA for free in honor of Labor Day

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.

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The FBI grilled Julia Child over alleged communist ties

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.

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FBI kept close watch on Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein’s decades of activism

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.

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Hoover Shrugged: Ayn Rand’s one-sided love affair with 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.

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How James Baldwin trolled the FBI

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.

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The fall of an American Emperor: J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI file (Part 2)

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.

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When Elvis didn’t meet Hoover

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.

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Portrait of the Director as a young man: J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI file (Part 1)

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.

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FBI files on Greenpeace paint activism as a crime

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.

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Carl Sagan’s FBI file is a FOIA ghost story

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.

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Terrorism by association: FBI files on Food Not Bombs

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.

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“Used for propaganda purposes” Lana Peters’ (Svetlana Alliluyeva)’s FBI file

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.

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File a FOIA for free in honor of International Women’s Day

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.

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James Baldwin’s pen made him “a dangerous individual” to Hoover’s FBI

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.

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Milking the Butter Cow: FBI reports on “animal rights extremists”

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.

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Strange Love: The FBI’s obsession with Terry Southern’s mythical porn stash

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.

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“Straight Shooter” Tom Clancy’s FBI File

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.

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PRINT “BYE” - The FBI’s investigation into Johnny Cash’s BASIC threats

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.

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The FBI feared communist infiltration of EPCOT

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.

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“You better get off television soon …” Dick Clark’s FBI File

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.

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“Former member of the Beatles singing group” John Lennon’s FBI file Part 1

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.

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“Not altogether sincere” Cesar Chavez’s FBI file Part 1

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.

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Burn After Reading: J. Edgar Hoover’s best insults

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.

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“We have a deep feeling of affection for you” Efrem Zimbalist’s FBI file

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.

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“Address: member of the Wu Tang Clan” Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s FBI File

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.

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Burt Shavitz, international man of mystery

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.

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“No known victims” FBI files on the Church of Satan

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.

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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.

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Partners in Crime: FBI files on KISS

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.

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“An outstanding woman” Bess Myerson’s FBI file

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.

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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.

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“He has been quite helpful.” Walt Disney’s FBI file

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.

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Hoods and “Henbleep” - the FBI files on Whitey Bulger and the Winter Hill Gang

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.

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“Eccentric with a slightly gruff manner.” Philip S. Foner’s FBI File

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.

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Undercover Burners: The FBI’s surveillance of Burning Man

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.

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The FBI felt Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi was part of a commie plot to sap American resolve

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.

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George Carlin’s J. Edgar Hoover impression got him put on the FBI’s watchlist

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.”

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Wherever IWW leader and ACLU co-founder Elizabeth Gurley Flynn went, the feds followed

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.

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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.

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J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI really hated The Washington Post - especially editor Ben Bradlee

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.”

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Johnny Cash once burnt down a national forest, and other stories from his FBI file

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.

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Looking back at Malcolm X’s FBI file on his 90th birthday

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.

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“Occupation: Correspondent” Christopher Hitchens’ FBI file

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.

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FBI files on DEF CON show “Spot the Fed” contest a sore spot for Feds

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.

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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.

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The FBI felt Westboro Baptist’s Fred Phelps needed “psychiatric care”

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.”

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J. Edgar Hoover’s pen pal, the Soviet spy

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.

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FBI has an open investigation related to #Gamergate

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.

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“You are the heretic.” Sun Myung Moon’s FBI file

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.

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FBI files show televangelist Paul Crouch had suspected ties to … well, everybody

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.

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FBI files offer view into sick world of Hunter Moore’s IsAnyoneUp

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.

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FBI snuck agents into tapings of “The David Frost Show” to determine how subversive it was

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.

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Fearing “embarrassment,” the FBI advised agents against interviewing Susan Sontag

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?

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“AKA Mrs. Peter Seeger” Toshi Seeger’s FBI file

The FBI released its file on Toshi Seeger, the environmental activist, film maker, and wife of American folk legend Pete Seeger. It appears as if that last detail was the Bureau’s primary concern.

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Did Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap plan a goodwill trip to the United States?

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.

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FBI couldn’t get to YES with famed negotiator Roger D. Fisher

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.

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“A marvelous mind” Hannah Arendt’s FBI file

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.

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“A prolific instigator” Lady Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton’s FBI file

Lady Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton’s extensive FBI file reveals the philanthropist and socialite’s failed efforts to connect with J. Edgar Hoover.

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“Perhaps a bit controversial” FBI files on John Silber

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.

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FBI investigated threat to kill Surgeon General C. Everett Koop over cigarette labels

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.

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Was Issac Asimov secretly “ROBPROF,” a Soviet spy within the highest ranks of academia?

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.

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“A cooperative attitude” James Hood’s FBI file

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.

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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.

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FBI kept close watch on Rodney King’s media appearances

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.

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“Controversial reporting” Michael Hastings’ FBI file

Michael Hastings, the journalist whose devastating 2010 article about General Stanley McChrystal effectively ended the commander’s career, died in a car accident yesterday in Los Angeles. He was 33.

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Boy Scouts FBI file reveals Hoover’s fickle support, recent scrutiny

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.

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FBI files on Earth Liberation Front focus on group’s anti-war activities

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.

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“My civil rights were violated” Thelma Glass’s FBI file

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.

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How a husband and wife team of ex-CIA agents 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.

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FBI feared that Neil Armstrong would be accosted by lunar loonies

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.

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FBI reveals why it labeled Insane Clown Posse gang leaders

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.”

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“Miss Whitney, Please Keep Smiling” FBI files on Whitney Houston

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”

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Gore Vidal’s FBI file documents every time he got under Hoover’s thin skin

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.

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The FBI couldn’t figure out how Aaron Swartz did what he did

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.

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“Ten big ones” Boston Mayor Kevin White’s FBI file

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.

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“Glaring perverting headlines” Helen Gurley Brown’s FBI file

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?”

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“Obscenity bordering on filth” Barney Rosset’s FBI file

The FBI file on avant-garde book publisher Barney Rosset reveals how J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau played decency crusader on two continents in an attempt to keep Lady Chatterley’s Lover out of the hands of the public.

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Hunter S. Thompson’s appropriately NSFW FBI file

The career of Hunter S. Thompson, chronicler of America’s counterculture movement, was closely followed by the FBI - even going so far as to interview his neighborhood liquor store clerk.

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The FBI, the ICP and the FOIA

The hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse sued the FBI this week after the agency failed to fulfill a 2011 FOIA request for documents justifying the Bureau’s designation of the Detroit-based musical group’s fans as a gang.

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Vang Pao: The general who wouldn’t give up the battle

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.

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FBI investigated a NASCAR fan who wanted to kill Dale Earnhardt Sr. to save sport’s integrity

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.

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The Feynman Files: The professor’s invitation past the Iron Curtain

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.

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Richard Feynman, master of deception and enemy of America?

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.

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“Flexible integrity” Old scores are settled in Steve Jobs’ FBI file

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.

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