Sunday, December 11, 2005 on The FBI vs. John Lennon: "The U.S. government saw Lennon as such a serious threat that Nixon attempted to have him deported."

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

John Lennon 1940-1980: History Professor Jon Wiener Discusses Lennon's Politics, FBI Files and Why Richard Nixon Sought to Deport Him

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25 years ago today John Lennon died after being shot dead by a gunman named Mark Chapman. Millions mourned the death of perhaps the most famous Beatle. Today memorials are being held across the world.

On this anniversary, we pay tribute to Lennon’s life with historian Jon Wiener, author of "Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files" and "Come Together: John Lennon in His Time."

We also hear Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono describe their Bed-In For Peace. We play excerpts of Lennon singing “Imagine” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem at a rally for the Attica prisoners and Lennon singing at the 1971 Free John Sinclair concert in Ann Arbor. In addition we air historic interviews with Pete Seeger discussing the significance of Lennon’s song “Give Peace A Chance” and Abbie Hoffman on Lennon, the political radical. [includes rush transcript]


JON WIENER: Well, Lennon arrived in the United States in 1970, 1971, moved to New York. He wanted to be part of what was going on. What was going on in New York was the anti-war movement, and he became friends with Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale and other activists, and he wanted to join in, basically, with the movement, which is pretty unusual for a superstar. Lots of superstars have causes, but he wanted to help end the war in Vietnam, and he tried various different strategies of doing that in different ways, at different times. That's what got him in trouble with the Nixon administration.

I filed a Freedom of Information request a really long time ago, in 1981, just after he was killed, just to see if the F.B.I. had any documents on him. I thought they must, since they tried to deport him in ‘72. At that time, they told us they had around 300 pages, but they weren't going to release most of them, because of their national security status. I was lucky enough to get the help of the ACLU of Southern California in taking this case to court. We filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act in 1983.

In 1997 -- that's what? -- 15 years later, virtually all of the issues were resolved by the Clinton administration. They released almost all of the pages we were seeking. They paid $204,000 of our legal expenses. But they still withheld ten pages, which they said were national security documents provided by a foreign government under a promise of confidentiality. We're still trying to get those ten pages. And just recently, a court ordered the F.B.I. to release them, and the F.B.I. has now told us they are going to appeal that decision. So, ten pages to go, national security documents.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you're saying, Professor Wiener, that John Lennon is still a threat to the national security of this country?

JON WIENER: Well, I'm not saying that, but the F.B.I. is telling us that they can’t release these ten pages, because they contain information provided by a foreign government under a promise of confidentiality. Now, we're not even allowed to know the name of the foreign government. My guess is that it's not Afghanistan.

And, in fact, there's a guy in England named David Shayler, a former employee of MI5, the British organization that corresponds with our F.B.I. He says he saw a Lennon file at MI5. He described its contents. It had information about Lennon's ties with the British New Left and the anti-war movement in London and the Irish movement. Shayler was prosecuted by the Brits under their Official Secrets Act and sentenced to six months in prison for revealing this information.

Our assumption is that's the information that the government of the United States is withholding today. It's provided by the foreign government of Britain. It concerns Lennon's political activities in London in 1969 and 1970. We don't see any reason why information about the political activities 35 years ago of a dead rock star need to remain classified today, but the F.B.I. is willing to go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and try to convince a three-judge panel that this material can't be released.

JOHN LENNON: What we're really doing is sending out a message to the world, mainly to the youth, especially the youth or anybody, really, that's interested in protesting for peace or protesting against any forms of violence. And the things are, the Grosvenor Square marches in London, the end product of it was newspaper stories about riots and fighting. And we did the bed event in Amsterdam and the bag piece in Vienna just to give people an idea that there's many ways of protest, and this is one of them. And anybody could grow their hair for peace or give up a week of their holiday for peace or sit in a bag for peace. Protest against peace, anyway, but peacefully, because we think that peace is only got by peaceful methods, and to fight the establishment with their own weapons is no good, because they always win, and they have been winning for thousands of years. They know how to play the game violence, and it's easier for them when they can recognize you and shoot you.



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