After 25 Years, FBI Finally Releases Last 10 Documents in John Lennon FBI File

December 20, 2006 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – After nearly 25 years since the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued the FBI for the release of its files on John Lennon, the Bureau has finally made public the last 10 documents it maintained on the legendary English rock star.

The FBI previously withheld the 10 documents under the claim that releasing them could cause “military retaliation against the United States.” However, the files, which were released late Tuesday, contain only well known information about Lennon’s ties to New Left leaders and antiwar groups in London in 1970 and 1971.

“I doubt that Tony Blair’s government will launch a military strike on the U.S. in retaliation for the release of these documents,” said Jon Wiener, a historian at the University of California at Irvine, who first requested the files in 1981. “Today we can see that the national security claims the FBI has been making for 25 years were absurd from the beginning. The Lennon FBI file is a classic case of excessive government secrecy.”

The documents, which have been posted at,include:

  • A description of an interview with Lennon published in 1971 in The Red Mole, a London underground newspaper, in which, according to the document: “Lennon emphasized his proletarian background and his sympathy with the oppressed and underprivileged people of Britain and the world.”

  • A document stating that Lennon promised to help “finance a left wing bookshop and reading room in London,” and that Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono hadsigned an appeal in support of Cambodian Prince Sihanouk, a neutralist, at thetime Cambodia was invaded by the United States.

  • A document that concludes that Lennon had “apparently resisted the attempts of any particular group to secure any hold over him.”

  • A document stating that “Lennon has encouraged the belief that he holds revolutionary views…by the content of some of his songs.” This appears to be a reference to Lennon’s song “Power to the People.”

“The release of these final documents, concealed from public view for nearly a quarter of a century, reveals government paranoia at a pathological level and an attempt to shield executive branch abuse of civil liberties under the rubric of national security,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “They show that the only military secrets protected wererevelations about Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover’s war against John Lennon for hislawful dissent. Our government jeopardizes national security when it treats asthe enemy a rock musician and his lyrics about peace.”

The FBI had withheld the files on the grounds that they contained “national security information provided by a foreign government under an explicit promise of confidentiality.” Thename of the foreign government remains classified, although it has been widelyreported that Britain’s MI-5 intelligence agency had a file on Lennon which containedinformation like that released by the FBI today.

Wiener originally filed suit in 1983, represented by the ACLU of Southern Californiaand attorney Dan Marmalefsky of Morrison & Foerster. Marmalefsky said: “Fromthe beginning the FBI treated John Lennon as if it were a crime to sing ‘Givepeace a chance.’ This case shows how our government exploits the claim of nationalsecurity to shield itself from political embarrassment, subverting the FirstAmendment and the Freedom of Information Act.”

Most of the 300 pages in the Lennon FBI file were released to Wiener in 1997 in a settlement with the Clinton administration. Those documents were published in Wiener’s book GimmeSome Truth: The John Lennon FBI File, and were featured in the documentary “The U.S. vs. John Lennon,” which opened in September.

But 10 documents had remained classified on the grounds that they contained “national security information provided by a foreign government.” The Bureau told the courts in 1983 that release of those documents “can reasonably be expected to inter alia:lead to foreign diplomatic, economic and military retaliation against the UnitedStates.”

U.S. District Court Judge Robert K. Takasugi had rejected the FBI’s claims in 2004 and ordered the documents released. In 2005 the FBI announced it would appeal that order. Today’s release of documents ends the litigation.

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