FBI Must Open Lennon File

Agency ordered to turn over classified documents to California professor

September 30, 2004 12:00 AM ET
A judge has ordered the FBI to turn over the last ten pages of a secret file on John Lennon to college professor Jon Wiener. The author of Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files, Wiener first sued the government agency to obtain the documents in 1981 evoking the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI had argued that the documents would pose a national security risk if declassified because an unnamed foreign government had provided some of the information therein.

"I'm delighted with the ruling and surprised by it," says Wiener, who teaches at the University of California, Irvine. "Judges are generally reluctant to challenge the government, especially when it comes to foreign relations. I never thought this would go on for twenty-three years, and it really shouldn't go on any longer. These are now thirty-four-year-old documents about the anti-war activities of a dead rock star. I believe the FBI has more important tasks these days than protecting these documents."

Wiener initially sought the files while conducting research for his 1984 Lennon biography, John Lennon: Come Together in His Time. In 1997, the FBI released 248 pages of the file to Wiener which focused on Lennon's anti-Vietnam War efforts during the 1972 presidential election campaign.

"John Lennon was one of the first people to say that youth voting can be a key force," says Wiener. "1972 was the first time eighteen-year-olds had the right to vote, and he wanted to register young voters. MTV's doing that now. What made it different is that [President Richard] Nixon tried to deport Lennon for doing this. It seems extreme to us today, but it was another era."

Wiener believes that the unnamed government is Great Britain and that the information was gathered by MI5, the British equivalent of the FBI. "A guy named David Shayler went public saying he had been an MI5 officer and that he'd seen a John Lennon file that described Lennon's anti-war activities in 1970 and 1971," Wiener says. "He was a whistleblower who went to jail for violating the Official Secrets Act."

Despite the court ruling, Wiener isn't expecting to see the documents any time soon, as the FBI may appeal. "The wheels of justice turn slowly," he says. "It could be six months, it could be a year."

And, although he is anxious to finally get his hands on them, Wiener doesn't expect the documents to contain any bombshells about Lennon. "I doubt these last ten pages are going to change our understanding in any significant way," he says. "It's more of a principle: Should the government withhold this kind of material that's probably only of harmless historical interest? This is about the government's desire for power and secrecy."

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