The FBI became interested in Lennon because in 1972 he gave dollars 75,000 (worth pounds 32,000 at the time) to a peace organisation that was allegedly planning to disrupt the Republican convention.
Jon Wiener, who uncovered the documents, says the reason for the bureau's close surveillance of the Lennon house at 105 Bank Street, New York City, was intimidatory. 'They stationed large men in dark glasses across the street,' he says. 'They wanted him to see an agent behind every mail box.' Lennon complained on television that he was being harassed because he was an anti-war activist.
Intimidation may have been one motive but the FBI memos show that it also wanted to catch Lennon with drugs so it could deport him at once. One report noted that the 'New York office (of the FBI is) covering subject's temporary residence and being instructed to intensify discreet investigation.'
Not all the bureau's informers were convinced that Lennon was politically serious. One source is quoted as saying that 'in his opinion Lennon and his wife are passe about United States politics'. Another says that Jerry Rubin and Rennie Davis, well-known political activists, objected to his consumption of drugs - though this may have been wishful thinking on the part of the FBI. Other informers said Lennon was radical but 'he does not give the impression he is a true revolutionist'.
At one time the FBI in New York, noting gloomily the failure of the first attempt to get rid of Lennon, passed on to Washington a heavy hint from the immigration service that 'if Lennon were to be arrested in US for possession of narcotics he would become more likely to be immediately deportable'. Hoover had told H R Haldeman, Richard Nixon's chief of staff, that 'Lennon continues to be a heavy user of narcotics'.
The FBI fought to prevent the declassification of this batch of files, less sensitive documents were released earlier, presumably because they demonstrate the nakedly political motive for the harassment of Lennon. Haldeman, for instance, is warned that because of Lennon's legal delaying tactics it might not be possible to deport him 'prior to the Republican National Convention'.
More reassuringly, the bureau adds that Lennon was being closely watched and any sign that he was breaking the law would be used 'to neutralize any disruptive activities of subject'.
All this was illegal. The papers, mostly special agent reports from New York, show the willingness of the FBI to cater to the political paranoia of the White House, which had already launched a campaign to persecute its political opponents, culminating in the Watergate burglary in June 1972. Even so, Mr Wiener, a historian at the University of California at Irvine, on whose behalf the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California forced the FBI to disgorge the documents, is surprised at the FBI's 10-year battle to keep them secret. He says that even 20 years after the event the bureau does not want to divulge 'material which would reveal FBI misconduct'.
Mr Wiener said that in 1972 the White House and the FBI were very nervous about a plan for Lennon to stage concerts (the first tour by a former Beatle since the group broke up in 1969) across the country to register anti-Nixon voters, culminating in a concert aimed at disrupting the Republican convention in San Diego. A trial-run concert by Lennon in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was closely watched by the FBI, which noted it was well attended.
The FBI was also interested in Lennon's friendship with Mr Davis and Mr Rubin, both members of the Chicago Seven, who had been found guilty in a celebrated trial of disrupting the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. They had founded the Election Year Strategy Information Center, which the FBI believed would be the vehicle for planning disruption of the San Diego convention. Lennon gave it dollars 75,000 and an agent reported that he and Yoko Ono were so central to the group that when they were on holiday in the Virgin Islands, its meetings would be postponed 'until their return to NYC'.
Initially confident that Lennon and his wife would soon be on their way back to Britain, on the grounds of his guilty plea to possessing cannabis in London in 1968, the FBI in New York had a shock when his lawyer 'read into the court record where subject had been appointed to the president's council on drug abuse'.
The resources devoted to persecuting John and Yoko Ono Lennon are impressive. The papers show informers holding conversations with him and agents shadowing him. After a deportation hearing Lennon is 'observed by a representative of the FBI' who reports seeing him issue a press release in which Lennon alleges the immigration service 'was attempting to deport him due to his political ideas'.
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