FBI spied on Leonard Bernstein

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The Independent Online
NEW YORK - Leonard Bernstein, conductor, composer and central figure of the 1970s radical-chic set, was spied on by the US government for more than three decades for his socialist sympathies, newly released FBI files show, writes Peter Pringle.

A target of the FBI because of his espousal of anti-Fascist groups in the Spanish Civil War, Black Power leaders and anti-Vietnam War protesters, Bernstein was suspected of being a 'Red-fronter', as the FBI dubbed closet subversives. But the FBI never established he was a party member, and he always described himself simply as a socialist. He died in 1990.

During the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the Fifties, Bernstein, applying for a passport, swore an affidavit saying, 'I am not now or at any time have ever been a member of the Communist Party', but that did not stop the surveillance.

The 666 pages of documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, include the usual unsubstantiated reports from 'a confidential informant of known reliability' telling of Bernstein's sympathies for, and cash contributions to, various left-wing groups. In his 1953 passport affidavit, Bernstein admitted that he may have been used and his name linked to Communist groups 'through a charitable and well-intended impulse and obviously without the probing deliberation required'.

Once on the trail the FBI never gave up, warning the Kennedy and the Johnson White Houses of Bernstein's suspect associations. The documents show that the FBI director, J Edgar Hoover, considered a smear campaign on Bernstein in 1970 for his association with Donald Lee Cox, a Black Panther who was later sought for murder. The documents do not make clear whether the smear was ever perpetrated.