Allen Ginsberg's FBI file

from Herbert Mitgang, Dangerous dossiers : exposing the secret war against America's greatest authors (New York : D.I. Fine, 1988)

Allen Ginsberg, poet, social activist and member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, also engaged the attention of the FBI recordkeepers. "I have a stack of documents three feet high," the . . . poet said, and showed me a sampling of them. He has devoted much of his time to challenging the government on issues of privacy and personal freedom - including sexual preference - and arousing his fellow writers to campaign for freedom of expression.

Ginsberg recently told me that Pacifica Radio, the group of radio stations that airs public events, contemporary verse, drama and other literature, may no longer broadcast much of his poetry, including the well known Howl and Kaddish. Under the Reagan administration's policy of destroying the power to regulate of the regulatory agencies, the weakened Federal Communications Commission has carried out Attorney General Meese's diktat against "obscenity" and "indecency." The final report of the Meese Commission on Pornography is a legacy for book censors and book burners that could affect authors, editors and elements of the publishing community for a long time to come.

Ginsberg said that some of the papers in his file come from related customs and Treasury Department investigative bureaus. His file crisscrosses those of other writers. "They include Leroi Jones, who was the victim of much more attack than people understand and, in that context, his anger is understandable," Ginsberg said. "Most people don't realize what he and other black literati have been through, assuming that all past injustices have been redressed or somehow disappeared out of mind. The waste remains, the waste remains and kills. The section on Tom Hayden in Newark intersects with Jones, since Jones was influenced by an FBI misinformation campaign to denounce Hayden as an [FBI] agent and drive him out of Newark. The section on Black United Front and Ann Arbor intersects with John Sinclair, poet director of Detroit Artists Workshop, a multiracial press that is one of my publishers."

Commenting on the FBI's activities in the literary political arena, Ginsberg said, "Why did the FBI lay off the Mafia and instead bust the alternative media, scapegoating Leroi Jones, ganging up on Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Martin Luther King, Jr., antiwar hero David Dellinger, even putting me on a 'Dangerous Subversive' Internal Security list in 1965 - the same year I was kicked out of Havana and Prague for talking and chanting back to the Communist police? 'The fox condemns the trap, not himself,' as Blake wrote in Proverbs in Hell. "

In a memorandum from Hoover to the Secret Service in 1965, Ginsberg was cited as an "Internal Security--Cuba" case, and a potential threat to the president of the United States. On the document, stamped Secret, Ginsberg was listed as "potentially dangerous" and a "subversive," with "evidence of emotional instability (including unstable residence and employment record) or irrational or suicidal behavior," as having made "expressions of strong or violent anti U.S. sentiment," and as having "a propensity for violence and antipathy toward good order and government." All such items were checked on a form in his file.

A photograph of Ginsberg was placed in the Federal Narcotics files in 1967 as if it were a dangerous explosive, and a copy of the photograph was sent to the FBI. Ginsberg had openly campaigned against what he regarded as harsh antimarijuana laws that were used to arrest anti Vietnam War and other protesters. "He is pictured in an indecent pose," the report said. "For possible future use, the photograph has been placed in a locked sealed envelope marked "Photograph of Allen Ginsberg - Gen. File: ALLEN GINSBERG." The locked sealed envelope has been placed in a vault in this office for safekeeping.

The nature of his case was described as "antirioting laws" in 1968 by the Chicago office of the FBI. "[Name blacked out] advised he observed GINSBERG at Grant Park in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel in conversation with associates," his report read. "GINSBERG chanted unintelligible poems in Grant Park on August 28, 1968." Ginsberg explained that the "unintelligible poems" were William Blake's "The Grey Monk."

Ginsberg was tracked in this country and abroad. When he returned from a trip to Montreal in 1969, his valise was opened, bonded and held for customs inspectors at Kennedy Airport. It contained his manuscripts, poems, what were described by authorities as obscene photographs, a position paper on narcotics that he had prepared for Senator Edward Kennedy, and newspapers. The Ginsberg file reveals that when he gave a poetry reading in 1970 at Quincy College in Illinois the FBI bureau in Springfield was alerted to be on the lookout for him because he was an "IS" (Internal Security) case. It was duly and soberly noted that he was billed as the "Hippie Poet."

During the first term of the Reagan administration, a list of eighty four people deemed "unsuitable" as government paid speakers abroad was prepared by the United States Information Agency. Among the names were Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate; Coretta Scott King, the black leader; Betty Friedan, the feminist; John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul Samuelson and Lester Thurow, economists; and Allen Ginsberg, poet. It was, most felt, the equivalent of the Nixon administration's "enemies list" - and an honor to be included, a disappointment to be left off.

As he demonstrated in one of his recent poems, "Industrial Waves," Ginsberg is unstoppable when it comes to defying the authorities with verse that outrages: "Free computerized National Police! / Everybody got identity cards? At ease! / Freedom for Big Business to eat up the sea / Freedom for Exxon to examine your pee!"

He remains at the cutting edge of controversy. His only weapons are chants and poetry that may be depended on to arouse Washington officialdom and delight his admiring peers and readers. He continues to campaign openly for causes he believes in. Ginsberg's plots thicken, and so undoubtedly does his FBI file.


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Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:42:26 EDT