Court battle over John Lennon FBI files rages on
Wed Dec 7, 2005 7:03 PM ET
By Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Twenty-five years after John Lennon was murdered, a court battle to release the last 10 pages of secret FBI files on the former Beatle still rages on, with no end in sight.
The FBI assembled about 300 pages of files on the singer-turned-activist in 1971 and 1972 as part of President Richard Nixon's effort to deport and silence Lennon as a critic of the Vietnam War, according to historian Jon Wiener, who has led the court battle to release the files.
"After years of litigation, the FBI has released all the pages except for 10, which it is withholding using a national security claim," said Wiener, a history professor at the University of California-Irvine.
"At a time when we are confronted by life and death issues of terrorism, the FBI is trivializing national security in the name of political expediency," he said.
Wiener and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California first filed the Freedom of Information lawsuit in 1983 to gain access to the secret files on Lennon.
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court before the FBI settled in 1997, agreeing to release the files except for the last 10 pages.
In September 2004, a U.S. District Court judge in California ordered the FBI to release the last 10 pages, but in the latest twist, the FBI on October 20 of this year filed a notice of appeal of that ruling with the court.
Under the Freedom of Information rules, if information is received from a foreign country, that information would be exempted from release to the public," said FBI spokesman Bill Carter on Wednesday.
Lennon was assassinated by a deranged fan on December 8, 1980, as he walked into his Manhattan apartment house.
Wiener, who wrote "Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files," a book that recounts his struggle to the get the Lennon files released, said none of the released documents have anything to do with criminal violations.
"They all document Lennon's political activities as a war opponent," he said.
As for the contents of the withheld pages, Wiener said the public was not even allowed to know the name of the country that provided the pages. He speculates that it is likely Britain since a former employee of Britain's MI5 intelligence agency, David Shayler, has said he saw Lennon file at MI5.
"He said it contained reports on Lennon's contacts with the British New Left and anti-war organizations." said Wiener.
Shayler in 2002 was convicted of violating Britain's Official Secrets Act and jailed for six months. "He saw himself as a whistleblower who wanted to expose MI5 excessive surveillance," said Wiener.