Thousands of investigative files that the FBI maintained for more than half a century on folk singer Pete Seeger are set to be released to the public online, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has told Al Jazeera.
When Seeger died in January at the age of 94, dozens of journalists, researchers and curious members of the public sought his files from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI has been informing requesters that it turned over all of Seeger’s files to the NARA before his death.
NARA spokeswoman Miriam Kleinman said in an interview that the archive would now seek to publish the files once it completes processing them. They are thought to total about 2,500 pages and need to be screened for information that is exempt from disclosure, as well as names and details that might be redacted to protect the identities of informants or confidential sources.
“As soon as possible, NARA will post this file online,” Kleinman said. “We are waiting for review to be complete.”
The NARA initially decided to release the files only to researchers on request, for a hefty administrative fee of at least $2,000. But Kleinman said public interest in the files prompted a switch in policy.
Seeger, the subject of secret FBI and CIA surveillance dating to the 1940s, was blacklisted during the McCarthy era because of his political beliefs and was indicted for contempt of Congress.
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The government’s files on Seeger will, for the first time, lay bare the extent of federal law enforcement’s and intelligence agencies’ investigations and surveillance of the beloved protest singer.
Even though the FBI claimed it had turned over all its files on him to the NARA, Al Jazeera located one file from the FBI’s Los Angeles field office that consists of 13 pages from the mid-1960s and early 1970s and is released here for the first time.
The file, which contains news clippings, a complaint form and a letter to the FBI from a member of the public, underscores how Seeger was seen as a potential threat to national security. One government official was so repulsed by Seeger’s music that he informed the FBI.
On April 1, 1964, according to an FBI complaint form, the chief of the fiscal division of the Veterans Administration (VA) outpatient clinic in Los Angeles was handed a tape recording from a doctor who was doing research for the VA.
“[Redacted] took the tape home and played same and found that it consisted largely of parodies that were highly inflammatory and derogatory toward the Armed Services of the United States, U.S. defense systems and the FBI,” a bureau agent wrote on the complaint form, in which he characterized the case as “sedition.”
The VA official, whose name is redacted, “became highly incensed” after listening to the tape recording, and his “feelings of revulsion were shared by his family and some neighbors who also heard the tape.”
“[Redacted] advised that he is holding the tape at his home … and had told his wife that he was going to have the FBI come by and listen to it,” the agent wrote. “[Redacted] stated that he wanted his identity concealed, however he was advised that if it was necessary to follow through on the matter, this might not be possible to do.”