Pubdate:  25 Sep 1997
Source:   Reuter

By Steve James

LOS ANGELES, Sept 25 (Reuter)  The FBI on Thursday released previously
censored files on former Beatle John Lennon, who was under surveillance in
the early 1970s because of fears he would incite antiwar violence.

The move was hailed as a victory by the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) of Southern California, which filed suit 14 years ago to have the
files on the murdered rock star made public.

``These released documents prove that the investigation of John Lennon was
motivated by the fear of his political influence and not any criminal
activity,'' the ACLU said in a statement.

``This is a victory for every person in the United States who is worried
about excesses of the government,'' Ramona Ripston, executive director of
ACLU/Southern California, said.

The FBI later responded, saying the investigation reflected the ethos of a
different era.

``The FBI is required by law to release raw information from its files
that was collected during an earlier era in our history, when different
concerns drove the FBI, the U.S. government, the news media and public
sentiment,'' the FBI said in a statement.

``Under today's laws and investigative guidelines, this type of
investigation would not have been initiated by the FBI.''

At Thursday's ACLU news conference, historian Jon Wiener, who had sought
the documents under the Freedom of Information Act, said the FBI
investigation appeared to have been based on the Nixon administration's
fear of Lennon's influence over voters in the 1972 presidential

Richard Nixon was seeking reelection, and the unpopular Vietnam War was at
its height.

``The Nixon administration wanted to silence John Lennon as a spokesman for
the antiwar movement. But all he was saying was 'Give Peace a Chance,'''
said Wiener, whose book ``Come Together: John Lennon in His Time'' was
published in 1985.

Besides releasing 80 previously censored pages, which the FBI had earlier
said contained information that was confidential or related to national
security, the agency agreed to pay $204,000 for Wiener's legal fees and

Wiener, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, said the
newly released files did not reveal any new information about Lennon,
who was shot to death in New York in 1980, but they demonstrated an
``abuse of power'' by the FBI.

``Nothing in the documents says he was planning to take part in violent
acts to disrupt the (1972 Republican) convention,'' he said. ``In fact,
the FBI files show that their own undercover agents said he (Lennon) had
said he would only attend the convention if it was peaceful.''

Among the examples of information the FBI, under thenhead J. Edgar
Hoover, had blacked out of previous files was one report about a
neighbor of Lennon's in New York who had a parrot that would say ``Right
on'' during heated arguments.

``Tom (the neighbor) is trying to train it to say 'Eat shit' whenever he
argues with anyone, but the bird now says it to him whenever he sees it,''
the informant's report said.

Another document made public at Thursday's news conference quoted an
informant as saying Lennon had donated $75,000 to a ``new left'' group
formed to disrupt the 1972 convention.

It also mentioned attempts to have the musician convicted on drug
charges, have his visa revoked and have him deported to Britain. The
reports were sent directly to Nixon's senior aide H.R. Haldeman, the
documents show.

Wiener, who said he was considering writing a book on the FBI's
surveillance of Lennon, said the ACLU would go to court to have the
final 10 pages of Lennon's file released. He said the agency refused to
release them because they were based on information from agents of an
unnamed foreign government.