Date of this Version
Documentary Editing, Volume 22, Number 4, December 2000.
ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)
The narrative in Gimme Some Truth runs a slim and trim 104 pages. The story is familiar and well told: the FBI and CIA were put to political use in 1972 by President Richard Nixon (at the suggestion of Senator Strom Thurmond) to safeguard Nixon's reelection. Not startling news. The new twist is the case study involving the greatest pop culture celebrity icon of the 1960s and early 1970s-John Lennon of Beatles fame. For a while, engineering Lennon's deportation before the Republican National Convention seemed to be the Haldeman-Nixon-Hoover goal. The more interesting and original sub-theme is the way Wiener shows in painstaking detail how the declassification and discovery of the CIA/FBI paper trail under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) dragged on for fourteen years of litigation under four presidents. Supported by ACLU lawyers, Wiener sued the government to recant deletions and release suppressed documents-an effort that few scholars can afford to make. The process began after Lennon's death in January 1983 in the shadow of the Carter presidency and ended in 1997 under Bill Clinton.
Part II of the book reproduces over 150 pages of contested documents with key parts first blacked out and then unveiled after laborious litigation. For the uninitiated to see what the FBI typically produces under FOIA is certainly instructive. As Weiner points out, the documents reveal just how confused, inefficient, and paranoid the FBI was in its investigation of the Lennon matter. Over time, declassification policies were interpreted by generations of FOIA bureaucrats and lawyers in wildly inconsistent ways. Protecting sources and national security were the reasons most often invoked for the censorship of what usually proved to be quite innocuous information. The FBI's own investigation showed Lennon to be innocent of the charge of intending to disrupt the Republican National Convention. The CIA's involvement was blatantly unconstitutional and suggestive of dirty tricks.