On July 30, 2010, the FBI released one file with three sections totaling 423 pages on Howard Zinn, a best selling radical historian, teacher, playwright, and political activist.
Zinn was born in Brooklyn, New York and died at the age of 87 on January 27, 2010. As a young man he worked as a shipyard hand and served in the U. S. military as a bombardier during World War II. Returning from the war, he became involved in a number of left-wing political causes, some of them associated with the activities of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA).
In 1949, the FBI opened a domestic security investigation on Zinn (FBI File # 100-360217). The Bureau noted Zinn’s activities in what were called Communist Front Groups and received informant reports that Zinn was an active member of the CPUSA; Zinn denied ever being a member when he was questioned by agents in the 1950s. In the 1960s, the Bureau took another look at Zinn on account of his criticism of the FBI’s civil rights investigations. Further investigation was made when Zinn traveled to North Vietnam with Daniel Berrigan as an anti-war activist. The investigation ended in 1974, and no further investigation into Zinn or his activities was made by the FBI.
Seventeen pages withheld as duplicative, for referral to another government agency, or because they are classified in their entirety. Redactions were made to protect personal privacy and the identity of sources of information and because material is still classified.
100-HQ-360217, Section 2: June 20, 1969 to August 22, 1974, 119 pages
Redactions were made to protect personal privacy and the identity of sources of information and because material is still classified.
One redaction was made to protect personal privacy.
It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what the FBI collected on Zinn over the 25 years they say they snooped on him. But what seems even more immediately remarkable is the FBI’s own statement (above) that accompanies the release of the 400+ page file.
First, I’d love to hear what made Zinn a "radical historian", and where in the US statutes the practice of "radical history" constitutes criminal behavior. Are there others? Perhaps another FOIA request is needed to uncover which historians the FBI considers "radical" and therefore criminal, and which ones are "moderate," and therefore permissable under law. Do all the "radical" ones get collected on by the FBI? Is there a list of current, practicing historians who are considered "radical?" Names please.
Second, the FBI’s blatant admission above that they again began collecting on Zinn in the 1960s (FBI: "we took another look"), simply because he criticized the FBI’s handling of civil rights investigations at that time–is simply amazing. ("Hey, he criticized us, so we surveilled his ass–it’s his own fault)". Amazing that they did it then, and amazing they’d make that statement today in such a casual manner.
Also notable: the punchline at the end of each section scores pretty high on the unintended irony scale, for example: "One redaction was made to protect personal privacy." In other words, the FBI is stating in its best straight-man voice that "We collected personal, private information on Howard Zinn for over two decades, but we’re making these little redactions now because of our deep respect for people’s personal privacy". That’s pretty good stuff, if a bit dark and kind of scary.
But this is all ancient, non-radical history now. Banal, one might say. Looking forward with hope (something our President recommends we do pretty much all the time), I’m sure we can rest easy that the FBI has learned a lesson thanks to the old radical professor.