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Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI

10 Dec 07 - 07:44 PM (#2212787)
Subject: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: GUEST,Robert

There's a new book out on Phil Ochs' run-ins with the government, called Folk Singer for the FBI. It looks like the FBI was much more interested in his concerts than his records, as they attended many and took notes. One exception was "Pretty Smart on My Part," the lead track on Rehearsals for Retirement, which earned him a spot on the Secret Service's security index. The FBI basically tracked him throughout his entire career, from his earliest political events (Women's International League for Peace, miners strike in Hazard, Kentucky) and writings -- an article by Ochs in Mainstream magazine about Woody Guthrie prompted the FBI to track Ochs down and visit his apartment (his neighbours calling him a "beatnik" type). The article also brought the name Bob Dylan to their attention, who they discovered was another folk singer (not surprisingly, they were not by any means folk music connoisseurs).

10 Dec 07 - 09:37 PM (#2212820)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: bobad

Can one inquire of the FBI if there exists a file on them and have any of the folksingers here done so?

10 Dec 07 - 09:47 PM (#2212830)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: GUEST,Robert

To answer the first part of your question: yes, any person can ask to get a copy of their personal FBI file (if one exists) through a Freedom of Information Act request.

10 Dec 07 - 11:38 PM (#2212856)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: GUEST,Gerry

I note the author's name is Eric Blair. This was George Orwell's real name.

17 Dec 07 - 10:01 AM (#2217166)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: GUEST,Felipa

so maybe not E Blair's real name! I remember years ago reading an article in the Village Voice about FBI/CIA tracking Ochs, the author thought the government spies much to blame for Och's mental/emotional problems. I don't know who wrote that article. Ring a bell with anyone else?

17 Dec 07 - 10:30 AM (#2217207)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko

I don't recall a Village Voice article, but the premise of FBI/CIA tracking of Ochs has been discussed in both previously published bios. The attack on Ochs in Africa that damaged his vocal chords has been suspected of being more than a simple robbery.   However, Phil Ochs suffered from manic depression.

17 Dec 07 - 02:09 PM (#2217384)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego

For those with long memories, the travails of folk singers vis a vis the FBI, is long and distinguished. Some of the most obvious targets:
    Joan Baez
    Josh White
    The Weavers

17 Dec 07 - 02:45 PM (#2217417)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: PoppaGator

Has anyone here pursued their own info via the Freedom of Information Act? I'd be interested in how it went for you.

While I was never nearly so important or famous as someone like Phil Ochs, I was a fairly high-profile antiwar/draft-resistance activist at a prominent church-affiliated university for a while, and I know absolutely that both the FBI and CIA were keeping track of my movements at least for a couple of years (1996-72). The extent of their interest and depth of their meddling have never been clear, and I've had different opinions at different times, varying with how paranoid I might have been feeling at a given moment.

So, off and on over the ensuing decades, I have occasionally thought about requesting my files, but have never gone to the trouble to follow through and actually file a request. Maybe I should do so while I'm still sucking air; who knows? ~ maybe my kids would be interested in "what I did in during the war."

At worst, maybe I'd learn that those assholes are still wasting taxpayer money bugging me (in every sense of the word). Perhaps not wanting to know any such thing is what's kept me from looking too closely up til now.

17 Dec 07 - 05:01 PM (#2217528)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego

The good news, for the paranoid and the rest, is that most, if not all of the FBI personnel involved in the worst of this are dead, retired or otherwise engaged. Any potential damage is in the accumulation of file data on all the "targets" which still exists in the big government file cabinet. Quite a bit of it has surfaced through the Freedom of Information Act, but anything with an imposed "national security" label may be hard to uncover, even now.

I was not, so far as I know, under scrutiny. I wasn't important enough, I suppose, plus I had already served in the Army in the early sixties, so perhaps my "loyalties" had not come into question. I know that a whole laundry list of performers and writers, dating back to the 1930's, were victims of Hoover's snooping. Joe McCarthy's witch hunts only exacerbated the problem in the early fifties for folks like Lee Hays and the other Weavers, and, most tragically, the great Josh White.

You didn't have to be "left of center" politically to draw attention, but it certainly helped. It was assumed that anyone opposed to Korea or the Viet Nam War was some sort of Bolshevik, for instance. The paranoia of faceless gray bureaucrats clouded life for Woody Guthrie and countless others who practiced their freedom of speech openly. If you think your beliefs or activities (non-violent)have reason to be concerned, keep pressing for more openness.

17 Dec 07 - 09:53 PM (#2217752)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: Effsee

..."and, most tragically, the great Josh White."...and the great Paul Robeson, and the great Pete Seeger...and how many more?

17 Dec 07 - 11:49 PM (#2217810)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko

"The paranoia of faceless gray bureaucrats clouded life for Woody Guthrie"

I'm not sure how true that statement is. Woody seemed largely unaffected by the FBI and the "red scare". While others surely suffered, I think he was surprisingly unscathed by it all.

18 Dec 07 - 01:10 AM (#2217831)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: dick greenhaus

Hell, you didn't have to be famous. Or even semi-famous. The Feebs were following me around for a while, back in the early 60s.

18 Dec 07 - 08:30 AM (#2217995)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI

if you die does freedom of your information die with you, or can others access the files?

19 Dec 07 - 02:37 PM (#2219093)
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
From: Joe Offer

There are two laws that apply in this instance: the Privacy Act of1974 and the Freedom of Information Act of 1966. In general, the Freedom of Information Act requires the release of U.S. Government information unless the Government can prove a darn good reason for not relasing it. The Privacy Act protects individuals, limiting the information the Government can collect on individuals and allowing an individual to review the information collected. You can find detailed information about these two acts here (click) at the U.S. Department of Justice.

I did government security clearance investigations for 25 years. Every time I contacted someone for information, I had to give a Privacy Act statement:
    Under the Privacy Act of 1974, the subject of the investigation may request a copy of our report, so he/she can see the information you provide to us.
All of our investigations were done with the permission of the applicants - but if the applicant didn't give permission, he/she didn't get the job. There is some provision that allows heirs to review information on someone who is deceased, but I don't know much about that part of the law. Investigations conducted before 1974 were done with the implication that the information was collected in confidence, so the names of sources of information in pre-1974 investigations are blacked out if the file is requested.

I requested my own files - they were pretty routine, but it was interesting to see what people said about me. One former boss said, "Joe has one speed: S.L.O.W." - but he liked me, and he liked the quality of my work. The boss's name was blacked out, but it was pretty easy for me to figure out who he was.

The FBI did an investigation on me once for impersonation of an FBI agent - some old lady got confused and thought I was from the FBI. I tried to get a copy of that investigation, but they said they couldn't find a record of it. Lots of files get destroyed if there's nothing to them.

It was really sticky when I had to collect psychiatric information on a security clearance applicant. I had to have a release from the subject of the investigation, addressed to the mental health care provider, specifically allowing release of medical/psychiatric information. I had to advise the provider that the subject had access to the file, but that psychiatric information could be withheld if the care provider had reason to think that release of the information would harm the subject in any way. I never had a provider put any restriction on the release of information to the applicant.

I think we did a pretty good job of protecting the privacy of the people we investigated. Sometimes, our managers went to ridiculous extremes on this, and their paranoid restrictions and Catch-22's drove us working stiffs crazy. No government manager wants to deal with a Congressional Inquiry, so the bosses did their best to ensure that the people we investigated did not have reason to complain to their Congressmen.

One other thing: as part of our security clearance investigations, we had to contact the FBI to see if they had anything on file on the subject and on the subject's family members and associates. And yes, we quite frequently got reports that so-and-so's car was parked outside a place where a "known Communist cell" was meeting. There was one very popular professor in our area who was listed as a reference by countless applicants, and every report included a summary of the professor's "Communist" activities. We stopped getting those spooky files in the early 1980's or so, and I understand that almost all of those FBI surveillance files were destroyed. For a short time after that (until the bosses found out and cracked down on them), we did have a couple of right-wing investigators who consulted with a private organization that had surveillance files on suspected Communists. It might surprise you to know that a majority of our investigators seemed to be to the left of center. Our right-wing yahoos were a very small minority.

Oh, something else - in 25 years of doing investigations, I had only one applicant who was suspected of left-wing political activities. He made a trip to the Soviet Union for political reasons. I had a good number of applicants who were involved in suspicious right-wing activities.

-Joe Offer, retired investigator-
U.S. Office of Personnel Management