The FBI Takes an Interest in Me

When I started working on this manuscript I applied under the Freedom of information Act to get my files from the FBI and was surprised to receive a fat envelope in the mail a few months later. I knew that the files existed and had seen the files of other people, but I was not prepared for the shock of seeing over 180 pages of personal information about me, that my government had deemed significant enough to gather and preserve. I must also confess to feeling a little deflated knowing that the Bureau had accumulated many thousands of pages about people they apparently felt were “more important”. A lot of the information had been redacted (blacked out), including the names and identifying information of all the agents and informants, leaving large areas of empty space, but there is enough there to give a good idea of the nature of the whole. There is nothing in these files about which I am ashamed or that I would not want to be made public, but that is not the point. I felt violated. Much of this information had been gathered clandestinely using informants who had been guests in my house and pretended to be my friends. Some of the information was from public sources, but even that had been obviously selected and codified for the purpose of some future indictment. What citizen would not feel violated and intimidated to know the government was collecting this kind of personal information?

Although most identifying information was redacted, it is obvious that one or several people in the College administration or on the faculty had spoken freely to the FBI about me and opened up my files for their examination as shown by the following quotes:

“The records of ___ reflect that on December 4, 1950 the subject [me] was interviewed by _____. During this interview the subject said in part that bad things had resulted from the rise of the present regime in the Soviet Union, but that he was attracted by the many ‘constructive things accomplished.”

"The subject was unconvinced that North Korea was the ‘aggressor’ and stated that two years before he would have been a conscientious objector but he was not sure at the time of the interview. He did not know whether he would fight Russia or not but he would not fight with the Soviet Union against the United States. He could see nothing gained by the Soviet Union coming to the United States to tell us how to run our government. He recognized his responsibility as a United States citizen and liked being one. When it was suggested to him that it would be logical to suspect him to be a card carrying member of the CP the subject said that his thoughts had not crystallized that far yet and he did not know what direction they were leaning.”

“____ that the subject was probably a member of some of the liberal and highly unpredictable political groups found in the Harvard community. The subject’s liberal political philosophy and immaturity ____ doubt the advisability of using the subject in a position of trust with the United States Government.”

“____ did not feel that the subject should be recommended for a position of trust with the Government not from the standpoint of loyalty but because he felt the subject was very immature and unpredictable.”

“The records of _____ previously described, reflect that the subject’s scholarship folder at Harvard University indicates that he had been president of the Young Progressives of Harvard.”

“___stated that he has been interviewed many times concerning different people who were applying for positions of trust within the Government and that this subject was the most questionable person he had ever been interviewed about. He would not recommend the subject for such a position.”

The informant(s) must have been a faculty member or a dean. The FBI Agent seems to have been using a pretext that I had applied for a Government position, which I never did.

During my sophomore year at college I had some emotional problems and consulted G. Colket Caner, MD, a psychiatrist on the staff of the Harvard student medical service. I met with him a few times. He suggested an extended period of treatment using “the talking cure” at a cost which I could not afford. I asked my father if he could pay for it and he –I think wisely- declined writing: …

[Q]uite frankly, unless the situation calls for immediate and drastic action, l don’t feel that our financial situation is such that we could underwrite a long-term project of this kind with all its uncertainties and indefiniteness. I’m writing Dr. Caner today and hope in the meantime you will feel free to write more in detail about the nature of the problem and the history of his attempts to help you. From my scant knowledge of psychiatry l feel sure that the patient has to be his own doctor, a fact which is hard to face, but one about which one must be completely realistic.

I believe now that my father – perhaps inadvertently - saved me from a potentially disastrous relationship. Dr. Cramer’s conservative politics seemed to have trumped his medical ethics when he violated our patient-doctor confidentiality and talked to the FBI about me. The report quoted him as saying:

“[S]ubject was having recurrent periods of depression and tension, which lasted a short time, which were usually reactive to some situation in his life, which caused stress. He was in conflict with his parents because he had developed very leftist tendencies. He was president of the Young Progressives at Harvard. Caner stated he made no definite diagnosis but felt that the subject was probably having mood swings of the manic depressive type in a very mild degree.”

Dr. Caner seems to have unwittingly saved me from some unwanted attention from Bureau Special Agents, who were leery of getting involved with a “crazy”. The next report stated:

“Subject is not recommended for interview. It is felt that due to the condition of subject’s health as furnished by Dr. Caner, set out in referenced report, i.e. the subject is having periods of depression and tension mood swings of the manic depressive type, he would not be suitable for development as a Security Informant and interview with subject at this time would not be to the best interest of the Bureau.” I never kept a diary or journal, so I have found the chronology of my life supplied by the FBI files to be very useful in preparing this manuscript. I have inserted quotes from my file as footnotes in appropriate places.