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Uncovering The 'Truth' Behind Lennon's FBI Files

Oct. 9, 2010 would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday. Fresh Air remembers the legendary musician with excerpts from interviews conducted with people who knew him, and people who studied his life. This discussion with Jon Wiener was originally broadcast on Jan. 25, 2000.

Anti-war songs, like "Give Peace a Chance," didn't exactly endear former Beatle John Lennon to the Nixon administration. In 1971, shortly after Lennon went to New York on a visa and met up with radical anti-war activists, the FBI put Lennon under surveillance, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service tried to deport him a year later.

Historian Jon Wiener spent 14 years fighting to gain access to the FBI's secret files on John Lennon. At first, the FBI refused to release many of the documents, saying their release would endanger national security. Wiener's Freedom of Information case went all the way to the Supreme Court before the FBI agreed to settle.

Wiener spoke with Terry Gross about the case in 2000. His book about John Lennon's FBI files is entitled Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files. Wiener also consulted on the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, which features interviews with Gore Vidal, Angela Davis, Yoko Ono and Walter Cronkite about the case.

Jon Wiener is a history professor at the University of California-Irvine and a contributing editor to The Nation magazine. His other books include Come Together: John Lennon in his Time and Historians in Trouble.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.