Writers Under Surveillance: The FBI Files by JPat Brown, B C D Lipton & Michael Morisy (edd) - review by Jay Parini

Jay Parini

Feds under the Bed

Writers Under Surveillance: The FBI Files


MIT Press 375pp £20 order from our bookshop

There is a long history of FBI meddling in the affairs of public intellectuals in America, and it’s not a happy one. State surveillance of writers and political activists (such as Martin Luther King Jr) became an obsession under the bizarre and dictatorial leadership of J Edgar Hoover, who served as director from its inception until 1972, a reign of error that became distinctly creepy, characterised by the pursuit of anyone who offered a serious critique of American power or ‘the American way of life’ as conceived by right-leaning, white and usually straight men in dark suits.

This unhappy history began, in part, with the detention of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. The FBI compiled a ‘custodial detention list’ in 1939 that led, after Pearl Harbour, to warrantless searches and mass arrests. From 1950 onward, Hoover began in earnest to pursue his ‘sex deviates’

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