Allen Ginsberg and the FBI (and Secret Service)

In 1965 Allen Ginsberg flew to Cuba as part of a major poetry event hosted by the Casa de las Americas. He was famously booted out of the country after offending his hosts. In fact, it was never entirely clear why Ginsberg was deported. He liked to say it was for protesting the illegal detention of homosexuals, but it’s more likely that it was a political move by the government to harm the image of Casa de las Americas. In any case, Allen’s outspoken nature meant he was unlikely to get along well under a totalitarian regime like Castro’s. From Cuba he went to Czechoslovakia. His first month in the country went very well, but after visiting Russia and Poland, he returned to Prague where he was crowned “King of May” – the first time in two decades that the title had been awarded. This enraged the government, who stole Allen’s notebook, had him beaten up and arrested, and then deported him – the second time he’d been kicked out of a communist country. He travelled to London and then Paris before heading back home to the U.S.

Upon his return to America, Allen was strip-searched at the airport. He claims to have seen a file lying on a table that warned he and Peter Orlovsky were potential drug smugglers. Thankfully, his pocket lint turned up nothing and he was released. However, after that he became convinced that the FBI were tracking his moves. In 1994, he told Conan O’Brian that the FBI had been watching him and even had him listed as “Dangerous to Security”:

CO: You were on the FBIs “Dangerous” list, weren’t you?

AG: “Dangerous to Security”, they call it. I think I wanted to go to Cuba to check it out – and I got kicked out of Cuba – for objecting to (Fidel) Castro’s anti-gay policy. He put all the homosexuals in the theatre school into a work camp. So I protested that, so I got kicked out of Cuba, and the day I arrived from Cuba by plane to Czechoslovakia, I found later, (that) I was put on the “Dangerous to Security” list by the old queen,J.Edgar Hoover! (laughter)

CO: There’s some irony! – Well, that’s interesting. You’d think that they would admire that you’re kicked out of Cuba.

AG: Yeah, you’d think so, but..listen.. (it was) something I found out later – that the police, the secret police behind the Iron Curtain and the secret police in America have a kind of understanding. It’s one international mucous membrane network

Indeed, perhaps unsurprisingly, the F..B.I. did have a file on Ginsberg and had been tracking his movements since he applied for permission to visit Cuba in January, 1965. Their investigation turned up a somewhat incomplete map of Allen’s travels around the globe prior to 1965 (and beginning after he applied for his first passport in 1957) and notes that he was known to be “sympathetic” to Castro’s government and should therefore be considered “circumspect.”

However, while the F.B.I. most certainly was tracking his activities (and even shared their information with the Secret Service) during his time in communist countries, they did not believe he was a danger to anyone. Their files, now available thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, make that very clear:

The dissemination [of information to various government agencies] is also believed warranted in view of his own professed antipathy toward the Federal Government and its representatives and his self-described background as a left-wing, Russian. As noted in the report, GINSBERG has frequently demonstrated publicly for various causes and is a self-admitted user of narcotics and a former psychiatric patient.

A review of GINSBERG’s activities, however, reflects no basis either from a membership or activity standpoint for his inclusion on the Security Index. His activities, while bizarre, have not indicated any direction or being inimical to the interests of the US.

No interview of GINSBERG is recommended at any time in view of his narcotic and sexual proclivities, his psychiatric history and his connections with mass media. It is felt that any interview with him would be unproductive and in all probability could result in embarrassment to the Bureau through his use of connections in the mass media field to publicize such an interview.

The report notes that Allen had been of interest to the various agencies and even at one point considered watching for the sake of the safety of the President due to his weirdness. However, after being deported from Cuba it appears the Bureau lost interest and closed their investigation. The above conclusions show that they had determined Allen was no threat to national security or the President’s life.  Yet around the time Allen returned to the United States, information was received by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service in Vienna that listed Ginsberg as a narcotics user. (It’s unclear where exactly this came from, but may have been related to newspaper articles in Czechoslovakia.) This was forwarded to various agencies, and accounts for why he was stopped and searched on his return to the U.S.

A few years later, further review of Allen’s activities (including much anti-war protesting and pro-marijuana campaigning) led to the conclusion that: “His activities, while extremely eccentric, apparently lack any specific direction.”

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David S. Wills

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David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult.

He travels a lot and currently lectures in China. He also runs an ESL website. You can read more about and by David at his blog, www.davidswills.com or on Tumblr.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. In the Sixties, by Barry Miles -November 20, 2017

    […] by local authors – and it was here that he met Allen Ginsberg. Allen was in town after being kicked out of Cuba and Czechoslovakia, and from that point on made Better Books his London headquarters. Miles retells a funny story of […]

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