Contrary to the implication of recent "news" reports about Timothy Leary being an FBI informant, the story is not "news". Dr. Leary long acknowledged that he gave information to the FBI while in prison, just as he gave due credit to the CIA for helping usher in the psychedelic era. It's in his 1983 autobiography, Flashbacks, and it's discussed in the Leary/G. Gordon Liddy debate movie, Return Engagement. The information he provided was years out of date and led to no arrests, but it contributed to getting him out of jail early. Perhaps because of the fact that the FBI had been used by Leary in this way, it continues to make an effort to exaggerate what happened into a "snitch jacket" for the sake of ruining Leary's credibility.
The FBI is still doing its best to slow down the release of Leary's full file pursuant to Steamshovel Press editor Kenn Thomas' Freedom of Information Act request. The files referred to in these news stories are heavily redacted summaries released only to a chosen few in the media. They are designed to put the worst possible spin on this episode in Leary's life. For instance, a statement Leary makes about his plans for public life after prison, in most contexts a heroic ambition for him considering the circumstances, were cut and pasted to precede other testimony about one of the long-disappeared people involved in his prison escape. This was done "for clarity"--to make it "clear" that Leary was simply finking for the sake of his own freedom.
In fact, while Leary was talking to the FBI in 1974, several people organized a press conference, PILL (People Investigating Leary's Lies), to denounce Leary's cooperation and the situation that had been forced upon him. Allen Ginsberg spoke at this conference. Again, none of the conference organizers were compromised by what Leary said and many remained his friends until his death. Leary knew everyone. If he had "snitched" anything of significance, this would be a much bigger deal than it is.
What is valuable about the complete FBI file is less what is says about Leary than what it says about the interests, abilities and methods of the FBI in keeping people like Leary harassed and/or under surveillance simply for the sake of their point of view. Steamshovel does not put much stock in the spin put on these files by media sources sympathetic to what should be an embarassed FBI, certainly not the Associated Press and not CBS which also reported the "shocking new revelations" on its Evening News, trying to make Leary the bad guy. That's an old story and there's not much too it.
Steamshovel circulated these additional comments to readers with a more advanced interest in Tim Leary as he appears in the conspiracy literature: The "finking" allegations against Dr. Leary have had a strange afterlife: Walter Bowart, for instance, transformed them into an entirely imaginary scenario of Leary returning to his cell one night after a lobotomy, with blue streaks painted across the temples of his shaved head, now a total mind control slave. This came in a particularly ungracious obituary Bowart wrote for Dr. Tim, Leary's reward for one having given him some lurid details about his intelligence community connections for Bowart's book, Operation Mind Control.
Another author, Mark Reibling, in a 1994 book called Wedge: The Secret War Between the FBI and the CIA, tried to make the case for Leary having been an informant before prison, during his years in exile. I checked Reibling's government document sources and they did not match the details of Leary's biography. Reibling also tried to make the case that Woodward's Deep Throat was actually Cord Meyer, ex-husband of Leary gal pal Mary Pinchot Meyer.
The following appeared in the London Times Literary Supplement, April 30, 1999 (see "Hitchens, Koestler and Reich" in Previous Latest Word column below for context):
"The Jewishness of Arthur Koestler"
Sir, Michael Scammell's letter (April 23) about my study of Arthur Koestler is seriously misleading and incorrect in several respects. From the outset, my work on Arthur Koestler was always intended to be a study of his life and thought seen in the light of his Jewishness and in the context of modern Jewish history.
It was on these terms that I got permission from the late Harold Harris, Koestler's literary executor, to use the Koestler Archive. On March 16, 1992, Harold Harris wrote to Mr John Howard, the librarian in charge of Special Collections at Edinburgh University, giving his permission for me to use the archive for a study "which will seek to reevaluate Arthur Koestler's life and thought in terms of his Jewishness".
I think it is fair to say that the finished volume conformed to this remit. Indeed, several reviewers complained that it was overly pre-occupied with Koestler's Jewishness. Ben Rogers commented that it "makes much of Koestler's troubled relation to his Jewishness". Frederic Raphael protested, "Cesarani declares Koestler's fundamental Jewishness then reads the evidence in such a way as to prove his case."
Nor can Professor Scammell be surprised about its content. In a letter to him on January 14, 1993, I said that "I propose to examine his life and work". I told him that "my book will be as much an argument with Koestler as an account of his ideas and the threads running through his life". Readers can judge whether that is an accurate description of what I did.
Professor Scammell is mistaken or misinformed when he asserts that I did not seek proper permission to publish quotations or use pictures held by the Koestler Archive. As instructed by the librarians in the Special Collections, I e-mailed and wrote to Professor Robert Morris, holder of the Koestler Chair in Parapsychology, on July 1, 1998, seeking his permission to quote material from the archives Professor Morris replied in positive terms by e-mail on August 21. He wrote, "I am glad the library was able to be helpful and look forward to seeing your book when it comes out."
In addition to getting permission to use photographs from the archives I also obtained per- missions from the literary agents Peters, Fraser and Dunlop to quote from published works by Koestler as well as his letters and diaries. A fee was paid for the use of this published and unpublished material. I can understand why Professor Scammell feels unhappy about the appearance of my study of Koestler, since he has been at work on an authorized biography for some fifteen years. However, Koestler led a rich and varied life and my work was tightly focused on his Jewish identity - or denial of it.
I eagerly await Professor Scammell's volume, not least because I am curious to see how he explains the evidence that Koestler was frequently violent towards women and committed, or attempted to commit, rape. Professor Scammell maintains that there is only one such case, but apart from the awful stories I recount in my book, several more have come to light subsequently. Perhaps he will follow these up.
Clearly, the Koestler story is not over. My version was only one interpretation. It was certainly never intended as a "comprehensive attack", and I would be the last to describe my effort as "definitive". I am glad to leave that task to Professor Scammell.
Department of History, University of
Southampton, Highfield, Southampton.
Kenn Thomas comments: "I disagree with Mr. Cesarani that Koestler's denial of his Jewishness was a bad thing, since it is an assertion somewhat akin to calling Tim Leary a lapsed Catholic. I'm glad he concurs that the book is worthless to anyone who wants a full sense of what Koestler was all about. It is interesting to see, however, that he equivocates about the rape stories ("committed, or attempted to commit"), even though (surprise!) "several more have come to light" since Cesarani has been sensationalizing and popularizing them. Clearly, he blackened Koestler's reputation, and caused the illegal removal of Koestler's bust at Edinburgh, for the sake of his own religious agenda --and that's a pity. The Professor Morris referred to here, recipient of AK's largesse, made public statements in support of taking down the bust on the basis of Cesarani's rape stories.
(thanks to RR for passing on the letter from the Times)
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