- The secrets of how MI5 spied on John Lennon are to be
revealed after a ruling by a Los Angeles federal court cleared the way
for the release of British intelligence reports held by the FBI, write
John Harlow and Nicholas Rufford.
- The 10 packages of documents, which are held at Washington's
FBI headquarters, are believed to expose how Lennon gave money to the Irish
Republican Army before its split between the Official and Provisional wings.
They also show that he paid £46,000 to left-wing groups including
the Trotskyist Workers' Revolutionary party (WRP) and Red Mole, a Marxist
magazine edited by Tariq Ali, the student protest leader.
- Some of the information came from an MI5 "deep throat"
inside the WRP who passed on details of Lennon's donations to the Americans
and, bizarrely, a handwritten transcript of the lyrics to Lennon's song
Working Class Hero, which he is thought to have sent to the WRP as a gift.
- The WRP achieved fame through its leading lights, the
actors Vanessa and Corin Redgrave, but the movement has since fallen apart
as a result of of internal rows.
- MI5 passed material from its own files to the FBI in
the early 1970s after Lennon moved to America and began campaigning against
the Vietnam war.
- Advisers to Richard Nixon, the former American president,
ordered J Edgar Hoover, then director of the FBI, to find information to
help deport Lennon.
- Following receipt of the MI5 intelligence, the FBI stepped
up its surveillance of the singer. Lennon and Yoko Ono, his wife, were
followed to Irish bars in New York that were fundraising for the IRA. The
FBI even transcribed the lyrics of songs that Lennon performed at demonstrations.
- It is thought that Lennon's attraction to the republican
cause dated back to his Liverpudlian roots, where he was surrounded by
- In 1971, when internment without trial was introduced
in Northern Ireland, he held a sign at a London rally that read "Victory
for the IRA against British imperialism". After the 1972 Bloody Sunday
shootings, he proclaimed: "If it's a choice between the IRA and the
British Army, I'm with the IRA."
- The FBI and CIA have released hundreds of pages of highly
censored versions of documents relating to their own investigations but
they have refused to make public papers passed to them by MI5 without permission
from Britain. MI5 held back some information from the FBI, fearing - correctly
- that it would eventually become public.
- Yesterday's court ruling makes it difficult for the American
government to resist a further request for the release of the British files.
The decision follows a 20-year campaign by Jon Wiener, a history professor
at the University of California and author of a new book about the Lennon
files, Gimme Some Truth.
- Wiener first applied for the files to be released only
a few weeks after Lennon was murdered in New York in December 1980.
- "I find it disappointing that Tony Blair's government,
with its commitment to freedom of information, continues to block 30-year-old
information about a dead rock star," Wiener said.
- Rupert Allason, the former Conservative MP and espionage
historian, said yesterday that he was not surprised by the reluctance of
the British government to release such documents. "Tony Blair is as
trapped by institutional secrecy as his predecessors," he said
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