STAY CONNECTED { }

FBI Kept Tabs on NY Reporter Halberstam

The FBI amassed a dossier on the late journalist David Halberstam for more than two decades – keeping tabs on his reporting, tracking his marriage to a Polish actress and preparing background reports on the Pulitzer Prize winner for other federal agencies, documents show.

The feds appear to have paid particular attention to Halberstam in the mid 1960s when he was a New York Times correspondent in Poland during the Cold War – when that nation was closely aligned with the Soviet Union.

Halberstam married one of Poland’s top actresses, Elzbieta Czyzewska. He was expelled in 1967 for his coverage, including stories that cast doubt on public support for Poland’s Communist leaders.

Czyzewska, who left her homeland and moved with Halberstam to New York, also was tracked by the FBI. Halberstam’s FBI file includes magazine profiles of his then-wife, and stories about him being expelled from Poland.

Many Pages Withheld

Halberstam would go on to become a best-selling author of numerous books, including “The Best and the Brightest,” a sharp look at the leaders who guided the nation into the Vietnam War.

The dossier is 98 pages, but only 62 pages were released by the FBI, which said many of the documents should remain sealed because of national security, privacy and other reasons.

The documents were obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, which calls on the agency to release certain documents to the public once the person has died. Halberstam was killed April 23, 2007, in a car accident in Menlo Park, Calif.

In one of the most famous moments of Halberstam’s long career, President John F. Kennedy called Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the Times’ publisher, to complain about the journalist’s reporting in Vietnam. Kennedy suggested Halberstam be removed from the assignment. The Times refused. Halberstam would go on to win his Pulitzer for his reporting on the war.

The FBI records released do not document Kennedy’s request – but it’s unclear exactly when the agency started the Halberstam file, since more than a dozen of the file’s initial pages were not made public.

Critical of Vietnam Policy

However, in a memorandum dated April 19, 1968, the FBI noted “that articles written by [Halberstam] in the past, including those written about the Vietnamese War, had been critical of the U.S. participation in that conflict.”

FBI agents compiled the dossier through a wide range of methods, from mining telephone company records to reading Halberstam’s articles, including one in Playboy. The file includes stories from The New York Times and notations about his jobs with Harper’s magazine and National Public Radio.

Some of the communications were written by officials the main office of then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, whom Halberstam once called the century’s “worst public servant.” Hoover’s long tenure at the FBI included building files on hundreds of public figures who had not committed crimes – a practice slammed by many critics.

The first entry in Halberstam’s dossier is dated September 1965. In October 1965, agents probed an anonymous letter that somehow cast Halberstam in a bad light. The details of the letter itself were redacted by the FBI.

‘No Derogatory Information’

The memorandum goes on to note that FBI files had “no derogatory information” about Halberstam. It also cast doubt on the veracity of the anonymous letter. It noted agents should treat the letter with caution, warning the missive could be “a provocation” by Polish intelligence agents or someone with “a personal vendetta” against Halberstam.

The FBI also talked with sources who provided information about Halberstam and his first wife, Czyzewska. On Aug. 11, 1969, the FBI was following a person who telephoned Halberstam. The FBI redacted the name of the person who dialed the number, though it did note that person was interested in Polish theater. The FBI did not listen in on the call, but the New York Telephone Co. told an FBI agent that the call was placed to Halberstam.

FBI Eyed Interview

On Aug. 28, 1971, the FBI weighed whether agents should interview Halberstam. The documents are unclear about why they were interested in talking to him.

The memo notes the FBI’s New York office had “no information which would preclude [an] interview with Halberstam” but would hold off interviewing him pending further instructions from the agency. There is no information from the files disclosing whether agents ever did talk with him.

The FBI prepared some documents about Halberstam for other agencies – documents known as “letterhead memorandum.” One document noted that a March 3, 1966 memo – not included in the dossier released by the FBI – was sensitive, and should not be released to another federal agency “without prior approval from the FBI.”

After Hoover died in 1972, documents concerning Halberstam thin out, though the file was added to at least through 1987. The later internal memos made public deal mainly about whether to declassify records on file.

  • Lee Maltenfort

    I knew Halberstam slightly in ‘Nam in ’63; he was with the Times and I was News Director for Armed Forces Radio (long before Kronhauer and Robin Williams). Dave was the subject of surveillance by military intelligence then for his stand on the war and he knew it and fully expected other alphabets in the government were either on his case or about to get on that particular bandwagon then. He was a very thorough, intense reporter with no tolerance for the US government’s pr mechanisms in Nam or DC when it came to war news. Neither, for that matter, was his office mate, Neal Sheehan. Wonder what dossiers are under his name . . .

  • Paul Kellogg

    November 7, 2008

    So the FBI kept files on late former NY Times reporter David Halberstam. Halberstam’s assignment in Vietnam led to his book, “Making of a Quagmire” and to a Pulitzer prize. But President Kennedy wanted Halberstam removed from Vietnam, and Hoover’s FBI was not above investigating people it viewed as security risks.
    An unpleasant reminder of government intrusion into private lives.

  • John Brooks

    The FOI law needs to be improved.
    The arbitrary and needless redactions in request
    would be funny if the actions of the government
    were not so serious. The agency even removes
    Elzbieta Czyzewska’s name , when its clear who it is talking about. There should be a time limit, beyond which ALL material must be released.

  • No Name

    Thank you for providing yet one more example of why the so called ‘FISA law’ was originally enacted.

  • T.J. Fod

    Can anyone say Izzy Stone? Famous reporter for the NY TYimes and just as infamous backchannel mouthpiece of the Soviet Union’s Politboro’s. This came to light when files were acccessed after the fall of the old Soviet Union and when the “Wall” came down

    While one well established spy does not suggest the Soviet policy of ‘disinformation’ employed all NY Times Eastern-bloc reporters, as this past election saw, and Chris Matthews just intoned with his interest in ‘helping this president-elect’, the media ‘ is corrupt beyond measure.

    Corrupt reporters should not have unfettered access to the White House, Senate briefing room, State Dept releases and events, etc if they are corrupt.

    With the NY Times reporter’s backgrounds, there may have been a red flag so to speak and the FBI looked further into the matter. Without an investigation how can we know?

    T.J. Fod

  • http://none Dudley Gibson

    I am a retired police officer and National Guard Officer. I held top secret clearances and had access to quite a variety of classified and sensitive information.

    I have long been concerned about the actions and activities of our government going about their duties in collecting information necessary to national security and public safety.

    In far to many instances the public right to know is supressed using phony cover of supposed rights to privacy, national security concerns and just plain old we do not want to tell you that so you will have to go to extraordinary efforts to get what you want, which usually stifles the attempt.

    I think the School of Journalism should make an example of the Halberstam FOI request and the government response, pursuing the request further to expose the arbitrary refusual of the FBI to release information.

    There is no FOI if an agency can unilaterally, and arbitrarily fail to comply with the law!

    Dudley Gibson

  • Peter Wentworth

    For those who have read T.J. Fod’s silly, widely recognized pathological lie about Izzy Stone I’ve provided a link to Eric Alterman’s article – which set the record straight years ago. But the Ann Coulter, Robert Noavaks T.J. Fod’s – who make big money by making things up and cashing in on the country’s considerable hate industries (Fox News, Rush, Michael Savage, have no integrity beyond the bottom line of what will get them sufficient attention to cashi in.

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060918/alterman

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060918/alterman

  • T.J. Fod

    Nothing silly about this problem.

    Let me now ask once more with feeling, why did Tom Brokaw and Charlie Rose say on-air they don’t know who Barak Obama is? I mean 2 days before the election?

    Simple, because the protected media class decided to leave it undiscovered until he is in office. Then of course we will all learn about Obama’s references, after he has the job.

    TJ Fod

  • yoyoMa

    Can anyone say “STFU, TJ Fod?” What a maroon!

  • Paul Rigby

    Halberstam in 1963 was a very right-wing piece of work: His big criticism of Diem was the latter’s lack of vigour in killing Communists. He was also notorious – and satirized as such – for his reliance on unspecified sources; in many instances, these were clearly CIA.

    Halberstam a hero? Not a bit of it.

  • http://blogtext.org/eyelash26produc lizzie borden

    I knew Halberstam slightly in ‘Nam in ’63; he was with the Times and I was News Director for Armed Forces Radio (long before Kronhauer and Robin Williams). Dave was the subject of surveillance by military intelligence then for his stand on the war and he knew it and fully expected other alphabets in the government were either on his case or about to get on that particular bandwagon then. He was a very thorough, intense reporter with no tolerance for the US government’s pr mechanisms in Nam or DC when it came to war news. Neither, for that matter, was his office mate, Neal Sheehan. Wonder what dossiers are under his name . . .