The Federal Bureau
of Investigation's Program on Library Awareness
Freedom comes at a cost. People need to consistently monitor their government in order to prevent their government from becoming corrupt. This is especially true in the United States as the U. S. government is responsible for more deaths around the world than is any other government which ever existed.
In the profession of librarianship, this freedom was, and still may be threatened. In 1987 a major U. S. newspaper revealed the fact that the FBI wanted to conduct a library Awareness Program. This is a counterintelligence program which attempts to recruit librarians to inform the FBI if a Soviet of Soviet bloc national who either seeks assistance in conducting research, requests a referral of students or faculty who might be willing to assist in research, remove material without permission, or seek biographical information on students or faculty.
The program was called DECAL in the 1960s; Development of Counterintelligence Awareness Among Librarians. FBI agents warned librarians about the possible recruitment of research activity by Soviet people in their libraries. The FBI thought that libraries would offer Soviet spies the names of technical experts who could be recruited as agents. The agency also knew how little public librarians were paid and so reasoned that librarians were good targets for recruiting by foreign spies according to Robins.
Thomas DeHadway, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI intelligence division stated that the Soviets told him that it is better to recruit science or technology librarians than three engineers because librarians have access to people, places, and things. Moreover, Soviets think it is important to have a source in a library and to be in the library so they are able to associate with students and professionals with the chance to recruit them as spies [I surmise] according to Flagg.
The FBI report called "The KGB and the Library Target-1962-the present," was issued in May 1988 in an attempt to justify the program to the public who was angry. It alleged that Moscow had waged a twenty-six year operation against the Library of Congress, scientific and technical sections of public libraries, special departments of university libraries and large information clearinghouses Horvath states.
The FBI has consistently misinformed people of the extent of the operation stating that it was only a New York operation. Librarians unequivocally report that this is not true.
The FBI visited Princeton University under the DECAL program in the 1970s but it would not be until 1987 when a Columbia University library clerk was approached, that the library Awareness Program would become public knowledge. Overhearing the conversation, a librarian reported the incident to the director of the library. From that time, the incident began to gain notice from the library community in New York.
The New York Times published a front page article entitled "Libraries are Asked by FBI to Report on Foreign Agents." The outrage that was created by this article and other media coverage, compelled the FBI to claim to halt their activities. However, Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library systems have reported that their science and technology departments were visited and librarians were asked to report suspicious activity.
In September, 1988 a meeting between the FBI and the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee proved disheartening. The FBI would not discontinue the program, stating that they would only visit the chief Librarian. It agreed to submit a written statement explaining the structure, purpose, and goals of the program. However, it never did.
In 1989, after a lawsuit was filed, 1200 pages of FBI files regarding the program were released. It was revealed that the FBI had investigated approximately one hundred librarians who had either been contacted by them or who had voiced their objection to the program. The reasoning, according to the records, was that the FBI was looking to see if the storm of criticism was provoked by a Soviet backed initiative and if the Soviets were trying to discredit the program according to DeCandido.
The American Library Association filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents, but was informed that such documents did not exist. The National Security Archives filed suit to compel the release of documents. It took eight months before a single paper was released. The National Security Archives is a non-profit, Washington, DC based, library and research institute which collects, indexes, and publishes declassified government documents on contemporary national security and foreign policy issues according to Schmidt.
The American library Association condemned the program at its first annual meeting after the incident and called for their immediate cessation. Visits to libraries were to stop unless a court order was obtained. The Intellectual Freedom Committee and the Committee on professional Ethics presented a program at the 1989 Annual Conference regarding confidentiality, and the former committee published guidelines for librarians on the "Confidentiality of Library Records" Schmidt states.
Former FBI agent Don Edwards, who was elected to the House of Representatives, began an investigation in the program. In 1988, HR 447, The Video and library privacy Protection Act was introduced with the intent of providing federal protection against disclosure of information kept by libraries about library patrons.
However, the Library Privacy section was withdrawn when the Senate amended it by replacing the court order requirement with a "National Security letter;" imposing a gag on any library employee who had been questioned by an FBI agent; and subordinating state confidentiality law in national security cases.
These three amendments weakened the bill, if they did not destroy it altogether, and in reality made it worse than what was already in place. More than one bill has been introduced. Rep. Don Edwards is not even in the House any longer. Representative Conyers is, the co-sponsor of the original bill. These two representatives sponsored a bill that would make it a law to need specific criminal evidence before the FBI would be allowed to enter a library instead of the reporting of suspicious behavior.
The FBI program began in the 1960s and continues to this day. In telephone interviews with the woman who is the Assistant Director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom at American Library Association there was a sense that although it is quiet now, the need for vigilance remains. American Library Association members who requested information are "no files" and the only information available are the records received by the National Security Archives. This agency, however, only has obtained part of the file. There is a vast amount yet to be received.
Additionally, the FBI is only one of many agencies seeking information. The Treasury Department once asked librarians to report on anyone reading material on explosives.
If we are to be truly free, we must guard against episodes of this nature and report them to others freely.
The preceding article was adapted for this publication by the Editor-in chief. The original research was written by another librarian who did not wish to have it published under her name but gave verbal permission for the editor to publish it without quoting the original author. You know who you are; thank you very much.
Communication is vital if we are to survive. Information and the dissemination of that information is the key to a successful world. We must learn two lessons from this article if we do not learn anything else from it.
Public librarians are grossly underpaid. They are educated employees of institutions to which our children are desperately in need of having access after school and during the summer when families must work. The very fact that libraries have closed in certain instances, proves that they are not highly regarded. This must end and it will with this publication.
The FBI has the image of an agency which investigates crimes which cross state lines. This is their public image.
The foregoing article shows just one of the true reasons that the FBI exits. There are many other unscrupulous activities which this agency perpetuates around the world.
If for no other reason than that which you have just finished reading, please DEMAND that the FBI be disbanded immediately. This agency is the perpetrator of horrible deeds in the United States and abroad.
The local police departments are quite capable of handling the crime which will exist after the drugs have been removed.
- Conable, Gordon. "The FBI and You: Did the FBI investigate you as part of its Library Awareness Program?
Here's how to find out." American Libraries 21 (March 1990): 245.
- DeCandido, Graceanne A. "FBI Investigates Librarians Who Opposed Library Awareness Program."
Library Journal 114 (December 1989): 19.
- "FBI Asks Libraries to Report Foreign Readers." Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 36 (November 1987): 215.
- "FBI Checked on Librarians." Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 39 (January 1990): 1.
- "FBI Defends 'Library Awareness' Program." Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 37 (May 1988): 79.
- "FBI 'Library Awareness' Program: A Chronology of Events." Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 37
(September 1988): 146
- "FBI 'Library Awareness' Program: A Media Bibliography." Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 37
(September 1988): 147.
- Fields, Howard. "People for American Way Fund Suit Against FBI Library Informant Plan.
" Publishers Weekly 233 (17 June 1988): 16.
- Flagg, Gordon. "Transcript of Closed NCLIS Meeting Details FBI's Library Awareness Program.'
American Libraries 19 (April 1988): 244.
- Horvath, Bob. "FBI Library Program Still in Crossfire." Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 37
(July 1988): 113-114.
- People for the American Was. "FBI 'Library Awareness Program: A Background Report."
Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 37 (September 1988): 146
- Robins, Natalie. "The FBI's Invasion of Libraries." The Nation 246 (9 April 1988) 481.
- Schmidt, C. James. "IFC Report on "Library Awareness': FBI to Continue Targeting Libraries."
Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 39 (March 1989): 35.
- "Library Awareness' Update." Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 38 (September 1989): 157.
- "SDI The Database News Section: ALA President Accuses FBI of 'Misleading and Misusing Librarians'
..." and "...SLA Executive Director 'Dismayed at FBI Action." Database 13 (February 1990): 9.