ALIEN INK: The FBI's War on Freedom of Expression by Natalie Robins

ALIEN INK: The FBI's War on Freedom of Expression

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Richly researched broadside against the FBI's invasion of the rights of US writers to think for themselves; by the co-author of the Edgar-winning Savage Grace (1985). Aside from the 146 writers whose files were recovered from the FBI through the Freedom of Information Act for use in this book, Robins lists even more whose files she did not get access to or who are not discussed here for lack of space. Files of living authors can be released only to the authors themselves, but Robins did write to many--such as Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, and Kay Boyle--who had recovered their own files and who passed on to her their response to notes by FBI agents and informants. Judging from Robins's account, which covers the Bureau's snooping on writers and books-Rom John Reed and WW I through the recent campaign to access library rolls--the FBI seems full of idiots. As Murray Kempton says here: ""These files are so goddamn inept... You think of a lunatic sitting there and saying 'off with their heads'--and there's no axe. I mean he presses this button and he says destroy this man's career and the career is not destroyed."" As Robins reveals, the truth was that J. Edgar Hoover was leery of jabbing writers, who had such quick ways of fighting back in print--not that writers knew this, of course. Even the suggestion of FBI surveillance apparently had a chilling effect that dissuaded many from pursuing subjects sure to place them under even greater observation. Hoover, Robins says, ""tailored the meaning of the word alien to fit writer""--and ""most of the damage was invisible."" Her story climaxes with the FBI's Library Awareness Program, which attempted to enlist librarians in informing on book borrowers--an act called by librarians ""an unconscionable invasion of the right of privacy...."" Noteworthy, but repetitive and rarely catching fire.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1992
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Morrow