FBI and Media Kick a Man While He's Dead
An Open Letter from the Friends of Timothy Leary
"Those who want to gnaw on his bones never knew his heart" - Ken Kesey
"He stood up bravely for freedom of speech and behavior and deserves to be remembered for that" - Winona Ryder
Recent media coverage about Timothy Leary's "cooperation" with the FBI brings into focus the Orwellian character of today's tabloid media environment.
Focusing on documents selectively released by the FBI, and initially published by the "true crime" webzine, The Smoking Gun, a news story picked up by the Associated Press presented as shocking news the fact that Leary testified about the radical left in 1974 in the hopes of speeding up his prison release. Young readers, or those with a short historical memory, were led to believe that Leary was a secret FBI collaborator, hiding behind a mask of countercultural anti-authoritarianism. We refer the Associated Press and all other conscientious reporters to newspapers and periodicals from this period. We also refer them to the final chapters (39-41) of Leary's own autobiography, Flashbacks (Tarcher/Putnam, 1983). Leary found his interaction with the Feds important enough to make it the closing chapter. He was certainly aware that it was no secret. Trumpeting the fact that Leary answered the agency's questions as "news" is utterly dishonest.
"I feel my neurons perking up and snapping to attention as the fog of mass-media disinformation turns to high-definition clarity" - Susan Sarandon
Journalists who wish to investigate this situation further will be rewarded with a complex adventure story of a heroic man whose rights were consistently violated by various government agencies, who served 4-1/2 harsh years in prison and another 1-1/2 years in exile, and who finally evaded several lifetimes' worth of further prison sentences while doing negligible damage to friends and acquaintances.
"For those whose image of Dr. Leary has been formed by shallow and often malicious reports in the press..." - Tom Robbins
Here are a few salient facts:
- Timothy Leary faced about 100 years in prison. Twenty years were for a total of less than half an ounce of marijuana; another five for escaping from prison. That alone would have put him away for the rest of his life. But in addition, he faced 75 years on some bizarre conspiracy charges around global distribution of LSD. Of his thirty "co-conspirators," twenty-nine were unfamiliar to him, and conspiracy charges were eventually dropped. In contrast, the leaders of the Weather Underground received fines and suspended sentences when they finally turned themselves in, due to the disclosure that the FBI had committed illegal acts against them.
- Nobody was seriously injured by Leary's interaction with the FBI, with the exception of a former attorney, who received three months in prison after being set up on a cocaine bust by a girlfriend of Leary working on the outside, not from Tim's testimony. The lawyer has never come forward to express any anger toward Leary. Two other former lawyers of Leary were placed at risk, as were his estranged wife and his archivist, but nothing came of it because of the absence of corroborating testimony from people who Tim well knew had been underground for years.
- The Weather Underground, the radical left organization responsible for his escape, was not impacted by his testimony. Histories written about the Weather Underground usually mention the Leary chapter in terms of the escape for which they proudly took credit. Leary sent information to the Weather Underground through a sympathetic prisoner that he was considering making a deal with the FBI and waited for their approval. The return message was "we understand."
- While in exile, Leary was illegally kidnapped by US agents in Afghanistan (which had no extradition treaty with the U.S.) and brought back to America. On returning to prison, he was thrown into "the hole" in Folsom Prison. His bail was five million dollars, the largest in U.S. history. President Richard Nixon had earlier labeled him "the most dangerous man in America."
- When Leary first agreed to talk to the FBI about those involved in his escape, the agents were so dissatisfied with his testimony that they put him out on the "main line" at a Minnesota prison under the name "Charles Thrush," a songbird. This was a blatant attempt to label him a snitch and get him murdered by prisoners, or at least to scare him into giving the FBI the kind of answers they wanted.
- After his testimony, Leary remained in prison for close to two years.
- His release had as much to do with Nixon's downfall over the Watergate scandal, the fact that the FBI had been exposed for illegal activities against radical groups, and the transition from Ronald Reagan to Jerry Brown as governor of California, as it did with any useful information the FBI might have received from him.
- There are lots of FBI files on Tim Leary. The government has released a select number of them, which were clearly chosen to hurt his reputation. The FBI is still doing its best to slow down the release of Leary's full file, according to investigators who have made Freedom of Information Act requests.
«Tim was a Chieftain. He stomped on the terra, and he left his elegant hoof prints on all our lives» - Hunter S. Thompson
«Tim knew he had to make the same sort of rollover when he was in the belly of the beast. He also knew he wasn't telling the Feds anything they didn't already know. And he figured it the same way I did: our true allies and comrades would understand.
I have no need to associate with doubters. When the priests in the Star Chamber promise to stop pouring hot lead in your ear if you'll confess to being in league with Satan, you do what you have to do. Those citizens who think you are being a traitorous coward have never had hot lead poured in their ears.
Tim Leary was a great warrior, funny and wise and clever and, above all, courageous. I judge myself blessed to have battled alongside a revolutionary like this blue-eyed battler. Those who want to gnaw on his bones never knew his heart» - Ken Kesey
The Friends of Timothy Leary:
R. U. Sirius
Larry "Ratso" Sloman
Robert Anton Wilson