FBI Tracked David Halberstam For More Than Two Decades
November 8, 2008

NEW YORK The FBI tracked the late Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Halberstam for more than two decades, newly released documents show.

Students at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism obtained the FBI documents by filing a Freedom of Information Act request. The university posted the documents on its Web site Thursday. [Read the file.]

The FBI monitored Halberstam's reporting, and at times his personal life, from at least the mid-1960s until at least the late '80s, the documents show. The agency released only 62 pages of a 98-page dossier on the writer, citing security, privacy and other reasons.

Halberstam won a Pulitzer in 1964 for his coverage of the Vietnam War while working as a reporter for The New York Times. In 1972, he wrote The Best and the Brightest, a best-selling book critical of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia.

It's unclear when the FBI began monitoring Halberstam, though the first documents made public date from 1965, when he was a Times correspondent in Poland during the Cold War.

The agency kept tabs on Halberstam's reporting there and his first marriage, to Polish actress Elzbieta Czyzewska, the documents show.

The files include published reports of Polish officials expelling Halberstam and Czyzewska from the country because of his news stories about Poland's communist leaders. The documents also include stories written by Halberstam and telephone company records of calls to him.

In 1971, FBI agents considered interviewing Halberstam, according to the documents. They don't say why agents wanted to talk to him or whether they ever did. The last document released is dated 1987.

The FBI declined to comment Friday on why it tracked the writer.

"The FOIA speaks for itself," spokesman Rich Kolko said.

A Times spokeswoman didn't immediately return a telephone message.

Halberstam's widow, Jean, said he was never certain federal agents were watching him but assumed it was possible.

Under J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director at the time, the agency's now-defunct counterintelligence programs known as COINTELPRO monitored and disrupted groups believed to have communist and socialist ties in the 1950s and '60s.

Before it was shut down in 1971, the domestic spying operation had expanded to include civil rights groups, anti-war activists, the Ku Klux Klan, state legislators and journalists.

Jean Halberstam said her husband referred to Hoover "as our country's worst public servant."

She called the agency's monitoring of the writer "a terrible waste" of time and taxpayer money.

"David's life was very much an open book," she said. "He did not much care about what people who disagreed with him thought about him."

Halberstam left daily journalism in 1967 and turned to books. His works included The Fifties, a chronicle of that decade's upheavals, and Summer of '49, an account of that year's New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox rivalry.

He remained based in New York until he was killed in an April 2007 car crash in Menlo Park, Calif., near San Francisco. He was 73.