(June 9, 1977)
A class in Ed Sanders’s “Investigative Poetics” series, led by Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg discusses the contemporary political situation and the way in which political situations do and have interacted with poetry.
[James Jesus Angleton (1917-1987), Chief of the CIA’s Counter-Intelligence Staff 1954-1975]
Allen Ginsberg: Well, ok, what does all this mean? [all this COUNTELPRO information] - It means that.. Well, one thing it means that, see, their budget was enormous.I mean they had seven billion dollars a year, the CIA alone had seven billion. So there was a budget of anywhere between seven and twenty billion, who knows? to employ millions of secretaries and lots of telephone bills, automobile bills, cars, mimeograph machines, people to write letters, specialists, agents who would analyze other agents work. Almost every move that was made in the Peace Movement was infiltrated and checked, and it was almost impossible to get anything done, from a poetry reading to a..Yellow Submarine march in New York..to a Be-In.. without some surveillance and interference of some kind or other.
Student: What would be their budget today?
AG: Probably the same. Not much different. The White House has given orders - “no more (of) this stuff”. Thereby hangs a tail. A number of FBI agents are being.. forty-one agents I think, are being indicted for hanky-pankey in their treatment of the Weathermen - wire-tapping, mail-opening, illegal behavior - and thereby hangs a tale, in this sense - I saw (Timothy) Leary about three weeks ago for the first time since he was out of jail, the first time we (had) met (he told me before on the phone about this (Eldridge) Cleaver business). There was one thing.. there was one technical point I always wondered (about). You see, the FBI and the DEA were (actually) the ones who spread most of the stuff about Leary being a fink. That was another counter-intelligence thing, to discredit him and confuse everybody. Leary’s position was ambiguous to begin with as a sort of egoist and someone who was set up, so he did have enough problems to begin with, but they just escalated it, in order, specifically, to poison people’s minds against him and to make everyone think he was an irresponsible.. (that) his brains had been cooked by acid, and (that) the whole acid thing was hopeless and historically a great failure, and Leary, his brains were cooked and he was finking on his friends, and there was no community come out of it. And, actually, they succeeded (in) convincing Marc Raskin, who’s a big left-wing intellectual and head of theInstitute for Policy Studies, which was a Washington think-tank. When Leary got in trouble, I tried to arrange through Raskin to get all Leary’s papers sequestered in a Congressional sub-committee, to save his papers from being seized by the DEA. So Raskin said he would try, and I said, “Well, what do you think all this means?”, and he said, “Well, one thing it proves is that acid does not lead to community, and I’m interested in community, as a political person” - which was precisely the point that the FBI was trying to make and working toward, that is, to break up any community that might exist and to poison everybody’s minds, taking advantage of natural problems (because there were natural ego problems), and escalating them to a point where they became unmanageable and hidden. In Leary’s case, Leary was actually talking with the FBI about the Weathermen (said Leary) and, at the time, the one quote…the one thing I saw quoted was that, when people knew what he was talking about, they would appreciate it rather than hate him. So I asked him what was that point actually? - and that, years later, (19)74 to (19)77) - and he said, “Ah, that the entire FBI case on the Weathermen rested on whether or not they were getting money from Moscow, whether they were getting foreign money, and I knew the Weathermen a little (not really enough to get them in trouble, because I didn’t know much more than what was in the papers and what I knew was years old, but I did have..) what real evidence I had was that they were not getting any money from abroad, so I talked as much about them as I could, saying that I wanted to talk about the Weathermen to the FBI, and thus claim some credit for helping undermine the entire FBI case, (he said), against the Weathermen, as you see they’re now indicted precisely for that point. And now, their only defence, they couldn’t have proved money, so they’re trying to prove now, as their defense, (was) that the Weathermen were getting military training from Cubans, that there was some connection, somehow with.. See if the Weathermen were foreign agents of a foreign.. [Allen pauses here] - I wonder if there’s an agent here, in this room if the Weathermen were agents of a foreign country, there naturally would be one if their budget’s the same, actually!
Ed Sanders’ Investigative Poetics, it’s a very interesting conception. It is an interesting conception, but anyway… Leary was claiming credit for having undermined the one defence that the FBI’s right wing Hoover neanderthal group had in defending itself. So anyways, it’s all very complicated.
Well what has all this got to do with Investigative Poetics? I don’t know. I thought this information would be useful and put lots of cultural history in context.
Student: How did you go about getting your file?
AG: I got a lawyer . Anyone can do it. Its harder and harder to get because so many people are asking, but you.. there are forms you’ve got to fill out and letters you’ve got to write. I got hold of a lawyer [Ira Lowe] who was working for Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda and who was a friend of mine, a friend of my dentist in Washington, and I’d known him for years, and he likes me as a poet, and so he suggested.. We were talking one day and I said “Can I get mine?, and he said “Sure”, and I said “How much?”, and he said “Well, I’ll do it for free, just pay the court costs, or whatever duplicating fee - they charge you two cents a page or something - or filing fees if you’ve got to sue them. So, actually, I’ve been working on it for three years. I still haven’t got all my papers, but I have a pile this high.
Student: Do you trust the information that they’re sending out.
AG: No no, they don’t give you everything. No question of trusting it. I don’t trust..
There’s no.. I trust that they haven’t sent me everything that they’ve really got. I know, certain areas, where I know they’ve got information where..f or instance, I was busted by the Secret Service at the 1968 Convention and kidnapped for about an hour, and then kicked out of the Convention Hall - illegally, when I had the proper accreditation, and there’s no record of that in the Secret Service file, although when they brought me to the Secret Service room, the guy dressed in black, looked at me and said “Hello, Allen”… So, I mean, they must have had..there must be something on paper, you know, (but) there’s no paper. There’s a lot of stuff. All that stuff about CIA dope, that was my most active research, and there’s endless newspaper-clippings and television broadcasts (that) I made talking about it, until I cultivated that whole thing until it actually became a reality, as far as a public notion, and there’s absolutely nothing on that, except a couple of letters that I sent to the CIA in my file. There’s no.. I had interviewed Richard Helms and there’s no report on that, and I had had stuff published in the papers which is not.. even newspaper-clips were missing (Jack Anderson columns describing my accusations against the CIA, even that was out). So I know that I’ve only got the tame stuff..Well, the tame stuff, but there’s so much stuff, that, even among the tame stuff, you can see the extent of the surveillance.
Student: Didn’t you think that some of the stuff they’re sending you is lies, they may have made it up before they send it to you
Student: I have no idea. I just would assume..
AG: Well, nothing.. there’s nothing that.. lies? in which direction?
Student: Well, confusion .. In the same way that. .false things that have been said in the past In other words, you would be given..
AG: Might be. That’s possible - but there was nothing here particularly confusing. I mean, here was the FBI (who) had tried to confuse everybody about Cleaver and SNCC and tried to seperate Leroi Jones(Amiri Baraka)and the Black Panthers, tried to manipulate Jones to be anti-White, tried t0.. It all fell according to Hoover’s prescription to try to break down any charismatic Black leaders(hip).
Student: I just wondered…
AG: It’s possible, but I don’t think so, because, you see, it’s a whole decade later now, they’re different clerks, who are letting things through that you wouldn’t… [Allen breaks off] How late is class supposed to go?
Student: Till one
AG: Okay, so we’ve got a little time.
Student; What do you personally think that say the CIA or the FBI with its agenda is up to now?
AG: Well, one thing, I’ve always had a theory (which I’ve never been able to prove). I used to think it was paranoid but now I get more and more to feel that it is possibly true, that part of the literary war of the mid (19)40’s (19)50’s and (19)60’s (in which I was involved, somewhat, from the mid 50’s on), part of the literary world of Beat Generation and different styles of poetry was somewhat weighted and influenced by activities both by CIA and FBI.. CIA in their manipulation ofEncounter magazine in a world-wide network, in literary and intellectual, ideological cultural magazines - Encounter, Quest,Preuves, Der Monat, a world network of magazines subsidized by the CIA and edited by them to their own interest promoting somewhat liberal but conservative non-revlutionary, non-psychologically visionary, anti-Whitmanic, pro-conservativeEliotic manners - and they were very nasty about Kerouac (reviews in Encounter and those magazines were always very..(Jack) Kerouac and (William) Burroughs. In fact, in 1958 in Paris I sent a copy of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch to Stephen Spender, asking if he’d publish some of it in Encounter magazine, and Spender wrote back that he would not, that it was only of interest to psychologists or a psychiatrist! - And I got so mad, and I’d heard already rumors, so I wrote to Spender saying, “Is or is not Encounter magazine funded by the CIA?” And Spender wrote back saying, “No”. And then it turns out it was.
Student: What kind of magazine was Encounter?
AG: It’s still going , it’s still running
Student: A psychology magazine?
AG: No, no, it’s a literary.. like Partisan Review - but an international.. Anglo-American.. You never saw it?
Student: No, I never saw it.
AG: Oh well, look it up. It was the most elegant and prestigious magazine, and it was the magazine of intellectuals that were being quoted, with Partisan Review (also, sometimes subsidized), quoted in Time magazine and Newsweek as being the prestigious source of.. if you want to know what’s going on in the world of intellectual ferment, just check it out in Encounter. So that everybody.. all these high-school teachers and college teachers reading Time magazine and Encounter, they all got the idea that, well, literature was like this, and that the really important intelligent people that were at it, you know, who say this is this, and who were these other interlopers who are scroungy and creepy and have bad literary manners, you know, not part of the tradition, not part of the school, which is actually a CIA version of literature. Easily-done, because the head of CIA counter-intelligence was a guy named James Angleton, who was a great friend ofEzra Pound and T.S.Eliot and William Carlos Williams, and he was chief of all CIA counter-intelligence, all over Europe. He was the one who arrest.. who had Pound in a tiger-cage and kept Pound from getting killed (he says) as a traitor here (in the US). He edited.. He and Reed Whittemore, edited Furioso magazine out of Carleton College in 1938, and he brought Pound over to the United States on a pre-war trip, which is famous, and so.. and then he worked with a guy namedCord Meyer Jr in the CIA, who was a friend of Wendell Willkieand in favor of "One World", and was a poet. Cord Meyer Jr was the bag-man who gave the money to Encounter through the foundations and figured out how to spread CIA money through foundations - it would go to, like, labor journalists, who would write anti-Communist columns denouncing the dock workers in Saigon going on strike against the American puppet. So it was a very complicated matter. They were the same group of people who paid off Corsican goons to take over those 1948 docks at Marseilles to prevent a strike against Marshall Plan arms being unloaded, thus giving the Marseilles docks into the hands of criminal elements who later trans-shipped all the heroin. Oh, it’s too complicated! - So..”data clusters” - how do you deal with all those inter-related data-clusters?
So, anyway, my theory was, (and always has been), was, that J.Edgar Hoover who hated the Beatniks publicly, did everything he could to make everything sound bad, and spread all the worst misinformation that he could, and that the CIA just had a natural dislike of a Whitmanic, non-Eliotic temperament and.. They also subsidized student movements, the International Student Association, and so blocked the development of a radical student movement until it got, sort of like, over-hysterical, and then SDS came in and so what would have been developing without CIA intervention in the student movement in the 50’s onward would have been something more radical than what developed and less violent and hysterical, but because the CIA blocked the natural development of a hip radicalism, what came on at the end was this over.. over-compensating SDS shot, which finally lead to, you know, like total paranoia
Well, bringing all this back. Well, what it proves is that poetry, poetry and imagery has got something to do with the larger world of policy and decision-making and history and politics. The Intelligence people sure do pay a lot of attention, spend a lot of money keeping track of all the poets and all the cultural figures that write books and novels and essays. We’ve come through a long period of very heavy police surveillance and maybe one thing poetry can now do is do surveillance of the police, if possible not getting caught up in their mentality of secretiveness and competitiveness. On another level, from a tantric point of view, we must give credit to the CIA and the FBI for two great services. One - they took our own neuroses and exaggerated them so greatly that they made our sicker plans unworkable, by escalating any paranoia, distrust machismo and stupidity passion, aggression and ignorance, by exaggerating those elements, at least they brought them to a boil (as far as pus, you know, brought them up), where they were visible and where we could learn from them. And also, they kept invaluable archives!, really fantastic archives! - things that I never would.. letters that I never would have had, phone-calls that I never would have been able to retrieve, correspondence with my Congressman, their archives are fantastic! - and, in the long run, one must thank them for doing kind of bibliographic literary work that nobody else had time to accomplish, because, though Ed (Sanders) and I and other people were trying to keep records, and keep all sorts of filing systems, they had it all down on computer and it’s all there, waiting for scholars to work with, make use of.
Student: (But) of course, if they were not as opposed to us in the long run.
AG: If they were not..?
Student: I say that’s opposed. They…
AG: You mean they got killed? or snuffed out? - No, I think it(‘ll) just settle down. One way or other, it all turned to mush anyway and everybody’ll get their files.. I don’t know. I think the political situation now, according to the White House (which Peter (Orlovsky) and I visited about a month ago, to see some of the lower echelon people).. but the Drug Czar (sic), their idea is that the FBI and the DEA doesn’t tell the White House its secrets. The FBI still doesn’t tell White House secrets, CIA doesn’t. And (at) the White House, maybe, the Drug Advisor, a man, Peter Bourne, has maybe twenty, or fifty, telephones. And the DEA still has a budget of a billion dollars, more or less (the drug bureaucracy has a budget of a billion dollars, and fifty thousand telephones!) so what can the people in the White House do against these built-in bureaucracies? And that’s the general problem in Washington (not only in the Drug Department but also, say, (in) the Highway.. the Interior Department with the Indians, or the Pentagon, or whoever deals with Oil or Energy and Aerospace, these giant bureaucracies, which are really uncontrollable, or would take generations to control, unless a whole new evolved personnel, new generations of hippies coming into government, taking the lowliest secretarial jobs till you can cover the whole filing system, then it would take decades for anybody to read through it. In fact, nobody will ever know what happened because there’s so many files and it’s so extensive that to put everybody’s energy into figuring out what happened in the past, you wouldn’t be able to do anything now! You’d be totally occupied in paranoic scholarship about the past.
So, one literary project we have. (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti would like to publish a sort of cahier, a book, of records of celebrated interventions and fuck-ups by the government (like maybe the thing of the bust of (Eldridge) Cleaver, some of these papers about (Amiri Baraka) Leroi Jones and Cleaver and .. Ed (Sanders) has a collection of them, and I have a collection of them at home, so Ed and I have been talking together about trying to put together some sort of book, and that might be a project that this class could get involved with. I think that in his catalog, he says… but he was interested in local projects, local investigative stuff, see how it works out, but one thing possible is everybody spread out and gather all the different cases and documentation and make one, sort of like..one interesting book of sample things (because you could never be able to get enough to cover the whole pattern).You know, you’d get, just like a couple of cases about the Panthers, couple of cases about the Peace Movement, couple of cases about (the) Poets, a couple of cases of.. (the) bombing (of)Grove Press - (The Women’s Movement, infiltrated by the FBI, leading a Women’s Lib strike against Grove Press because Grove Press was publishing anti-CIA stuff - that also happened).. Grove has a.., The Women’s Lib movement was infiltrated. In fact, (Timothy) Leary said.. There was a point when the Berkeley Barb was attacking Leary for being anti-feminist and machismo for taking all the credit and leaving Rosemary, his girlfriend, aside, or something like that - they were attacking him for his treatment of Rosemary, his girlfriend, and he says that it was the FBI intervening in the Women’s Movement to drive him out of Switzerland. The effect of that Barb article was to reveal where he was, in Switzerland, trying to be quiet with Rosemary. So he said that the infiltration was that delicate and that witty. So anyway it might be interesting to.. this class might work on something like that.
But the main problem is - one - how do you deal with it without going crazy, and there’s an excellent atmosphere here [Naropa], because we have a Buddhist atmosphere - you (we) have to clean out your mind - where you can learn to meditate.. So the question is..
Student: What’s the question?
AG: Is there anybody who does not sit, at all, or never has had any experience with sitting? [Allen observes a show of hands] Well, those who have not, please check (it) out and learn how you sit, Buddhist-style, and sit for an hour, and then go on if you like it, or don’t go on, but, have the inside experience of examination of your mind, examination of the cycles of paranoia, so to speak, cycles of passion, aggression and ignorance, so that if you do work with this kind of dynamite material, it doesn’t take over your brain and turn you into a frothing hippie!.. an angry.. to deal with the anger that rises in dealing with this material,
(tremendous) resentment and anger, that’s the difficulty . The other is what is the poetics of it, how do you take all this information, which is important for people to understand, even for Buddhists to understand, even Buddhist gurus to understand, how do you present it to them? because I, for instance, have lots of trouble.. this.. well, I’ve been rapping for an hour-and-a-half. You can’t do that to (Chogyam) Trungpa (Rinpoche), or a Zen master, or Roshi Baker, or Jimmy Carter? - how would you get all this information together in such form that it could be presented to people without making them feel up-tight, educating people, delighting people, illuminating people (because these stories about what happened with (Eldridge) Cleaver, (Timothy)Leary, (LeRoi) Jones (Amiri Baraka) and the Whites, those are really illuminating and relieve a lot of pressure on the brain, I mean, you realize that the whole anti-White trip of the Blacks was not necessarily inevitable history or historical necessity but was just human fuck-up, as much as anything else, and that one’s communal impulses all along, that one suppressed, were right. So there’s some humane value in getting all this information out and in digestible form but how to do so?
Well, Ed (Sanders) has samples, I have samples. I didn’t cover any of it. There’s some clear material in William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, some in (Ezra) Pound’s Cantos,and some in (Charles) Olson’s Maximus, and a great deal in (Charles) Reznikoff’s Testimony and Holocaust. So there are four great poets, at least - Reznikoff, Pound, Williams and Olson - who’ve worked in the twentieth-century on this kind of material in one way or another - and Ed (Sanders)’s worked on it, and I’ve worked on it, and he’s got innumerable other examples, and so it’s a really interesting subject to focus on, so the whole.. It’ s the first time Ed (Sanders) has actually, I think, tried to teach it, a whole sequential season (he’s got this one pamphlet which is based on lectures here [at Naropa] two years ago). So I’m really interested in seeing what will come out of it, both in terms of production of poetry and also the techniques (because he knows a lot about how to do research, which will be valuable for everybody to pick up, you know, where to go to get material like this, and how to get it, and how to work with police, how to be the police, finally
Student: Is there anything available about the personality of the people that engineered all the FBI things..?
AG: I don’t know
Student: It’d probably be helpful in understanding..
AG: Don’t know. Edgar Hoover himself, there’s quite a bit of material on him. But, actually, I don’t know.Ed (Sanders) would probably know a little bit more, because he knows.. he’s been working with police a lot.. knows police jargon, he gets along with them..
Student: Also magazines like the Berkeley Barb and Akwesasne Notes, magazines, newspapers like that have that information, they give names, the apartment they’re in in Washington, and all that stuff. So..those are good sources to check out
AG: Yeah. My own conclusion is that when you finally get closer and closer to the source of the information and it becomes realer and realer you get less and less angry and finally see it as some sort of Dostoevsky novel, and, finally, when you finally confront and meet the head of the CIA, (or the head of.. like I’ve met (James) Angleton (had brunch with Angleton for three hours about a month-and-a-half ago), finally meeting these imaginary nemesis figures, then some kind of Buddhist attitude is really useful - observation (like you observe your mind, like you’re observing them, rather than fighting, in the sense of getting more and more information. I think the key principle is a phrase of (William) Blake’s - “If you want to know Satan’s nature.. examine.. ask him to explain his system” [Allen is, perhaps, conflating some ideas here - “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s” (fromJerusalem)] , examine his system to the bottom until you finally find that spot where he’s blanked out of nature, he’s got some weird idea - ”If you want to know the nature of Satan, find his system” - So, in a sense, it’s like trying to find the system behind all this. What is their idea in doing all this? What’s going on? What are they doing? - You know, if you’re collecting dirty pictures of poets, and all those things?, What? - Instead of getting mad, it really would be more interesting to just explore it, get way into it, find out who they think they are, see it’s a question of, the old Buddhist question of, “what is their identity?” and what fixation, or solidification, or fixed notion of identity are they clinging to that they’re organizing this seven billion system of surveillance of everybody else’s identity. Because it’s identity, (a) Buddhist identity problem is what’s going on, really, and intelligence - you know “Intelligence” and “Counter-Intelligence”, composition of poetics - it’s a funny area. Intelligence itself, it’s a funny area. The name itself, Intelligence - Central Intelligence - Federal Bureau of ..what is it, Intelligence?
AG: “Investigation”, yes, well “Intelligence”, “Counter-Intelligence” - COINTELPRO - Just the very terminology is poetry. Okay, I guess that’s enough for (today). I think Michael Brownstein will do the next class unless Ed (Sanders) is here.
[tape and class concludes]
Audio for the above is availablehere, beginning at approximately ten minutes in.