FBI Surveillance of Pete Seeger

by Vins
Published: Updated:

On December 22, 2015, Amy Goodman, of the independent news outlet Democracy Now!, published a story called “Pete Seeger, Folk Legend & FBI Target: Declassified Docs Show Iconic Singer Was Spied on for Decades.” Goodman’s article focused on the surveillance Seeger and its potential motivations. The topic of this surveillance is important because it shows how the government spied on Pete Seeger for 30 years due to views he had expressed, showcasing how the FBI can do immoderate investigations of activists and peace groups. Since December 2015, Corporate press has underreported the story of “Pete Seeger, Folk Legend & FBI Target: Declassified Docs Show Iconic Singer Was Spied on for Decades,” primarily focusing on the fact he was almost arrested, not the surveillance he was under.

In the article, Goodman explains how the FBI released a 1,800 page file detailing how they spied on Seeger for nearly 30 years; after he sent a letter in 1943 protesting a government proposal to deport all Japanese-Americans once World War II had ended. Ninety pages of the report remain to be released, and the FBI continued to spy on Seeger well into the 1970s. The FBI went to his grade school and high school, looked into his father and his wife Toshi, who was Japanese-American. Within the report, a military intelligence official wrote of how Seeger had communist sympathies, unsatisfactory relations with landlords and numerous communist/undesirable friends. Later, it was written in the report how these connections made Seeger unfit for a position of trust or responsibility. It was reported how Seeger made an audience sing along at a concert, not by their own free will but rather a supposed psychological manipulation, in addition to claiming communist officers and members had complete control of said concert.

The topic of how Pete Seeger, an American citizen, was under surveillance for just under thirty years, is significant because it shows how the FBI can put people and groups under surveillance for supposedly being dangerous, a sort of malpractice that is still going on to this day. ABC News covered a story on how the FBI “improperly targeted Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and two antiwar groups in domestic terrorism.” For five years (2001-2006), the FBI spied on these groups, and after these five years, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice looked into the spying and found that there was little or no basis for the terror investigations, stating they were “unreasonable and inconsistent with FBI policy.” The FBI has been investigating peace groups and activists for acts of terror ever since the 1940s.

Since December 18, 2015, numerous independent outlets have covered the story of how the FBI spied on Pete Seeger for nearly thirty years. On the other hand, the corporate press covered a small aspect of the story. The New York Times reported on how Seeger was brought in for a conviction for contempt of Congress in the 1950s, but does not delve into the thirty years of surveillance of his life. Coverage of the story all began with the independent news outlet Mother Jones obtaining the file itself through a Freedom of Information Act request. Mother Jones, Democracy Now!, Alternet, BoingBoing, Daily News, and other independent outlets seem to have the same information. All claim that the FBI spied on the renowned folk artist because of his political views and associations. There is, however a slight difference in terms of the amount of detail provided by the individual independent news outlets. Mother Jones, having obtained the file before anyone else, had a considerable amount more in terms of information than others.

The unjust surveillance of Pete Seeger by the FBI shows how due to the slightest suspicious act (sending a strongly worded letter), one could become a target of the FBI. The recent inequitable investigations conducted by the FBI of peace groups within the United States merely proves that these kinds of unwarranted investigations still occur. It is unreasonable how the government can target a peace and justice center or an activist that focuses on nonviolence by claiming potential terrorism.


Corn, David. “Pete Seeger’s FBI File Reveals How the Folk Legend First Became a Target of the Feds.” Mother Jones. 18 Dec. 2015. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/12/pete-seeger-fbi-file

Beschizza, Rob. “FBI Thought Pete Seeger Was a Commie.” BoingBoing. 31 Jan. 2016. http://boingboing.net/2016/01/31/pete-seeger-1919-2014.htmlht

Goodman, Amy. “Pete Seeger, Folk Legend & FBI Target: Declassified Docs Show Iconic Singer Was Spied on for Decades.” Democracy Now! 22 Dec. 2015. http://www.democracynow.org/2015/12/22/pete_seeger_folk_legend_fbi_target

McShane, Larry. “Folk Singer Pete Seeger’s FBI File Reveals Interview Feds Had with Woody Guthrie, Report about Seeger’s ‘undesirable Friends’.” New York Daily News. N.p., 19 Dec.Web. 23 Feb. 2016.http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/pete-seeger-fbi-file-reveals-fed-woody-guthrie-interview-article-1.2471337ht

Thorpe, Vanessa. “The FBI Snooped on Singer Pete Seeger for 20 Years.” The Guardian, 19 Dec. 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/dec/20/fbi-spied-on-pete-seeger-20-years-communist-links

Student Researchers: Dylan Lopez (California State University Maritime Academy) and Joshua Gorski (Diablo Valley College)

Faculty Evaluator: Nolan Higdon (California State University Maritime Academy)