Tittenhurst Park

This Tittenhurst Park blog is dedicated to John Lennon's home in Sunningdale, near Ascot, Berkshire between 1969 and 1971. The aim is to gather as much material relating to the estate as possible - obviously with the emphasis on the Lennon-era, but also concerning Tittenhurst Park as it was before and after John Lennon's ownership. In addition, there will be posts about and associated with the Beatles, plus any other rubbish I feel like. The blog is purely meant for the entertainment of anyone (assuming there is actually anyone) who, like me, has an unhealthy interest in one particular Georgian mansion. Those with anything interesting to contribute in the way of links, photos, scans, stories etc. please do contact me: tittenhurstlennon@gmail.com
(Legal: this blog is strictly non-commercial. All material is the property of the photographer/artist/copyright holder concerned. Any such who wishes a picture etc to be removed should contact me and I will do so. Alternatively, if someone is happy to see their photo on here, but would like a credit/link then let me know and I'll be happy to provide one).


FBI and John Lennon

The FBI and John Lennon

In the wake of the media frenzy that recently followed allegations that the late John Lennon was under surveillance by the FBI and MI5 and may eve n have donated funds to the IRA, Nick Redfern takes a look into the background to this story, the FBI records that are currently available on the former Beatle, and what revelations the future may bring.Was the late John Lennon, the former Beatle and hero to millions considered to be a major threat to the national security of the UK and USA in the late 1960s and early-to-mid 1970s? Was his every move secretly monitored by shadowy sources from the Intelligence world? And most controversial of all: was he at one point in the 1970s donating funds to the Irish Republican Army - the IRA?Only weeks after Lennon was shot and killed outside his New York home in December 1980 by Mark Chapman, Joe Wiener, a professor of history at the University of California, began probing the links that existed between Lennon and U.S. authorities.“It began out of simple curiosity, a desire to check out a few rumours that [FBI boss, J. Edgar] Hoover was not Lennon’s greatest fan. It then started snowballing into a crusade when I realised how many obstacles were being thrown in my path,” states Professor Wiener. Twenty years on, and as a direct result of his probings, Professor Wiener has found himself embroiled in one of the most talked about court cases of the last decade. On 18 February of this year in Court 23 at the Federal Court Building in Los Angeles, Judge Brian Q. Robbins ordered the FBI to release two letters from a batch of 10 documents it was withholding and that concerned its surveillance activities of Lennon. The FBI refused to comply with the order, citing national security considerations. Although the FBI had already released a substantial amount of documentation from its files on Lennon by the time the case came to court, what sets this final, elusive batch of papers apart from the already-declassified files, is that they almost certainly originated with none other than Britain’s Security Service - MI5.That MI5 has information on file pertaining to the activities of John Lennon is not in dispute. MI5 ‘fugitive’ David Shayler has stated unequivocally that he saw the files in 1993 whilst serving with the Security Services and that they dealt with MI5’s surveillance of Lennon during the late 1960s. According to the documentation, Lennon donated £45,000 to the Trotskyist Workers’ Revolutionary Party and gave support to Red Mole, a Marxist magazine edited by student protest leader, Tariq Ali. It is known that at the time MI5’s ‘F Branch’ (the ‘anti-subversion division) were already monitoring closely the activities of the WRP and even had their very own ‘mole’ in the organisation. It is strongly suspected by those who have followed this entire controversy that MI5’s source - the identity of whom remains a secret to this day - may very well have been Lennon’s contact within the group too, hence the reason why MI5 and the FBI are so keen to keep this information under wraps. It is also believed that the MI5 source within the WRP intercepted at least one letter from Lennon that was destined for the Party. The Mail On Sunday newspaper has taken things a step further, referring to an ‘insider’ who had asserted that not only would Lennon’s correspondence have been monitored by MI5 - his telephone would have been tapped and listening devices placed in his home, too, which at the time in question was a Georgian mansion at Tittenshurst Park, near Ascot. Indeed, an FBI source has stated that: “[The British] don’t want these pages released because they show Lennon was being monitored in ways that might now prove to be embarrassing.” Shayler states additionally that he saw further files held by MI5 on other rock groups, including punk rock bands Crass and one of the greatest bands ever to walk the planet (in my own opinion, of course!), the Sex Pistols. (As an aside, a retired source from Special Branch informed me in 1999 that substantial files existed on the British band Screwdriver, the most notorious of the so-called “Oi!” bands - a form of music that blossomed in the early 1980s in the wake of the punk and revived skinhead revolution.) The Workers Revolutionary Party aside, what of the more controversial rumours suggesting that John Lennon may have donated funds to the IRA? In 1971 when internment without trial was introduced in Northern Ireland, Lennon held a sign at a rally in London that read: “Victory for the IRA against British imperialism.” And Lennon himself stated after the Bloody Sunday shootings: “If it’s a choice between the IRA and the British Army, I’m with the IRA.” For its part, the political wing of the IRA, Sinn Fein, has stated with regard to these allegations that Lennon donated funds: “It is not unbelievable.” Similarly, Hunter Davies, a biographer on the Beatles, says: “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he gave money to the IRA. John liked stirring it up.”Not everyone is in agreement, however. Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, denied such claims when they were made public recently; and Lennon’s friend (and Beatle chronicler) Ray Connolly asserts that: “...daft though he sometimes may have been, naive though he certainly was, and absolutely the softest of touches for all kinds of causes, [John Lennon] was hardly a bogeyman - and absolutely not a supporter of terrorism.” With regard to Lennon’s statement, “If it’s a choice between the IRA and the British Army, I’m with the IRA”, Connolly concludes that: “Knowing him, it was, I’m certain, an emotional, unconsidered retort, about an organisation about which he and virtually his entire generation knew hardly anything.”The surveillance of Lennon by MI5 aside, how did the man come to be targeted by the FBI? To answer that question we need to take a look at those FBI files that have already been released into the public domain via the terms of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. It is clear that the bulk of the FBI’s concerns surrounding John Lennon and his politically-related activities began when he moved to the USA in the early 1970s and was trying to secure permanent residency there. Of particular concern to the Americans, was the fact that Lennon was vehemently against the Vietnam War and the then-President, Richard Nixon, instructed the FBI to look for any damaging information that would allow U.S. authorities to get Lennon slung out of the country on a permanent basis. The last thing Nixon and the FBI wanted was a famous rock star (with millions of fans, no less) getting his teeth firmly into that particular hot potato. It is believed that it was at this time that the FBI approached MI5 in an attempt to obtain any information on Lennon that would be useful to them. MI5 was reluctant to do so - not because it was against helping its U.S. counterpart, but because it feared (and history may soon prove its fears to be correct) that if it shared too much data with the FBI its files would eventually surface into the public domain.

A middle ground was reached and MI5 prepared a summary of its surveillance of Lennon that was forwarded on to the FBI. Thus began the FBI’s ‘celebrity spying’ game of John Lennon.But what do the (literally) hundreds of previously-classified files on Lennon’s activities in the USA tell us? First and foremost, despite the fact that the British media has largely concentrated on the FBI papers, a number of files pertaining to John Lennon have also been released by the CIA! Let’s take a look at that material. The Vietnam War aside, much of it centres around Lennon’s financial donations to a host of left-wing organisations in the USA. One particular document confirming the fact that Lennon’s activities were of interest to both the CIA and the FBI, a January 1972 FBI teletype, states: “Classified Secret - No Foreign Dissemination/No Dissemination Abroad” since information being furnished in CACTUS channel and CIA has asked that all such information be so classified. CIA has requested details of information we furnished in daily summary teletype captioned, ‘Protest Activities and Civil Disturbances’, dates 1/24/72, reporting that John Lennon contributed large sum of money to [the Election Year Strategy Information Center (EYSIC)].” According to an additional file (that, interestingly enough, was routed to the FBI’s Liaison Desk at London): “The Election Year Strategy Information Center has been formed to direct movement activities during coming election year to culminate with demonstrations at Republican National Convention, August next. Sources advise John Lennon, former member of The Beatles singing group, has contributed seventy-five thousand dollars to assist in formation of EYSIC.” This same file makes it very clear that the FBI intended that the above information should be made available to both the U.S. State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS): “EYSIC, apparently dedicated to creating disruptions during Republican National Convention, obviously being heavily influenced by John Lennon, British citizen who is currently in U.S. attempting to obtain U.S. citizenship. Inasmuch as he is attempting to stay permanently in U.S., it is anticipated pertinent information concerning him will be disseminated to State and INS.” Needless to say, one does not have to be a genius to work out that this was a direct attempt to prevent Lennon obtaining U.S. citizenship. And lo and behold, on 16 March 1972, the Communications Section of the FBI dispatched the following teletype to FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover: “On March 16th Mr Vincent Schiano, Chief Trial Attorney, Immigration and Naturalization Service, New York City advised that John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono appeared at INS, NYC, this date for deportation proceedings. Both individuals thru their attorney won delays on hearings. Lennon requested delay while he attempted to fight a narcotics conviction in England. Yoko Ono requested delay on basis of child custody case in which she is involved. Mr Schiano advised that new hearings would be held on April 18 next. If Lennon wins overthrow of British narcotic conviction, INS will reconsider their attempts to deport Lennon and wife.” A further FBI document from this time frame and generated by the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Division, states: “We are closely following these proceedings...” Only days later the Special Agent in Charge at New York informed Hoover that: “[Lennon] and his wife might be preparing for lengthy delaying tactics to avert their deportation in the near future...Careful attention should be given to reports that [Lennon] is heavy narcotics user and any information developed in this regard should be furnished to narcotics authorities and immediately furnished to Bureau...” Meanwhile the attempts to get Lennon out of the USA continued. An 18 April 1972 FBI teletype refers to Lennon’s comments made to the media “...in which he inferred INS was attempting to deport him due to his political ideas and present policy of the U.S. Government as to aliens who speak out against the administration”. Interestingly, a memo prepared only days later refers to the fact that following a drug bust in London in 1968, the FBI felt that strong reasons existed as to why Lennon shouldn’t have been allowed into the USA in the first place. Curiously, however, the document states that the decision to allow him entry “...was due to unexplained intervention by State Department with INS...” In other words the very people who were now trying to deport Lennon were the ones who granted him access to the USA in the first place! For the most part, the files continue in a similar vein and concentrate on two prime issues: (a) the attempts of U.S. authorities to get Lennon thrown out of the country; and (b) his links with organisations and individuals that, from a political perspective, the FBI found troublesome - such as the EYSIC. In 1974 Lennon won his battle to stay in the States and remained there until his life was cut short in December 198 by Mark Chapman. So, in the final analysis, was John Lennon really a major national security risk who donated funds to the IRA and others?Or was he simply, as his friend Ray Connolly puts it “daft”; “naive”; and “the softest of touches for all kinds of causes”? We may soon have a conclusive answer to those questions. However, if those questions are answered then it is likely that we will also be exposed to never-before-seen papers that reveal the way in which Britain’s Security Service conducts its surveillance of public figures. How ironic it would be if some of MI5’s deepest secrets surfaced not as a result of a long-term Russian mole or from the mouth of a disillusioned whistleblower, but via the FBI and as a direct result of its decades-old investigations of a dead rock star.

Sources: (A) FBI files on John Lennon; (B) CIA files on John Lennon; (C) Defending The Realm: MI5 And The Shayler Affair, by Mark Hollingsworth and Nick Fielding, Andre Deutsch Books, 1999; (D) Mail On Sunday, 24 August 1997; (E) Sunday Times, 5 October 1997; (F) Sunday Express, 20 February 2000; (G) Sunday Times, 20 February 2000; (H) Observer, 20 February 2000; (I) Mail On Sunday, 20 February 2000; (J) Daily Mail, 21 February 2000.

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