FBI Releases Ben Bradlee’s File

The Newsweek article that set off a decades-long icing of a relationship.

The FBI released its 52-page file on storied Washington Post editor Benjamin Bradlee, who passed away on Oct. 21 at the age of 93. The file was made public thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, according to Politico‘s Nick Gass.

The FBI’s notes begin in 1951, when Bradlee was applying to work for the Voice of America. The FBI didn’t find anything problematic with Bradlee then, though it did note his working with “some other young liberals who were interested in breaking up a newspaper monopoly in Manchester, N.H.”

A decade later, the bureau apparently considered and dismissed the idea that Bradlee would make a good double agent, or even source for the FBI, stating that Bradlee could not be “successfully operated by the Bureau.” These were good instincts on the part of the FBI, considering that institutional-reverence-dismantling Bradlee, along with publisher Katharine Graham, would make the history-making decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the government’s true and previously concealed intent for going to war in Vietnam. The file makes no mention of the Pentagon Papers.

As portrayed in the files, the relationship between Bradlee and the FBI was quite a ride, from the soft rollout at the start to a sharp plunge in 1968, when, in a memo, an agent wrote that Bradlee “demonstrated his lack of integrity and treacherous nature by his part in the publication of an unfavorable article regarding the Director [J. Edgar Hoover] in the 12-7-64 issue of ‘Newsweek’ magazine.” But even years-long grudges can come to an end, and there was an attempt in 1973 to hash it out in a meeting between Bradlee and then director Clarence Kelley.

Interestingly, another media legend makes an appearance in the files. Bill Moyers, then part of President Lyndon Johnson’s staff, is cited in a 1965 memo after he passes along a message to the FBI from the president, who “wished us to know that we should not trust Bradlee, that he felt that Bradlee lacked integrity and that he was certainly no friend of the Johnson Administration or the FBI.” That’s quite the badge of honor of a dis.

Read the file below, courtesy of Washingtonian‘s Benjamin Freed.

Benjamin Bradlee FBI File by Benjamin Freed