Seth Rosenfeld, S.F. Reporter, Sues FBI to Get Records on Militant Activist Richard Masato Aoki

Categories: Local News, Media
Richard Masato Aoki would have wanted those records released
Nearly 10 years ago, local journalist Seth Rosenfeld garnered fame for his scathing series "The Campus Files: Reagan, Hoover, and the UC Red Scare," which uncovered the FBI's conspiracy to harass UC Berkeley students and faculty during the Cold War. It also detailed the FBI's role in the firing of the college's then-president, Clark Kerr, because government officials didn't agree with his politics.

It took court orders for the FBI to turn records over to Rosenfeld, who wrote the series for the San Francisco Chronicle. And now the famed journalist is taking the FBI back to court, demanding the agency release more records for a book he is writing.

But this time Rosenfeld wants "any and all records" pertaining to Richard Masato Aoki, the infamous militant activist who was at the center of of the civil rights movement around Berkeley in the 1960s.

Aoki was involved in many activist organizations that were on the FBI's radar at the time, including the Young Socialist Alliance, the Third World Liberation Front, and the Black Panther Party. Many of these organizations were being investigated by the FBI for their involvement in "subversive activities," the lawsuit states. Aoki died in March 2009 at the age of 70.

Rosenfeld's attorneys argue that the public has the right to know about the government's relationship with Aoki. Moreover, there is no reason to withhold that information on the basis of privacy now that Aoki is dead.

Rosenfeld submitted a request for the documents on May 5, 2009, in hopes of shedding more light on the work of the notorious activist through news articles and a book. Yet 16 months passed, and after many appeals to the Department of Justice, the FBI refused to release any records, according to the lawsuit filed last week in San Francisco.

SF Weekly called Rosenfeld to find out more, but he refused to talk on the record. 

The lawsuit details Rosenfeld's painstaking efforts to get the documents. On Oct, 1, 2010, the FBI said it would release 1,352 pages, yet it also indicated that an unknown number of records had been destroyed. The FBI never turned over all the documents, withholding hundreds of pages.

After several more appeals and Freedom of Information Act requests, the FBI released only a handful of pages to Rosenfeld.

To date, the FBI has released 1,374 pages, some with deletions, while withholding 507 pages that had been requested.

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