Gerald Nicosia: His Stash of Documents About John Kerry Puts Him in the Spotlight

Historians in the News

John M. Glionna, in the LAT (March 30, 2004):

The boxes of confidential FBI documents lie scattered about author Gerald Nicosia's kitchen like so many unopened prizes. Twelve feet high when stacked, they are a monument, he says, to democracy gone wrong. They are also his cross to bear.

For weeks now, the documents have created havoc in the historian's staid suburban life. Instead of shepherding the kids between school and baseball games while he works on his newest project -- a book about racism and the death penalty -- Nicosia has been pulled into the mystery surrounding the U.S. government's spying on its citizens more than a generation ago.

Twenty thousand pages in all, detailing FBI surveillance of Vietnam War protesters in the 1970s, the files were obtained by Nicosia in 1998 following an 11-year battle with the agency over their release. Nicosia had sought the documents during the research for his 2002 book, "Home to War," a chronicle of the antiwar movement, including the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War. But the FBI released the files too late for Nicosia's use in his book.

So the 54-year-old historian, poet and fiction writer stored them away in his garage, largely unopened, and moved on to other projects.

Until recently that is, when Sen. John F. Kerry, a former VVAW leader whose name appears frequently in the files, emerged as the presumed Democratic nominee for president.

Nicosia suddenly realized he was sitting on a historical treasure trove that told the story of how a presidential candidate became the subject of a government monitoring campaign as a young protester. Long before he became a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, Kerry was considered a possible threat to national security by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI for his outspoken protests against the war.

Not only did Nicosia possess evidence of a time warp of sorts -- a snapshot of an early chapter in the life of an emerging politician -- but the documents also offered hints about a nation under siege both abroad and at home. They were files that Kerry himself had never seen.

While he had barely perused the papers, Nicosia recently allowed a Times reporter to review a portion of them for a story on Kerry's past. That's when the author's life went haywire.

Television camera crews materialized, clogging up his quiet dead-end street. His phone rang constantly with interview requests from newspapers and TV and radio talk shows. He got crank phone calls and mysterious hang-ups.

Then came an even stranger turn: Nicosia discovered last week that three of the boxes were missing. He had returned home to find several inside doors ajar and other valuables, including a camera, left untouched. He reported the burglary to police, who say they are investigating the case as a home break-in.

Now neither Nicosia nor his family sleeps well at night. He suspects the intruders wanted more than the three file boxes but were interrupted, perhaps scared off by a neighbor's barking dog. Nicosia is no conspiracy theorist. But he is a product of the Watergate era who understands the allure of political sabotage.

And he worries the burglars might come back.

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John Spencer - 6/9/2004

You don't have to break into Nicosia's house to see the Kerry files anymore. You can see some of the pages or get a set of all 20,000 at">