Investigative reporter Jack Anderson made a 50-year career of annoying officialdom. President Nixon put him near the top of his enemies list, prompting a wry and very Andersonian response: "Maybe it was alphabetical." With characteristic restraint, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said the columnist was "lower than the regurgitated filth of vultures." But Anderson has now performed a feat of Mau-Mauing perhaps unique among all muckrakers: he is irritating the government from the grave. You see, Anderson died four months ago at age 83.
In February the FBI contacted Anderson's family to request that agents be allowed to search his files for any classified documents. The bureau says any such papers in the 187 boxes of old material belong to the Federal Government and not to Anderson's heirs, who currently have them, or to George Washington University (G.W.U.), where they're headed to be cataloged and stored. Kevin Anderson, one of the reporter's nine children, says the family was willing to cooperate with the FBI until agents made clear that they wanted to review every document and pull any they believed were classified. "That was unacceptable," he says, because doing so would betray his father's record of keeping sources secret. The family then made public its four-page reply to the FBI in hopes of derailing the bureau's quest.
The G-men say they got a tip early this year that secret papers were in the boxes. They say the tip was confirmed when Mark Feldstein, a G.W.U. professor writing an Anderson biography, told agents that "he has seen what he believed to be classified documents," says Joseph Persichini, head of the FBI's Washington field office. Feldstein denies that, saying he instead told the agents that he recalled seeing no plainly classified material among the yellowed pages, stained by rusty paper clips. "I was disappointed that there weren't any smoking-gun secret documents," says Feldstein. The lone once classified document he recalls seeing: Anderson's FBI file. The agents, Feldstein says, pressed him about whether any Anderson documents pertained to an ongoing espionage case against a pair of former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). But Feldstein says the columnist had been ill for the past 15 years and never did much reporting on AIPAC.
It may be tough for today's 24/7 Drudge-CNN-Huffington Post grazers to understand the journalistic wallop that Anderson's "Washington Merry-Go-Round" column packed in its heyday. Appearing in close to 1,000 U.S. newspapers a generation ago, Anderson drew readers with his decades of scoops: he reported Washington's tilt away from India and toward Pakistan (it earned him a 1972 Pulitzer). He established a link between the Nixon Justice Department's settling of an antitrust case against ITT and the conglomerate's $400,000 pledge to the 1972 Republican Convention. He revealed key elements of the Reagan Administration's effort to sell arms illegally to Iran and turn over the profits to anticommunist forces in Central America.