FBI can keep names in Exner surveillance files secret
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The FBI does not have to give Judith Exner, the alleged mistress of President John F. Kennedy, information about a person its agents identified as breaking into her apartment 33 years ago, but Exner’s attorney announced in mid-November that she is appealing that decision.
The government argued, and a federal District Court in Washington, D.C., agreed in a ruling in late September, that the identity of the burglar, his father — who was apparently a special FBI agent — and a brother, was law enforcement information and that its disclosure would interfere with personal privacy. The court said the information fell within the privacy arm of the law enforcement exemption to the federal Freedom of Information Act (Exemption 7(c)).
Despite ruling for the government, Judge Joyce Hens Green said in a footnote that she found “perplexing” the government’s choice to litigate the case for more than two years rather than just providing Exner with the information. She cited the FOI Act’s “overarching goal” of “disclosure not secrecy” and recent executive branch policies supporting that goal.
In response to a FOI Act request, the FBI in 1993 gave Exner documents which showed that the FBI maintained a watch on her apartment in 1962, saying the surveillance was a part of an anti- racketeering investigation of the late mobster John Roselli with whom she had mutual acquaintances. The released records showed that agents watched two men enter her apartment and that one, believed to be the son of a former FBI agent, was later seen leaving the apartment “under clandestine circumstances.”
Exner sued for the identities but the court ruled that she had not established that the identities would show a connection between the FBI and the break-in that would serve the public’s interest in knowing what the government was “up to.” Here the public’s interest would not outweigh the individuals’ privacy interests, according to the court.
Exner had argued that the records were not compiled for legitimate law enforcement purposes but rather for the political purposes of then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. She said Hoover and the FBI were concerned with obtaining information concerning the alleged romantic liaison between herself and President Kennedy.
She suggested a connection between the break-in and attempts by a person close to President Kennedy to have Marilyn Monroe’s apartment searched after her death for items that could incriminate or embarrass the President. Monroe died two days before the break-in into Exner’s apartment.
Exner said that the public’s interest in disclosure outweighed any privacy interests. She said disclosure would help identify suspected criminals, make government officials accountable for their actions, allow her to sue the person who broke in and provide further understanding of an “extremely sensitive” political operation which had been covered up. (Exner v. Department of Justice; Counsel: Jim Lesar, Washington, D.C.)