Way Back at Mac: Top Secret! A Look into Macalester and the FBI


Courtesy of Macalester Archives.

Katrin O'Grady

In our world of location tracking, Facebook privacy breaches and webcam security concerns, it is sometimes interesting to consider what the government (and Mark Zuckerberg) doesn’t know about us. We may never know. However, I recently discovered that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) FBI has files on Macalester College within their archives, collected between 1962 and 1987. Apparently, our campus had more going on than pushball games and 9:40 classes. But why exactly did the FBI care about a conglomeration of 1,000 or so students in Minnesota?

Well, it turns out the FBI was monitoring activities of several colleges and universities during that time period. Due concerns over communist leanings, the FBI collected information on leftist groups around the country. Combing for any possible information about communist groups or “subversive” behavior, the collection included groups on college campuses.

A 1989 article reports on the information that FBI collected on Macalester College. The Mac Weekly wrote that the FBI gathered information on campuses by reading “college newspapers, [listening] to radio shows, [attending] forums and meetings, and [making] “pretext calls” to the organizations to find out more.” Agents particularly focused in on Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). CISPES formed in support of a progressive movement within El Salvador and in opposition to the US funding of the Salvadoran military. The FBI gathered information on CISPES on college campuses across 58 cities including the Twin Cities. Moreover, within the 21 year collection span, the FBI amassed more than 1,000 pages on Macalester College. In response, The Mac Weekly requested a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to confirm the existence of the file and that it be released. The Mac Weekly reported that about 400 pages would be released from the Washington bureau within three to six months.

The Macalester archives do not follow up with the release of the document, so my housemate and I decided to do some sleuthing of our own. The FBI has an online archive of records that are open to the public. It appears that the Macalester report was not digitized and uploaded to the archive, called The Vault. Still, searching Macalester in the database was not fruitless. Clearly, Macalester on-goings were not high up on the FBI’s radar, but the information revealed indications of a Macalester presence in the news and politics of the day.

Courtesy of Macalester Archives.

The FBI report titled Rosenberg Sobell Committee Part 65 of 148 reveals details of charges against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as well as Mark Sobell. All were convicted for spying for the Soviet Union when it was an ally of the United States in World War II. Both Rosenbergs were convicted and executed while Sobell was sentenced to 30 years for espionage. The report reveals that in 1960, The Committee to Secure Justice for Morton Sobell signed a letter to the president asking for Sobell’s release. The letter was signed by none other than Dr. Huntley Dupre, Macalester Dean and history professor. It’s not exactly clear if Dupre and the other singers had much to do with Sobell’s eventual release in 1969 (after serving 17 years) as he was eligible for parole. Sobell was released on the premise of his innocence as he had never actually confessed to conspiring with Russia. However, in 2008, he confessed to The New York Times of relaying military secrets to the Soviet Union.

A second report on Hubert H. Humphrey details travels and security concerns as he served as vice president from 1965 to 1969. Humphrey was also a Macalester professor, serving in the political science department beginning in 1943. The report includes copious details of Humphrey’s campaign travels, itineraries and assassination attempts. In March 1970, the report described Humphrey’s conversation with a Macalester student. It reads, “Humphrey commented during conversation that he recently learned from a student at Macalester College of a rumor that some [students] intended to invade his office at Macalester ransack it.” In response, Humphrey removed his papers to another location.

While interesting that Macalester in mentioned in The Vault, as far as the FBI is concerned, Macalester’s history is not of enormous federal interest. No matter how much we love WMCN 91.7, the federal government apparently has larger potatoes on their plate.