Investigative Reporter Named Daily Cal Alum of the Year

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Seth Rosenfeld was a 25-year-old UC Berkeley journalism student and Daily Californian reporter when, in 1981, his editor first handed him several thousand pages of FBI documents to sift through.

What he found in those files would pitch him headlong into an epic legal battle that would cost the FBI more than $1 million and eventually reveal the agency's covert attempts to thwart Berkeley's Free Speech Movement and topple then-UC President Clark Kerr.

"I had no idea when I came over to the Daily Cal's office that day in 1981 that I was embarking on a 20-year odyssey," says Rosenfeld, who will be honored for his reporting today as the Daily Cal Alumni of the Year.

The stories from those original documents filled more than 20 pages of the Daily Cal the next year, detailing how, during the 1960s and '70s, the FBI investigated UC Berkeley faculty and student protesters, as well as their families.

But many of the documents had large chunks blacked out. Others pointed toward larger plots, involving President Kerr himself, particularly one note handwritten in FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's jagged scrawl: "I know Kerr is no good."

"It was all this incredible history," Rosenfeld says. "Not only of the protests, but what the government was doing-a secret history. The more I read, the more interested I got."

So Rosenfeld began submitting more, broader requests under the Freedom of Information Act for "any and all" FBI files on the people, events and organizations that colored Berkeley during the Cold War era.

Meanwhile, Rosenfeld left the Daily Cal, freelanced, and worked for the Center for Investigative Reporting. He eventually settled at the San Francisco Examiner in 1984, where he reported on cops and courts, and awaited the arrival of his files.

Several years later, Rosenfeld was still waiting.

The FBI, arguing that releasing the files was not in the public's interest, wanted to charge Rosenfeld more than $35,000 in processing fees to release the documents free of changes.

Enlisting a lawyer to take on his case pro bono, Rosenfeld plunged into what would become a more than decade-long, three-suit legal battle for access to the files.

The agency fought the suits all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where both sides finally struck a deal in 1996 that required the FBI to reveal most of the blacked out records and pay Rosenfeld's legal fees. In exchange, Rosenfeld agreed not to require the release of records he deemed irrelevant.

Rosenfeld, then at The San Francisco Chronicle, had to hire out a pickup truck to haul crates filled with more than 200,000 pages of documents to his apartment.

The new files exposed new revelations about the FBI. The agency had planted allegations among conservative UC regents that Kerr had suspicious relationships with Communists. And it provided then-California Governor Ronald Reagan's office with information it could use "against" free speech movement protesters.

It took more than four years, including a year of unpaid leave, before Rosenfeld, working evenings and weekends, finally published the first of "The Campus Files: Reagan, Hoover, and the UC Red Scare," in an eight-page special section in The Chronicle on June 9, 2002.

"The Campus Files" won numerous awards following its publication, including the Investigative Reporters and Editors' Freedom of Information award, and Harvard University's Goldsmith Prize.

Rosenfeld, who has begun work on a book based on "The Campus Files," is still hoping for more documents from the FBI-ones Rosenfeld says FBI Director Robert Mueller has acknowledged the agency failed to turn over.

"They still haven't complied with the Freedom of Information Acts law," he says. "I don't know what's in those documents, but I'm going to find out."

The press has an important role to play as the watchdog of powerful organizations, Rosenfeld says, and the themes in the story of "The Campus Files"-government accountability and freedom of the press-still apply today, as the levels of government secrecy and corporate fraud climb to new heights.

"Whenever you have the combination of secrecy and power, you have the potential for abuse," he says. "The press has a special duty to shed light on those areas."

The most seemingly untouchable organizations must still answer for their actions, Rosenfeld says.

"Even a college newspaper can hold the most powerful government agencies accountable," he says.


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