The FBI recently asked the Marriott Library at the University of Utah for confidential information about a library request made by a suspected Soviet spy.
Julianne P. Hinz, director of the library's documents division, said librarians refused to provide that information during two visits by the FBI because records about what patrons use are private.Roger K. Hanson, director of university libraries, said he thinks that request is related to the FBI's controversial "Library Awareness Program" - in which the FBI has asked some librarians to watch for "funny behavior" by library users, saying that may be a sign they are spies seeking new scientific data.
"It's probably a safe assumption that once we have Soviet inspectors in the valley, more of those types of requests may be made," Hanson said. About 30 Soviets are expected to live near the Hercules plant in Magna to help ensure the United States does not violate the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty.
The Marriott Library is one of 14 institutions mentioned in press releases about a lawsuit filed this week in Washington, D.C., seeking release of FBI documents about its Library Awareness Program - which has been the subject of several national investigative journalism stories during the past year.
The suit was filed by the National Security Archive, which is a non-profit research institute and library, assisted by the People for the American Way Legal Defense Fund.
The president of that fund, Arthur J. Kropp, said, "From all available evidence, the Library Awareness Program is running roughshod over Americans' rights. There is simply no justification for programs that in the name of promoting and protecting democracy undercut fundamental democratic values."
Hinz said the incident at the U. was not quite typical of what has happened at other universities and libraries.
"The FBI asked for specific information about a letter that one individual sent to us. We were on our guard because of what we had heard about the Library Awareness Program. But that program normally is different than this inquiry. Librarians are usually asked to look for general behavior that may be suspicious."
Hinz said the FBI claimed that a member of the Soviet embassy had sent a letter from Virginia to the university's Government Documents Library asking how it obtained certain scientific documents.
"We had not kept a copy of the letter. We were operating on our memory of a letter like the one the FBI described. So we are not even certain the letter we received was from this individual," Hinz said.
She said the letter she remembers had asked for information about the National Technology Information Service, which is a clearinghouse for federally funded research data.
"The FBI just wanted to know the nature of our contact with him," Hinz said. "We basically told him that we generally don't give out information about library users and usually don't even know who they are."
People for the American Way claims that the FBI "is trying to turn librarians into unofficial spies, gathering information for the bureau on the reading habits and activities of foreigners and other broad categories of `suspicious' individuals."
That has included asking about the reading habits of people with East European or Russian-sounding names and requests for a list of people asking to see certain books or making certain data base searches, the group said.
The group claims that although the FBI says the program is voluntary, it has received reports of intimidation by FBI agents who flash their badges, closed-door meeting requests, questioning of the librarian's patriotism and on one occasion claims that they were authorized to circumvent state library confidentiality laws.
The group says at least 14 libraries have been contacted by the FBI in New York, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, Michigan, Wisconsin and Utah.