Seth Rosenfeld is an award-winning investigative journalist, book author and expert on public access to government records. His first book, SUBVERSIVES: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power, was published in hardback in 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in paperback in 2013 by Picador, and became a New York Times best-seller.
SUBVERSIVES traces the FBI’s secret involvement with three iconic figures who clashed at Berkeley during the 1960s: the ambitious neophyte politician Ronald Reagan, the fierce but fragile student radical Mario Savio, and the liberal University of California president Clark Kerr. Through these converging narratives, Rosenfeld tells a dramatic and disturbing story of FBI surveillance, illegal break-ins, infiltration, planted news stories, poison-pen letters and secret detention lists. He reveals how the FBI’s covert operations — led by Reagan’s friend J. Edgar Hoover — helped ignite an era of student protest, undermine the Democrats, and benefit Reagan personally and politically. SUBVERSIVES provides a fresh look at the legacy of the sixties, sheds new light on one of America’s most popular presidents, and tells a timely cautionary tale about the dangers of secrecy and unchecked power.
Rosenfeld began the research that would lead to SUBVERSIVES in 1981, while a journalism student at UC Berkeley writing for the campus newspaper. Little did he know he was embarking on what would become a three-decade legal odyssey into the FBI’s covert campus activities; that he would bring five lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act in a precedent-setting legal fight; and that seven federal judges would order the FBI to release more than 300,000 pages of once-secret files and pay his pro-bono attorney’s fees of more than $1 million. These cases revealed the bureau’s covert operations at one of the nation’s preeminent public universities and strengthened the public’s right to know. The New York Times Book Review called SUBVERSIVES “electrifying.” NPR’s On the Media cited its “stunning revelations,” and Bookforum described it as “a masterpiece of historical reconstruction and narrative propulsion.”
Rosenfeld was a staff reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 25 years, focusing on legal affairs and law enforcement. His stories exposing Dow Corning Corporation’s cover-up of manufacturing defects in silicone gel breast implants that caused women to undergo avoidable surgery led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to restrict the use of implants, and won a George Polk Award for Health Reporting. Rosenfeld’s articles have also won honors from the Society of Professional Journalists; Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.; the American Association of University Professors; and Harvard University’s Goldsmith Award for Investigative Reporting.
Rosenfeld has been featured on National Public Radio and other national and local broadcasts, and has given many talks. His topics include the conflicts between civil liberties and national security; the Freedom of Information Act, excessive government secrecy and the role of the press in democracy; Ronald Reagan’s hidden relationship with the FBI in the years before he became president; and the secret history of the FBI’s activities during the sixties and how they affected individuals, institutions, and politics.
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