NEW YORK -- After a 10-year crusade to clear his name, Columbia University journalism professor Penn Kimball has won an admission from the federal government that it had been wrong in secretly branding him a "dangerous national security risk" and "disloyal American."
In a settlement approved by a U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan this week, federal officials acknowledged that the CIA, the FBI and the State Department had no evidence to prove that Kimball, 71, and his late wife Janet Fraser Kimball were ever disloyal to the United States.
"I'm glad to be vindicated after this long haul," Kimball said. "But I don't think a citizen should have to go to such lengths to force the government to be more accountable for false accusations compiled in its classified files."
As part of the settlement, Kimball agreed to drop his claim for $10 million in damages.
Kimball's attorney, Jacob D. Fuchsberg, called the settlement "an important precedent." Said Fuchsberg, "We are delighted that the government proved capable of admitting it was wrong."
The professor's quest began in 1977 when he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for any government files on him and received a dossier in which various anonymous sources questioned his loyalty. The allegations, unsubstantiated and mostly unattributed, included those made by informants who said Kimball drank beer with reputed communists and made favorable remarks about Yugoslavia's late president Tito.
The government began collecting information on Kimball after he passed a Foreign Service Office exam in 1945 and was offered a diplomatic job in Saigon. Although Kimball passed up the offer for a career in journalism, his file was maintained and expanded.
Kimball, a former Rhodes scholar, former reporter for The New York Times and Time magazine and one-time assistant to two Democratic governors, began demanding that the government give him a chance to defend himself. After losing three appeals at the Justice Department, State Department and CIA, Kimball sued the government in 1984.
Under the settlement approved by Judge Whitman Knapp, the government agreed to destroy all copies of its records on Penn and Janet Kimball in State Department, CIA and and FBI files.