Monday, June 19, 2017

The FBI's TSR Files

A week or two back, the FBI released a half-dozen file reports on TSR in response to a FOIA request filed last year. These were posted on Muckrock.com (see 6/8/2017 post there), one of which prompted a short article at Reason.com. The partly-redacted files seem to cover two different cases:

1983-4: Cocaine Trafficking

Parts 1 & 2 (respectively dated 12/27/83 and 3/12/84) apparently related to a cocaine trafficking investigation in the Lake Geneva area. A local bartender is the primary target of investigation, and secondarily Gary Gygax seems to be. This is from a "reliable Milwaukee informant" (p. 2). Someone is considered "ARMED AND DANGEROUS" (p. 3).

1995: Unabomber Investigation

Parts 3-5 seem to be about the very extensive Unabomber investigation that was being carried out at that time (see Part 3, p. 1, "Title: UNABOM"). These files are presented in reverse order of date (Part 5 from 3/22/95, Part 4 4/28/95, and Part 3 9/27/95). It bears noting that the Unabomber Manifesto was published in the New York Times and Washington Post on September 19 of that year, partly in the hopes of identifying that person (link).

Part 5 is heavily redacted, but involves an interview with some male employee at TSR regarding former acquaintances, with whom they are apparently no longer in contact. The last page has a paragraph suggesting that a possibly-paranoid former gaming group all started fingering each other as being a bomber.

Part 4 is the longest file, with a one-paragraph section on Gygax highlighted in the Reason article. Here a certain female employee is being interviewed ("She", p. 3). Much of the conversation is about the business of TSR and fantasy and war-gaming in general. Hard feelings by some over the SPI buyout are mentioned (p. 2-3); the staff of TSR itself are confused about the exact details of the purchase. The majority of the file is concerned with an individual with the Fresno Gaming Association and Company (p. 1), with whom TSR was engaged in lengthy, ongoing litigation regarding copyright violations over the reissue of certain SPI titles. The staff member "further advised that the typical war gaming enthusiast is overweight and not neat in appearance" (p. 2).

Page 3-4 of Part 4 has the paragraphs concerning Gygax. Choice passages from the perspective of the interviewee TSR staff member:
  •  "found the interaction with GYGAX at TSR to be very difficult".
  • "involved in an unpleasant divorce and [redacted] further advised that GYGAX was a drug abuser". 
  • "considers GYGAX to be eccentric and frightening. He is known to carry a weapon and was proud of his record of personally answering any letter coming from a prison."
  • "He is known to be a member of the Libertarian party". 
  • "GYGAX would be extremely uncoopoerative if the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) attempted to interview him".
(Note: Reason.com is a Libertarian-oriented site, which is probably why their attention was drawn to this particular paragraph.)

After the profile of Gygax, the TSR interviewee is apparently shown photos of an IED that was mailed aboard an American Airlines flight in 1979 (inscribed with the initials "F.C."), and also a composite of the suspect, of which the TSR staffer had no familiarity (I'd guess that the cited photo is the famous Unabomber composite sketch). Apparently TSR received bomb threats on two occasions, one in 1986 and again in 1992-3, likely pranks.

Finally, the Part 3 file mostly recaps the TSR business profile in Part 4, and also indicates that a list was generated of "players and peripheral players involved in a loosely knit group of individuals commonly referred to as 'The Dungeons and Dragons Group'" (p. 1), by way of reviewing certain computer files (p. 3).

Remarks

Well, that's interesting and provocative, isn't it? It's kind of hard to read the comments by the unnamed TSR staffer (apparently a high-ranking woman at the company in 1995) without thinking that they seem intended to cast Gygax in the worst possible light -- and recalling the extremely bad blood between the post-Gygax management and Gygax himself and his family (which continues to this day, even).

Thanks to C.J. Ciaramella at Muckrock and Reason for making these files available via the FOIA request. Thanks to D.G. for pointing out the article to me last week.


5 comments:

  1. Ah, had all the jocks in high school known all this, they would have known that nerds are not to be messed with.

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  2. Interesting. I remember the rumors flying about in the mid-80s, not surprisingly right when Gary was ousted from TSR, that he was a coke-head. It's interesting to know just how far the campaign against him by "she" went.

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    1. I must admit this is the first I heard of it. I was far away in the hinterlands in the 80's.

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  3. Gun toting, coke snorting, dice rolling, bad-ass. Makes the satanic panic feel like a bit of a let down.

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  4. Plot twist: Sons of Anarchy was in truth a game club. Clay is the current DM and Jax is reading the campaign diary with the house rules made written by its father...

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