The FBI's dossier on Chávez was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which contains provisions that allowed the FBI to withhold portions of the documents from public view. Indeed, many parts—and in some cases, entire pages—have been excised from the files. Nevertheless, the collection provides a compelling window into the efforts of the farmworker movement, as well as the values and methods of the FBI itself.
These documents stem from a September 15, 1966, memo from J. Edgar Hoover, in which the FBI director directs the Bureau's field offices to commence an investigation of César Chávez because he was being considered for a staff position with the Lyndon B. Johnson administration [File #161-4719 (Part 1)]. This section of the file contains memos from the FBI's San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento offices prior to the inquiry's discontinuation on September 27, as well as a 1969 letter from Hoover to John Erlichman, White House counsel in the Richard Nixon administration who had requested a name check on Chávez.
In a report dated October 17, 1966, the San Francisco office relays information about Chávez from confidential sources. One person who knew Chávez by reputation only described him as a "very respectable person," while inquiries into Chávez's sisters and parents turned up no "unfavorable" information. The report also mentions charges against Chávez for using a loudspeaker without a permit in Tulare County in November 1965 and his arrest in June 1966 for trespassing on DiGiorgio Corporation's Borega Springs Ranch.
A subsequent letterhead memorandum from the Los Angeles office, dated October 25, brings into Chávez's association with Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). In the final memo, dated June 14, 1968, the Sacramento office reported on a potential threat against Chávez and President Johnson.
In October 1969, in response to a name check request on Chávez, FBI director Hoover sends White House counsel Erlichman a letter explaining that the Bureau had initiated an inquiry of Chávez in 1966 and furnishes Erlichman with material regarding the investigation.