Sun Investigates

FBI files show details of background checks on author Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy, seen in this 1999 file photo, penned the popular Jack Ryan series, including The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger.

Rumors often circulated that Tom Clancy's thrillers were so detailed in their descriptions of military and covert operations that the FBI had investigated the Baltimore novelist to determine his sources for works such as "The Hunt for Red October."

After Clancy's death in October 2013, The Baltimore Sun submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for any FBI files on Clancy. The FBI sent back 46 pages, including several redacted pages of background checks federal authorities had conducted.


But the checks weren't made because the FBI was suspicious. They were begun when the White House had a special job for Clancy.

A July 1989 memo from the FBI said the bureau was asked to investigate Clancy's background because he was being considered for a consultant position with the White House Space Council.


He had been recommended by Vice President Dan Quayle, who had met the author and believed Clancy could stir up public enthusiasm for the space program, according to a People magazine story from that year.

"I think they need people like me," Clancy says in the 1989 article, "and this will be my way of paying back a little of what I owe this country."

The FBI Baltimore field office was tasked with interviewing at least 20 people who knew Clancy, and the Washington metropolitan field office was to consult with the White House and Secret Service. Offices were told to "telephonically advise FBIHQ of any derogatory information."

The background checks included an official academic record of Clancy from what is now Loyola University Maryland that showed that he graduated in 1969 with a bachelor's degree in English and a grade point average of 1.93.

Repeatedly, acquaintances vouched for Clancy, saying he was trustworthy, a good neighbor, honest and responsible. One person who had known Clancy for more than two decades said he "can't be bought."

One memo said Clancy "advised that he has had no contact with representatives of a foreign government except for visit by invitation to Soviet ships at Norfolk, Virginia, and to the Soviet Embassy. References favorably recommend. Former neighbors recommend. Credit check satisfactory. Arrest check negative."

Even though the FBI handled background checks, the agency's then-director, William S. Sessions, socialized with Clancy, according to letters from the late 1980s.

Their relationship included visits by Sessions to Clancy's home. On one visit, the author gave Sessions a document or copy of an apparent judge's order that he suspected was written in 1881 by the legendary Texas judge Roy Bean. Clancy asked the director to see if he could verify the letter's authenticity.


Sessions wrote back saying he had enlisted the help of the Department of Justice's law library and the New Mexico Archival Library, which believed the information on the document to be "folklore" or taken from a novel.

"Needless to say, this is an interesting subject that a lot of people enjoyed checking on and hearing the results," Sessions wrote on Nov. 3, 1989. "Thanks again for bringing it to my attention. It was good to see you Tuesday, and I thank you for your many kindnesses."

Sessions later wrote Clancy to ask him to speak in a "Distinguished Lecturer Series" at the FBI and join him for lunch. "I thoroughly enjoyed talking with you at dinner and at the premiere of the 'Hunt for Red October,'" Sessions wrote.

A year later, Sessions invited Clancy to the FBI's Senior Executive Retreat for a dinner, where he was asked to give an informal talk.

"Many thanks for your continued friendship and support of the FBI," Sessions wrote.