The Anarchist Cookbook is Alive and Well

A recent New York Times article reported that William Powell, the author of The Anarchist Cookbook, died last year at the age of 66. [FN 1]

The article noted:

“William Powell was a teenager, angry at the government and the Vietnam War, when he walked into the main branch of the New York Public Library in Manhattan in 1969 to begin research for a handbook on causing violent mayhem.”

The Anarchist Cookbook was published in 1971. [FN 2] Among other things, it provides instructions on how to manufacture defense articles described on the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”) United States Munitions List (“USML”), such as a silencer for a submachine gun and a grenade launcher. It also provides recipes for a variety of explosives, to include tetryl, a high explosive specifically described at USML Category IV(a)(29).

The ITAR existed in 1971 and the F.B.I. investigated Powell and The Anarchist Cookbook shortly after initial publication of the book. Questions regarding access to the book by foreign persons outside the United States were raised in the investigation. [FN 3] However, no charges were filed because the Justice Department advised the F.B.I. that publishing the book was not a crime. [FN 4]

J. Edgar Hoover even responded to a citizen letter with the following:

“while I can readily understand your concern, the FBI has no control over either the publishing of any book or information disseminated through the news or mass media.” [FN 5]

Later, in 1986, when alerted to foreign availability of the book by its field office in Paris, France, the F.B.I. advised:

“As the publication of this book is not a violation of any laws in the United States, investigation can not be conducted to identify foreign contacts.” [FN 6]

Considering the above, it is interesting to note the State Department’s more recent claim that publishing technical data is an export and the agency’s June 3, 2013 Federal Register notice that claims “one must seek and receive a license or other authorization from the Department or other cognizant U.S. government authority to release ITAR controlled ‘technical data’…” [FN 7]

The State Department’s prior restraint on public speech is the subject of litigation pending before the federal courts. Yet, Powell’s Anarchist’s Cookbook is alive and well—available online for sale and for free from a variety of sources. An updated, corrected, and annotated version of the book is also available online. Nevertheless, the State Department continues to claim that persons publishing technical data without prior approval from the cognizant U.S. government agency are subject to civil and criminal penalties.

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Photo Credit: F.B.I.

[1] Richard Sandomir, “William Powell, ‘Anarchist Cookbook’ Writer, Dies at 66,” New York Times, March 19, 2017.

[2] William Powell, “The Anarchist Cookbook,” New York: Lyle Stuart, 1971.

[3] See http://www.governmentattic.org/4docs/FBI-AnarchistsCookbook_1971-1999.pdf

[4] See July 14, 1971 Letter from Robert C. Mardian, Department of Justice, to J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director, available at https://defensetradelaw.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/art-fbi-anarchistscookbook_doj_letter_1971.pdf

[5] See March 10, 1971 Letter from J. Edgar Hoover, available at https://defensetradelaw.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/art-fbi-anarchistscookbook_-j-edgar-hoover-letter_1971.pdf

[6] See F.B.I. March 31, 1986 Cable, available at https://defensetradelaw.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/art-fbi-anarchistscookbook_fbi_cable_1986.pdf

[7] 80 Fed. Reg. 31525, 31528 (June 3, 2015).


*The above is not intended as an exhaustive list of restrictions that may apply to a particular transaction nor advice for a specific transaction because the specifics of an individual case may implicate application of other U.S. laws as well as foreign laws that carry added or different requirements. In addition, U.S. export control and sanctions laws are frequently subject to change. Such changes can affect the continued validity of the information above, which is based on U.S. law existing as of April 4, 2017. For these reasons, assistance from a qualified attorney competent to advise on such matters is highly recommended. Matthew A. Goldstein is an International Trade Attorney in Washington D.C. licensed to practice in the District of Columbia. He can be reached at (202) 550-0040 and Matthew@GoldsteinPLLC.com