CARBONDALE — On Sept. 15, 1965, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Springfield office came to Carbondale to interview Buckminster Fuller inside his futuristic dome home on Forest Avenue.
“Fuller is a 69 year old lecturer, designer, author and world traveler,” their report reads. “He is connected with Southern Illinois University as a research professor. He has been in contact with [REDACTED] a KGB employee.”
Bucky’s FBI file, first made public by technology news website Gizmodo, reveals the Bureau began watching Fuller in the late 1940s, and first interviewed him in 1951.
The Bureau’s interest intensified in the 1960s, as Fuller became internationally known for his iconic geodesic domes, and other inventions, like his three-wheeled Dymaxion car, a teardrop-shaped vehicle that he imagined would one day fly and drive.
Fuller traveled all around the world, speaking to architectural societies and leading construction projects. He supplied domes to the U.S. military, and built a massive “Biosphere” for the World Fair in Montreal, Canada. He appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.
Meanwhile, he was employed as a research professor at SIU, a unique, celebrity role that offered him ample time to travel and lecture.
It was Fuller’s visits to the Soviet Union that recaptured the interest of the FBI in the mid-1960s. He visited St. Petersburg in August of 1964, then met with President Lyndon Johnson at the White House only months later.
By 1965, the FBI was discussing how to interview Fuller without “divulging knowledge of his association with Soviet nationals,” documents show.
It was in the middle of the Cold War, and the fear of spies and subversives cast a pall of suspicion on any contact with the Soviet Union.
When agents finally interviewed Bucky at his home in Carbondale, it appears he assuaged their concerns about his Russian contacts.
He was forthcoming about his meetings with Soviet officials at conferences and symposiums around the world, and assured the agents he had “never been approached by anyone from the USSR or any other country to divulge anything concerning the work performed by him for the United States Government,” the report reads.
He admitted contact with the subjects of other FBI investigations, whose names appear redacted in the reports. In one case, a meeting with a Russian subject was only “playing politics,” Fuller said, to gain support for his work.
By the end of Fuller’s interview, it appears he had talked the agents’ ears off, describing his vision of a “geosocial revolution ... where the world’s vast resources are used for the betterment of man.”
That fits with the reputation of man who once talked for six hours straight at an SIUC symposium, said Jon Davey, an SIUC architecture professor who is leading efforts to restore and preserve Bucky’s Dome Home in Carbondale.
Davey wasn’t aware of Fuller’s FBI file, he told the Southern on Wednesday, but he wasn’t surprised to learn of it.
By the mid-1960s, Fuller’s dome was “incorrectly identified as a part of the counterculture,” Davey said.
He traces that association to Drop City, an artist commune that formed in southern Colorado in 1965. It became a gathering place for hippies, and drew national media attention. And its occupants, inspired by Fuller, lived in domes.
“After a while the bikers and the druggies took it over and it became a drug haven, and so the dome became associated with drugs,” Davey explained.
Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, a colorful figure in his own right, fixated on such counterculture movements, often using the threat of communism to drum up support and justification for unfounded FBI investigations.
Under Hoover, the FBI monitored many cultural icons, from Martin Luther King Jr. to physicist Richard Feynman and John Lennon.
"Hoover hated Frank Lloyd Wright," Davey said. "And in a similar fashion, Bucky brought together counterculture kids."
Bucky Fuller’s FBI file mostly peters out after the 1965 FBI interview in Carbondale.
But it ends with an intriguing tidbit.
In 1968, the bureau investigated an SIU student, whose name is redacted in Fuller’s file. The internal documents reveal agents considered asking Bucky to provide information on the student, but decided not to.
That student’s identity remains unknown, according to an article about Fuller’s file posted on the SIUC Police website.
More information could be released in future years, according to reporter Matt Novak, who first published Fuller's file. Novak's initial Freedom of Information Act request yielded just 44 of the 69 pages of documents that the FBI has on Bucky.