Michael Jackson’s FBI file more snooze than sizzle

When the FBI announced last week that it planned to make public its previously secret file on Michael Jackson, the bombshells seemed guaranteed. How could hundreds of pages of inside government information about the world’s most famous and famously unconventional man be anything other than riveting?

But the materials released Tuesday turned out to be more somnolent than sensational, their 333 pages a collection of photocopied tabloid articles and heavily redacted reports from investigations that were old news years ago. The file, opened to the public as the result of Freedom of Information Act requests by news outlets, contained no information at all about Jackson’s June death or the subsequent criminal probe of his personal physician.

What one could glean from the voluminous file were the type of things his many biographers would probably relegate to footnotes -- or not include at all. That Jackson, for example, was the type of person who smiled for drivers’ license photos. (The file included a copy of an expired license.) Or that Bubbles, the singer’s pet chimpanzee, came up in the 1993 investigation into a 13-year-old boy’s allegations that Jackson molested him. What led an agent to scrawl “male chimp” twice in his notebook remains a mystery, thanks to FBI censors who redacted much of the rest of the writing on the page.

Most of the file -- nearly 200 pages -- concerns a man arrested for stalking Jackson 17 years ago. Frank Paul Jones had a history of threatening to kill the president and had been arrested numerous times outside the White House, according to investigatory reports. In rambling letters collected by the FBI, Jones claimed to be the son of John Gotti, demanded money and pledged to “commit mass murder at a Michael Jackson concert.” A Los Angeles federal judge sentenced him to two years in prison in 1993 for mailing threatening communications to Jackson.

The rest of the file, however, reflects the marginal role that the FBI played on other occasions. The Los Angeles Police Department took the lead in the 1993 case, which did not result in criminal charges. Federal agents helped detectives arrange an interview with two witnesses in the Philippines, clipped stories from British tabloids and took the occasional phone tip, but the locals did the heavy lifting.

A decade later, authorities in Santa Barbara County were in charge when another L.A. boy accused the singer of molestation. The records show that the FBI helped process computer evidence and that local investigators sought additional federal help “to develop a prosecutive strategy and to provide forensic guidance.” Subsequent conversations with FBI officials in Quantico are not related in detail.

Jackson was acquitted at a trial in Santa Maria that drew an international contingent of press and had local authorities concerned about terrorist attacks. An agent wrote that local police believed that the proceedings might be “a soft target for terrorism due to the worldwide media coverage,” but noted that there was no evidence suggesting an attack.

Christmas marks the six-month anniversary of Jackson’s death, which the coroner’s office has classified as a homicide resulting from a lethal amount of a surgical anesthetic.

Court papers have identified the singer’s physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, as the target of an ongoing manslaughter investigation conducted by several agencies, including the LAPD and the L.A. County district attorney’s office.