FBI Increases Presence, Surveillance at EPCOT, Fearing Major Threat to National Security

fbi agents walking toward the spaceship earth structure at epcot at disney world

Most Guests who frequent the Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida will tell you that they feel completely safe during their visits to the Most Magical Place on Earth. But because the federal government didn’t share the same feeling of safety at one of Disney World’s theme parks, the FBI was called in to be sure all was exactly as it seemed.

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Oct 1, 1982 (37 years ago today): The great EPCOT Center opened at The Walt Disney World Resort. It is and will always remain my favorite park. : r/WaltDisneyWorld

Credit: Disney Parks

Disney World opened in October 1971, but at that time, there was only one theme park. Magic Kingdom was the latest and greatest Disney theme park, and it was nothing short of wildly impressive, gorgeous, magical, and well-received. But what Guests didn’t know in October 1971 was that Disney was already planning the next step in Central Florida, this time in the form of a brand-new theme park that would stand out from any other theme park or amusement park in the world.

The Construction of EPCOT

With ideas and blueprints for attractions, rides, landscaping, and an over-the-top iconic structure that would forever serve as an engineering feat of mammoth proportions, it should have taken Imagineers six years to construct EPCOT, Disney World’s second park. But in reality, the land on which the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow theme park now stands went from barren swampland to opening day in only three years, and much of that time was spent on the construction of Spaceship Earth. (Read more about the fascinating engineering marvel here.)

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Vintage Walt Disney World: Spaceship Earth | Disney Parks Blog

Credit: Disney Parks

While Spaceship Earth was an impressive structure when the park opened in October 1982 (as it remains today), one of the hallmarks of Disney World’s second theme park was World Showcase, almost a theme park within the brand-new Florida theme park that was built around a massive lagoon at EPCOT and featured–at the time–nine different countries from around the world. (Today, World Showcase features 11 countries, as Morocco opened in 1982 and Norway opened in 1988.

But while EPCOT’s World Showcase was one-of-a-kind in theme park entertainment, well-received by Guests, and gorgeous, the United States Government had concerns about the showcase–so much so that FBI agents were assigned to keep their eyes on World Showcase, increasing their presence in the park and initiating surveillance measures, all in the name of homeland security in the 1980s.

U. S. Government Concerns Grow Over EPCOT’s New Offering

So why did the government feel that EPCOT might present a threat to homeland security? According to heavily redacted FBI files, the Bureau had major concerns, particularly about the China pavilion at World Showcase. As such, FBI agents closely monitored all of the delegates on World Showcase.

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EPCOT’s China pavilion/Credit: Disney Parks

According to a post at MuckRock, EPCOT’s World Showcase “initially called for cultural installations from nine countries” and was “intended to be the ultimate harmonious international village, a shining example of global unity. Naturally, the FBI had a problem with it.”

Federal documents that were released in December 2015 show that as early as December 1979, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was concerned about Disney’s plans for EPCOT’s World Showcase, specifically as it pertained to the possibility of Soviet involvement. Surely the Bureau breathed a sigh of relief when the USSR declined to participate in World Showcase as the country wouldn’t be allowed to use the pavilion for the discussion of politics. But the Soviet Union’s lack of interest in World Showcase only eased the Bureau’s concerns slightly, as their attention then turned to the People’s Republic of China and the potential threat of international terrorism.

Redacted FBI files related to potential threats from World Showcase delegates/Credit: FBI/Muckrock

Per Muckrock:

The Tampa field office [of the Federal Bureau of Investigation] seemed concerned that any terrorist organizations operating within or around the participating nations, “Canada, France, China, Italy, Japan, UK, West Germany, Africa, and Mexico,” would converge on EPCOT. But, by far, the biggest concern of the Tampa branch would be the six foreign nationals per country that would be staffing the national pavilions.

By 1981, the FBI was already anticipating where these Chinese nationals living in the United States would be [housed], namely in Snow White Village on Seven Dwarfs Lane. What the Bureau planned to do with this information, in terms of possible procedures for surveillance, has been redacted or was made moot by the fact that the delegates ended up taking housing in Orlando.

fbi files epcot world showcase

Redacted FBI files/Credit: Federal Bureau of Investigation/MuckRock

Many years after the conclusion of the FBI’s surveillance related to EPCOT’s World Showcase, the Bureau released more than 200 heavily-redacted, once-classified files related to the case. The earliest file lists a date of December 6, 1979.

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Credit: Disney Meetings

Learn more about the FBI’s concerns about EPCOT’s World Showcase by looking through the declassified items included in the release of files here.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!