Stealing secret records about government spying used to be way more complicated


In 1971, a group of radicals broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole a bunch of documents about J. Edgar Hoover’s surveillance program targeting dissidents and antiwar activists.

Thanks to their criminal act, which they followed up by anonymously sending copies of the files to major media outlets, awareness of FBI spying under Cointelpro penetrated mainstream consciousness.

More than 40 years later, the people behind that theft have unmasked themselves in a new book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI, authored by Betty Medsger. The former Washington Post reporter convinced some of the burglars to come forward and tell their tale. Medsger previously served as chair of the journalism department at San Francisco State University.

A New York Times piece spotlighting the book describes the historic event and draws a comparison with modern day whistleblower Edward Snowden, who used access granted to him as a National Security Agency contractor to shed light on secret documents detailing NSA surveillance programs.

“Unlike Mr. Snowden, who downloaded hundreds of thousands of digital N.S.A. files onto computer hard drives, the Media burglars did their work the 20th-century way: they cased the F.B.I. office for months, wore gloves as they packed the papers into suitcases, and loaded the suitcases into getaway cars. When the operation was over, they dispersed.”

The burglary also entailed lock picking, opening a window with a crowbar, and memorization of FBI staff’s comings and goings; also, they never again met as a group after making off with the files.

Even as technology has given intelligence agencies the ability to build a once unfathomable surveillance system that regularly sweeps in the communications of millions of law-abiding Americans, it's also made it easier for information about such activities to be brought into the light of day – with just a few simple keystrokes.


I read about this the other day. I'm still amazed at their courage, and the fact that they got away with it. They did more to advance the cause of freedom than all of our military might put together, and we owe them our gratitude.

One correction though -I don't think it's true that they never met as a group after taking the files. They did meet up at least once afterward, and they went through the files together. At least that's the account that I read.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 4:08 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 4:14 pm
Posted by Greg on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

establishment. I am actually quite happy with my life and this nation.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

The US was founded on principles of challenging government and patriarchial authority. If you'd been paying attention rather than constantly posting your rapidly narrow world-views on this website, you would have learned that there are many areas in US society where social and economic justice have yet to be perfected. Future generations will likely find many more issues where social, political and economic improvements are required. Governments hate change so it's never an easy task to get the elites (government, business and landlords) to make required improvements for society's benefit.

There are many places in the world where the local elites maintain a fair amount of order and control over the commoners. They seem a much better fit given your deference to "the establishment." In case you hadn't noticed, you're the ony one here who doesn't realize you have nothing in common with people living in a complex urban environment, yet you continue to post your narrow-minded snippets and screeds here. You may want to talk to a doctor about that.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 5:36 pm

for a massive redistribution and confiscation of wealth from those who have created wealth to those who have consumed it. Why would I support that?

And while our nation was forged in the crucible of revolution that was really little more than a squabble between England and France played out on our soil. Has the war of independance been lost we would be more like Canada and most SF progressives seem to think that would be preferable.

Since then, we have grown fat and happy, and the average american is way too lazy to revolt or protest anything. As long as they have NFL, Bud and reality TV, they are as happy as a pig in shit.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 6:03 pm

the real criminal and traitor here, who treasonously violated the constitution. Sounds to me like he supports those who defend our constitution against criminals and traitors.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

authority, and loves thugs and felons.

He also hates Asians but that's another story.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 4:56 pm

since the 80's when I first read about them, didn't know that they came out to the pubic, more power to them.

What they did took serious guts.

Limiting state power is a good thing, sadly our progressives oppose that.

Posted by Matlock on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 6:49 pm

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