Jan 20, 2014
On the night of March 8, 1971, eight activists broke into the FBI office in a suburb of Philadelphia and stole thousands of pages of documents showing how the FBI was spying on U.S. citizens.
The burglary disclosed a huge effort by the FBI against civil rights and anti-Viet Nam war activists, to disrupt these movements and threaten those who participated. The documents included an attempt by FBI Director Hoover to blackmail Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The mystery of who the eight people were is solved in a new book called The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, written by a former reporter for the Washington Post.
The name of this earlier effort at spying was COINTELPRO, which stood for “counter-intelligence program.” In the “land of free speech,” the FBI was spying on and attempting to disrupt the efforts of many thousands of protesters. One message found by the so-called “burglars” stated that FBI agents should interview, i.e., harass, activists so that “it will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”
Whether or not activists felt harassed or paranoid, the publishing of some of these documents by the Post and the New York Times showed how far Hoover was prepared to go against black people and anti-war protesters. The attorney general at that time called the editors to try to insist the information about COINTELPRO not appear in the papers.
When thousands, even millions, are active against the government’s policies, it is harder for the police or other repressive agencies to act against them. And, it gives courage to many other people who would otherwise not have done anything.