F.B.I. Burglars Come Clean After 43 Years

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Filed under: Creative Activism

In 1971, eight anti-war activists, including John and Bonnie Raines, broke into a suburban FBI office outside of Philadelphia and stole just about every file in the building.


They then leaked pertinent documents to the media that directly implicated J. Edgar Hoover in his efforts to discredit protestors, particularly black student activists, with extraordinary surveillance and “dirty tricks”. In particular they uncovered an operation called COINTELPRO, short for Counter Intelligence Program, which followed “subversive” domestic political groups, specifically to discredit people and destroy their reputations.

Said one of the most damning memos regarding the surveillance: “It will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across there is an F.B.I. agent behind every mailbox…” The burglars, who remained anonymous until now, feeling the information they revealed was more important than their identities, put the first chink in Hoover’s formidable power base, eventually helping to bring down his operation.

Betty Medsger of The Washington Post was the first reporter to write about the files. She has now written a book, out this week, called “The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI“. Documentarian Johanna Hamilton has produced a film called “1971,” about this daring feat.

For the full story:

  • Burglars Who Took On F.B.I. Abandon Shadows, The New York Times
  • After 43 years, activists admit theft at FBI office that exposed domestic spying, NBC News
  • ‘Somebody had to do it’: Aging activists confess to being behind great FBI heist in 1971 which shed light on controversial surveillance program (and say ‘hi!’ to Edward Snowden), The Daily Mail