Four decades after a burglary took place at an FBI office located outside the state of Philadelphia the criminal activity is being revealed to the public for the first time. And it is not because the federal law enforcement agency is seeking to bring charges against the perpetrators, according to the Jan. 7 report from Yahoo News. It is because the author of a new book about it needs to spike the interest of the public in the crime portrayed between the pages of her new work, which will hit book stores on Tuesday.
Former Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger penned "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI" after receiving files from the thieves anonymously in the mail.
The thieves were political activists who wanted to expose the corrupt activities they believed were going on in Hoover's FBI. The ringleader, a physics professor at Haverford College named Bill Davidon, died in 2013, in advance of the book release this week. But if J. Edgar were still alive, and if the new Civil Rights-conscious Justice Department did not want the contents of the stolen documents revealed, you can be sure the book would never be seeing the light of day.
As it is, the FBI has issued a formal statement on their website about Cointelpro, also known as the Counterintelligence Program. They make it clear that the program was first begun in 1956 with the purpose of thwarting the activities of the Communist Party within our nation's borders.
In the 1960's the federal program grew to include oversight of domestic groups that concerned it, like the Klu Klux Klan, and the Black Panther Party. Both groups still exist today and remain a concern of many, including recent white voters in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, who the Washington Post reported felt intimidated at polls in Pennsylvania, where Panthers were present and wielding billy clubs during poll times.
And then there are those Klu Klux Klan members who supported George Zimmerman after he shot and killed a black teen named Trayvon Martin, but their support of him had less to do with first amendment rights and more about their hatred towards the African-American community.
Zimmerman was later acquitted of murdering the black youth, but the Black Panther's placed a bounty on his head prior to the trial, and that just shows that the KKK and the Black Panther organization are as much at war today as they were in Hoover's today. Other domestic groups that came under the suspicious eye of the Hoover-led agency included Puerto Rican groups, the New Left and Cuba.
By 1971, which is the same year the burglary of the federal law enforcement office took place, the FBI ended its Cointelpro operation. It was later criticized by Congress for violations of first amendment rights and more, and the federal agency admits now that the criticism was warranted.
[The burglary] contributed to changes in how the FBI identified and addressed domestic security threats, leading to reform of the FBI's intelligence policies and practices," FBI spokesman Michael Kortan said in an email statement to NBC News.
When one of the three activists who have been named was asked why they have waited years after Hoover's death to go public about all of this, John Raines told The Times that after they stole the documents and started mailing them anonymously, "We had done what needed to be done [so] we didn't need the attention."
Now, however, it appears they do. The author will want publicity for her work on compiling and presenting the story she had mailed to her in bits and pieces anonymously, and several of the participants (although not all) want their time in the limelight for what they feel was a patriotic deed.
We should have a plaque right up there," Bonnie Raines said, pointing towards the FBI office where she and her husband and others broke in years ago.
Bonnie's husband John thinks that the FBI men and women who searched for them back then, after the break-in, must believe the thieves have been vindicated by what they found. He thinks "the end justifies the means" obviously, asking those 200 federal agents this question:
Aren't you glad you failed [to find us]? Aren't we all glad you failed?"
Former FBI Agent Pat Kelly sees it very differently, and since he was one of the two agents who first found the office after it had been ransacked and papers stolen, he might be expected to, of course. He feels the thieves are criminals and their act wasn't heroic but rather an attempt to circumvent justice by not handling this a different way. A legal way.
I don't believe such people have the right to take it upon themselves and make decisions about what should be made public," Kelly said. And instead of considering them patriotic, as some do Snowden, this former FBI agent believes they acted like "a traitor" instead.