The burglars who broke into an FBI office in 1971 and made off with tons of documents have come forward nearly forty years after their score helped expose J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau's widespread effort of political repression. The reveal appears in The New York Times ahead of a book chronicling the break-in by Betty Medsger, who was one of the first journalists to receive documents from the robbers.
Five of the eight participants have chosen to come forward with their story. The plot was orchestrated by William C. Haverford, a physics professor at Haverford, and also involved Keith Forsyth, John and Bonnie Raines who were married and had children by the time the crime occurred, and Bob Williamson, in addition to the three unknowns. The group spent months casing the satellite office in Media, Pa., and gained access with little more than a lockpick and a crowbar. The statute of limitations for the crime has long been expired.
One of the documents contained the term "COINTELPRO" but it took two years for a reporter to figure out what it meant: Counter Intelligence Program. Among the program's tactics were:
plans to enhance “paranoia” among “New Left” groups by instilling fears that “there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.” Another instructed agents in the Philadelphia area to monitor the “clientele” of “Afro-American type bookstores” and recruit informants among the “the Negro militant movement.”
The disclosure of the FBI's domestic spying program enraged Hoover, who at one point had a team of around 200 investigating the burglary. The reveals also stirred public outrage, leading to COINTELPRO's end in 1972, as well as substantial reforms in how the FBI operates.
The burglary of the FBI's offices has gained relevancy in recent months due to its similarities to Edward Snowden's NSA reveals, in which he violated law in order to cast a light on government overreach and start a public conversation. Forsyth told The Daily Beast, “My response to Snowden was here we go again.”
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.