Yesterday’s chilling revelation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has redefined its basic mission from crime-fighting to national security immediately reminded us of one of the most diabolical operations ever carried out under color of authority: COINTELPRO.
Under the aegis of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, federal agents carried out black operations against American citizens opposed to the Vietnam War and working on behalf of racial equality [previously].
Just how many deaths resulted may never be known, but the feds set out to destroy both people and organizations, provoking violence in order to discredit.
What blew the lid off COINTELPRO was a burglary, and the story is told here for the first time in a video from the New York Times:
Stealing J. Edgar Hoover’s Secrets: ‘The Greatest Heist You’ve Never Heard Of’
One night in 1971, files were stolen from an F.B.I. office near Philadelphia. They proved that the bureau was spying on thousands of Americans. The case was unsolved, until now.
Accompany the Times video is a Mark Mazzetti story, “Burglars Who Took On F.B.I. Abandon Shadows.” The following is an excerpt:
The perfect crime is far easier to pull off when nobody is watching.
So on a night nearly 43 years ago, while Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier bludgeoned each other over 15 rounds in a televised title bout viewed by millions around the world, burglars took a lock pick and a crowbar and broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation office in a suburb of Philadelphia, making off with nearly every document inside.
They were never caught, and the stolen documents that they mailed anonymously to newspaper reporters were the first trickle of what would become a flood of revelations about extensive spying and dirty-tricks operations by the F.B.I. against dissident groups.
The burglary in Media, Pa., on March 8, 1971, is a historical echo today, as disclosures by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden have cast another unflattering light on government spying and opened a national debate about the proper limits of government surveillance. The burglars had, until now, maintained a vow of silence about their roles in the operation. They were content in knowing that their actions had dealt the first significant blow to an institution that had amassed enormous power and prestige during J. Edgar Hoover’s lengthy tenure as director.
The same paranoia and fears that drove the FBI under Hoover to violate the basic rights of American citizens flourishes again today. In any sane world, the burglars of Media would be honored.
Given that the current occupant of the White House has prosecuted more whistleblowers and leakers that all previous administrations combined, we aren’t holding or breath.