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The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar…

The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI (edition 2014)

by Betty Medsger (Author)

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An account of the 1971 break-in of the FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania, by a group of unlikely activists cites their roles in triggering major changes in the FBI and confirming that J. Edgar Hoover had run a personal shadow-FBI.
Title:The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI
Authors:Betty Medsger (Author)
Info:Knopf (2014), Edition: 1st, 608 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI by Betty Medsger


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I think the book could have done a better job drawing a comparison between the COINTELPRO operations of the 1970s and a number of modern day FBI entrapment cases - for example the tactics used in the Camden 28 entrapment were repeated verbatim in 2004 against Earth Liberation Front members and again in the 2010s in a number of terrorism cases where jihadist literature, bomb making plans, and ingredients were supplied by the FBI via an informant. But neither of these instances are brought up. The only way they could happen in 1971 and in the 2000s is if the same agents were involved 35 years later or subsequent agents have been taught the same techniques - which means it is institutional.

Except for this omission it is a solid book and an excellent place to start to learn about COINTELPRO and its campaign to infiltrate and undermine the peace movement and civil rights movement.

It also provides a healthy dose of skepticism about Mark Felt: at the same time he was working on COINTELPRO to undermine civil rights, trying to find the Media burglars, and protect the Bureau from exposure as the burglars released their stolen documents he was simultaneously also providing Woodward with information on the Watergate break-in. The picture that emerges is not of a man valiantly defending the Constitution from tyranny, but rather someone who routinely violated the Constitution and was engaging in petty office politics brinkmanship to try to manipulate things to land himself a promotion. ( )
1 vote LamontCranston | Oct 16, 2018 |
Ms. Medsger's account of historic events in which she played a role was absorbing, enraging, astonishing and, sadly, still relevant to today. It would be nice to think that the abuses documented in the records of the FBI that spanned Hoover's tenure as director are only in the past. It would be somewhat comforting to think that people's lives would not be ruined now as they were when it was so easy to wiretap, smear and blackball innocent people because of their race or progressive beliefs. Ms. Medsger, in detail, documents the commitment, planning and risks that a small group of people were willing to take on to protect the rest of us. Through their actions, the illegal acts of the FBI was exposed. It was not until the documents that the burglars released that illegal acts as wire tapping, surveillance, use of informants, and harassing of activists, such as Dr. King, was exposed to the light of day. The stories of the " Media Burglars" was fascinating. I have much respect for them. Ms. Medsger also interweaves the workings of the FBI in the 1970's and follows the "reforms" (really not much) that were implemented later. The chapter on the NSA and current practices continues to disturb me. Hoover may not be spying and ruining people, but our civil liberties are still being abused. The Burglars were never caught. Never identified by the FBI. They never went to jail. That is not the case for contemporary whistle blowers and leakers who are jailed and in exile. Read this book. It will change your life. ( )
  mstruck | Jan 27, 2015 |
Born in the 1960s & an adolescent in the 1970s, the war in Vietnam was a continual background to the first 12 years of my life. Watergate, the Pentagon papers, COINTELPRO, and the Church committee all blended into a morass of untrustworthy government for me. I'm embarrassed to say that this book was my first attempt to differentiate some of these events, and when I initially picked up [The Burglary] I expected it to be about the Watergate burglary.

What I found instead was an accessible and captivating account of the 1971 theft of files from an FBI office in Pennsylvania by concerned war resisters that provided an initial peek into domestic surveillance of US Citizens by Hoover's FBI. The group planned and carried out the burglary as a way of investigating whether the FBI was quashing dissent among US citizens. In subsequent months they released files to various members of Congress and journalists, including the author (who at the time wrote for the Washington Post.) Despite several years of investigation, the FBI was unable to identify any of the burglars. The exposure of these files and investigation by journalists & Congress eventually resulted in the Church committee investigations & some changes in how the FBI & CIA function.

That's the first 375 pages or so, and it is riveting.

The next 5 chapters follow the lives of the burglars after the burglary, and their thoughts as they look back on what they did. I found it interesting that they managed to keep silence as long as they did about their involvement, and I suspect they were able to do that because they didn't stay in contact after the files were released.

I'm still trying to digest the last three chapters which delve briefly into the reforms that were implemented and how various administrations have changed them, the National Security Administration's electronic surveillance & Snowden's revelations, and questions about how or whether reforms have been effective. I can understand that Medsger wants to draw some parallels between then & now, but part of me thinks the book should have ended without these chapters - their subject could be the topic of another book.

All in all though, this was an absorbing account. ( )
  markon | Jul 22, 2014 |
Should be read by any American who labors under the misapprehension that the FBI and NSA serve in the public's interest. Exhaustively researched and nicely written, this book tells an amazing story: that the FBI could not even solve a burglary at one of its own offices (!), and no one knew who had done it until the burglars themselves went public. But the discouraging outcome is that the poisonous actions of the J. Edgar Hoover-era FBI seem to be still with us! When are we going to have a President and a Congress with enough courage to rein these people in? Well done, Betty Medsger! ( )
1 vote bookwalter | May 27, 2014 |
I had no idea that the FBI was so worthless and venal. ( )
1 vote picardyrose | Mar 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Great book to read that relates to renewed operation of the FBIs Cointelpro stalking, murder operations

A story to be shared of the FBIs modern Cointelpro operations that have led to the deaths of many innocent civilians. I am in contact with community support groups nationwide as well as many undergoing these terrorist assaults on their lives 24/7. Many respectable whistleblowers have spoken out, NSA William Binney, Kirk Wiebe, Karen Melton Stewart, etc seen on YouTube videos as well as thousands and thousands of documented accounts of these criminal activities by FBI and cooperating Federal and State corrupt officials.




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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Betty Medsgerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pappas, CassandraDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wong, JoanCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Never once did I hear anybody, including myself, raise the question: "Is this course of action which we have agreed upon lawful, is it legal, is it ethical or moral?" We never gave any thought to this line of reasoning because we were just naturally pragmatic. The one thing we were concerned about, will this course of action work, will it get us what we want, the objective we desire to reach.
- William Sullivan, head of the FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division under FBI director J. Edgar Hoover
It was a matter of keeping alive a sense of purpose and accomplishment when the forces seemed so overwhelming. . . . Sometimes we accomplished more than we had reason to expect, as in Media. It was a long shot. We didn't know if we would find anything important. Other time, we never knew if we accomplished anything. . . . But it gave voice and a sense of purpose and built little pockets of life that made sense at a terrible time.
- William Davidon, leader of the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI
During most of my tenure as director of the FBI, I have been compelled to devote much of my time attempting to reconstruct and then to explain activities that occurred years ago. Some of those activities were clearly wrong and quite indefensible. We most certainly must never allow them to be repeated.
- Clarence M. Kelley, FBI Director, apologizing to the American people in 1976 for the actions of his predecessor, J. Edgar Hoover
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. - Margaret Mead, anthropologist
For John
With love and gratitude
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In late 1970, William Davidon, a mild-mannered physics professor at Haverford College, privately asked a few people this question: "What do you think of burglarizing an FBI office?"
What do you think of burglarising an FBI office?
Enhance the paranoia [...] and [...] get across the point that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.
From Stern's story broadcast on NBC-the first story reported about COINTELPRO-people learned that in a May 1968 memorandum Hoover had informed officials at FBI headquarters in Washington and in key field offices that he had opened COINTELPRO-New Left to "expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralise" the New Left movement. He emphasised that the operations would be carried out in heavy secrecy and that they would be aimed at "disrupting the organised activity of these groups [...] No opportunity should be missed to capitalise upon organisational and personal conflicts of their leadership [...] The devious manoeuvres and duplicity of these activists must be exposed to public scrutiny through the cooperation of reliable news media, both locally and at the seat of government [Hoover's term for bureau headquarters in Washington]." He ordered heads of selected field offices throughout the nation to take advantage "of all opportunities for counter-intelligence and also inspire action in instances where circumstances warrant." Activists in these organisations, he instructed, "must not only be contained but must be neutralised."
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An account of the 1971 break-in of the FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania, by a group of unlikely activists cites their roles in triggering major changes in the FBI and confirming that J. Edgar Hoover had run a personal shadow-FBI.

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