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The Illegal Break In of An FBI Office Reveals The Truth About Cointel-Pro!




Jim Meyer

University of Minnesota

Personal Research


December 5, 2019


COINTELPRO--Counter-Intelligence-Program— Beginning in 1956 was a series of clandestine and, at times, unlawful schemes aimed at discrediting individuals through psychological warfare, surveilling, infiltrating, misleading reports in the media, smearing through counterfeit letters, harassment, unjust imprisonment, extralegal violence and assassination all the while imbedding character lies in the media and the intimidation of Americans exercising their First Amendment rights of speech and association. It included surveilling, infiltrating, organizations the FBI deemed subversive: The Communist Party, The Anti-War Movement, The American Indian Movement, The Feminist Movement, The Socialist Workers Party, The Black Panther Party, The Puerto Rican Independence Party. Immersed in its own racism, without necessary checks or balances, the Federal Bureau of Investigation dedicated more money and manpower to target and discredit the Civil Rights Movement than any other charge in its purview. COINTELPRO signifies the nation-state’s stratagem to prevent movements and communities from upsetting or overturning the establishment of white supremacy while seeking to terminate movements for self-determination and liberation for Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous struggles, as well as mount an institutionalized war against progressive organizations. Covert operations under COINTELPRO would stop in 1972; however, the U.S. Government’s covert operations continues to this day under the Patriot Act.



As long as the United States government wages war against Indochina in defiance of the vast majority who want all troops and weapons withdrawn this year and extends that war and suffering under the guise of reducing it. As long as great economic and political power remains concentrated in the hands of a small clique not subject to democratic scrutiny and control. Then repression, intimidation, and entrapment are to be expected.1 We do not believe that this destruction of democracy and democratic society results simply from the evilness, egoism or senility of some leaders. Rather, this destruction is the result of certain undemocratic social, economic and political institutions.” John Raines, Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI


America has sanctioned an undemocratic belief from its founding:

some people, white people, deserve more power than others.


In the spring of 1970, the war in Vietnam was raging. As war casualties escalated in Vietnam, battle deaths in Vietnam now number 40,142. Antiwar protesters and law enforcement officers were violently clashing. Their activism had garnered the attention of the FBI. Its director, J. Edgar Hoover understood the antiwar movement, which ranged from radical revolutionaries to peaceful protesters, as a threat to national security. The ‘Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI’ burglars had an idea that the FBI was surreptitiously attempting to quell any and all anti-war protests and speech while frightening civil rights activists with arrests. But they needed evidence or proof.

So, after months of preparation, on the night, March 8, 1971 the “Fight of the Century” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier would serve as a melodramatic backdrop to the heist. With the country deeply absorbed in the fight, it was hoped the heavily promoted boxing match would distract security guards and police allowing a group of eight Vietnam War protestors--including a cabdriver, a social worker, a graduate student, a day care director and two professors—to break into a Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in Media, Pennsylvania and steal more than 1,000 documents or memorandums and simply carry them out the front door in suitcases to a waiting car.

Eight anti-war protesters wanting to prove J. Edgar Hoover was breaking the law,

broke into one of his offices seeking to break a higher immoral law.

The theft yielded a trove of critical evidence. The most noteworthy disclosure was COINTELPRO, a controversial, top-secret, illegal surveillance program run by the long-time FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Among the files was one endorsed by Hoover, extolling the intensification of surveillance of anti-war protesters and activists creating paranoia, anxiety and forcing dissenting groups to think there was “an FBI agent behind every mailbox.” Hoover had ordered phone operators on college campuses and U.S. postal employees to intercept and report citizens’ transmissions.

For decades. J. Edgar Hoover was untouchable. He was a national icon. Presidents in fact, were afraid of him. The people elected to oversee the FBI had failed in holding him accountable. And that meant that somebody had to get objective evidence of what his FBI was doing.

The eight members of the ‘Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI’ had uncovered a collective reserve of confidential documents regarding covert government surveillance, some of which carried the cryptogram “COINTELPRO.” 2 The pilfered documents that were released would contain a mass of confidential and classified documents about the FBI’s blanket surveillance of the peace and civil rights movement, the tactics of disinformation and deception the bureau used to silence protesters. Such was a tidal wave of revelations about widespread illegal spying and dirty-tricks actions by the F.B.I. against dissenting groups, harassing hundreds of American citizens then known collectively as “the New Left.” The eight had hoped to expose the culture of George Orwell’s “1984” illicit surveillance state that Hoover had fashioned. (The culture up till then in Washington among the media and government officials was that the FBI and intelligence agencies should be free to engage in clandestine or covert activities carte blanche.)

"When the law becomes the instrument of the crime,

then the only way you can stop that crime is to break that law." John Raines

Mailed incognito, the stolen Media documents started to gather in several major newsroom outlets. The ‘Citizens’ had leaked documents to the other major media press and eventually to two members of Congress, Senator George McGovern from South Dakota and Representative Parren Mitchell from Baltimore hoping to get the story out.

Hoover and President Nixon, made vociferous ultimatums for the return of the documents, reasoning they were stolen government property. Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post, was faced with a demand from the Nixon administration that she not publish the story. She and her in-house counsel, the lawyers, also did not want to publish. But two editors understood it was a significant story and pushed it through—Ben Bradlee and Ben Bagdikian. By 10:00 PM, on March 24, 1971, after intense newsroom discussions, was it right to publish stolen government files, she went ahead and published it. The Post ran a full-page cover-story revealing findings from the stolen FBI documents on a massive program schooled by the FBI beginning in 1956 to discredit suspicious individuals and organizations and was expanded to embrace numerous groups considered “subversive” to the government.

The Washington Post, the New York Times and Los Angeles Times had never had to deal with the enigma of what to do with leaked government documents that had been obtained illegally by people not in official positions. The Washington Post was the only one to resist Hoover and Nixon and publish despite governmental protestations. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times are both believed to have returned all the documents to the FBI.

This release energized immediate national indignation and debate at the notion of domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens. It was something no other newspaper was willing to do in the pre-Pentagon Papers (three months after the Media files) in 1971, pre-Watergate 1972, era. The revelations led to the first Congressional investigation of the U.S. intelligence agency. No section of Americans, certainly not white America, had been as fundamental to COINTELPRO operations as ‘black America’ with the Civil Rights Movement. A broader extent of the FBI’s covert actions, however, was not known until Congressional hearings in 1971. What was revealed was saturated in racism, with no ‘checks or balances;’ the FBI had devoted more resources to defeating and notion demoralizing the Civil Rights movement than any other task in its purview.

Apart from Edward Snowden, who transferred thousands of digital National Security Agency (NSA) files to computer flash drives, the 1971 burglars did their labor in accord with 20th-century technology: they cased the Media, Pennsylvania F.B.I. office for weeks, memorized the layout of neighborhood, hung maps in their apartment to learn about the neighborhood, they took extensive notes on the comings and goings in the building, devised a getaway plan, wore rubber gloves as they crammed the papers into suitcases to make certain they left no trace of fingerprints, and piled the suitcases into getaway cars. They rendezvoused at a farmstead, about an hour’s drive from Media, to search through what they had stolen. They found that the lion’s share of documents was concrete evidence of the F.B.I.’s spying on dissenting political groups, just what they had thought. Among the cache was a 1970 memorandum that portrayed Hoover’s fixation with annihilating any type of dissent. The memorandum admonished FBI agents to accelerate their interviews of antiwar activists and members of dissident University and College groups including professors. Another document, signed by Hoover himself, laid bare ubiquitous F.B.I. surveillance of black student groups on University campuses, however, “it wasn’t just black students or black students’ unions, but every place black folk gathered. Their churches, their local stores.” Another instructed the FBI in the Philadelphia area to watch the “clientele” of “Afro-American type bookstores” and recruit informants among the “the Negro militant movement.”

The most incendiary element of the stolen documents on exposing the F.B.I.’s domestic surveillance program was an internal routing slip, dated 1968, carrying an enigmatic cryptogram “COINTELPRO.” None of the eight burglars nor the reporters who received the documents understood the meaning of the cryptogram. The Department of Justice would later, but reluctantly, release 50,000 pages on the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence-Program. It would be about a year, and additional files gathered from the F.B.I. under the Freedom of Information Act, that the full delineation of “COINTELPRO” was shown as cryptography for ‘Counter-Intelligence-Program.’

Markedly, since 1956, the F.B.I. had waged a campaign of surveillance on the black civil rights leaders, homosexuals, supposed Communists, and had endeavored to disseminate distrust and uncertainty among protest groups leaders. In addition, from late 1963 until his death in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the target of a concentrated and exhaustive campaign by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was to “neutralize” him as a civil rights leader. It was the charge of the FBI's “war” against King, “No holds were barred,” as Hoover declared. The FBI employed an extensive surveillance of intelligence-gathering regarding the “private activities of King and his advisors” to “completely discredit” them. The program to destroy King as the leader of the civil rights movement included efforts to discredit him before Congressional leaders, foreign heads of state, American ambassadors, churches. universities, and the press.

The FBI mailed King a tape recording made from microphones hidden in his hotel room which one agent testified was an effort to destroy King's marriage. The tape recording was accompanied by a note which King and his advisors interpreted as threatening to expose his extramarital affairs unless Dr. King committed suicide. In short, the note said, “King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have 34 days.” The intention of “COINTELPRO” was to devastate and destroy lives and wreck reputations.

The exposés in these documents, once made public, ignited a national discussion about clandestine government activity, the limits of national security and the First Amendment’s ‘free expression and association.’ They also hasten the formation of the (Frank) Church Committee in 1975 and brought about the end of COINTELPRO (though some aspects of the program continued with the NSA). Congress later issued restructurings to check how the government could gather intelligence. One effect was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA court, which required government intelligence agencies to obtain warrants before spying on U.S. citizens. After 9/11, more across-the-board surveillance was allowed and with the Snowden revelations surveillance was practically unconstrained.


Maintaining a vow of silence regarding their roles in the break-in, the members of the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI were satisfied in knowing that their actions had dispensed the first meaningful shot to the FBI that had accumulated massive power and standing during J. Edgar Hoover’s tenure as its director. Their actions would cast a critical and unattractive light on government surveillance and spying that would open a national debate about the appropriate limits of government surveillance and the First Amendment that is still in progress.

COINTELPRO was the “worst systematic and extended violation

of basic civil rights by the federal government.” Noam Chomsky

The FBI never solved the mystery of the Media, Pennsylvania break-in, and the identities of the members of the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI remained a secret for decades. The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI burglars would not be arraigned or indicted: the statute of limitations for the “theft of government documents” expired in 1976.

They had promised each other they would take the secret of the burglary to their graves. Despite 200 agents searched for them for five years, the burglars never were found.


Change does not roll in on inevitability

but comes through continuous struggle.” – MLK Jr.


PS: In the Spring of 1970, collegiate campuses across this country were characterized by a refrain of protests and demonstrations. The issues were the escalation of the Vietnam War and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia; the ecology; racism and repression; and the inclusion of the experiences of women and minorities in the educational system. No institution of higher education was left untouched by confrontations and calls for change.

The early 1970s factions of the anti-war movement were becoming more hostile and Hoover’s F.B.I. was increasing its efforts to stop activities it considered a threat to national security. The state finally deteriorated in the spring, when Nixon declared the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Four white student protesters were shot and killed and nine injured by National Guardsmen at Kent State University on May 4, 1970 and two more black students were killed at Jackson State on May 15, 1970 with coverage compared to the Kent State murders. The nation was in a state of mayhem and havoc.

Less know this Jackson State tragedy happened 11 days later, on May 15, 1970 at a predominantly black college in the South. According to a 1970 report from the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, it was around 12:05 a.m. that the police opened fire on the college crowd. An FBI investigation revealed that about 400 bullets or pieces of buckshot had been fired into Alexander Hall killing two and wounding 12 others. The shooters claimed that there was a sniper in the dorm, but investigators found “insufficient evidence” of that claim. Although the commission criticized both police in Jackson and National Guard commanders in Ohio, no arrests were made.


1 In the early 1950s, the Communist Party suddenly was illegal in the United States. The Senate and House of Representatives proceeded to prosecute Communists and publicly expose and smear them. (The House Committee on Un-American Activities and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee was led by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy). When a series of Supreme Court rulings in 1956 and 1957 defied these committees and queried the constitutionality of certain prosecutions and Subversive Activities Control Board hearings, the FBI's answer was COINTELPRO, a program calculated to "neutralize" those who could no longer be prosecuted.


2 The FBI's COINTELPRO was designed to “foil” groups and “neutralize” individuals believed to be threats to domestic security of the state. The FBI’s recourse to counterintelligence tactics was in part because chief officials thought that the existing law could not control the activities of particular dissident groups, and that court decisions had tied the hands of the intelligence community. Whatever belief one holds about the strategies of the targeted groups, many of the tactics utilized by the FBI were incontrovertibly humiliating and debasing to a free and open society.