Welcome Betty Medsger (The Nation) (Twitter) (BookTV intro video) and Host Kevin Gosztola (FDL/The Dissenter) (Twitter)

The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI

This book is a window into a period of American history when secret government used its vast powers to engage in the widespread quashing of dissent.

In the midst of this dark era, a group of conscientious citizens chose to burglarize an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, because they thought they might be able to confirm how the FBI was spying on Americans who dared to protest the policies of their government.

The story of this courageous act and its impact is captivating on its own. Yet what makes the book even more extraordinary is its relevance to current events in the United States.

It is impossible to read Betty Medsger’s book without drifting into comparisons between then—when J. Edgar Hoover was the director of the FBI—and now—when Gen. Keith Alexander was the director of the NSA. In fact, Medsger enables such a comparison by including a chapter on the “NSA Files” disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Medsger spent years reporting in Philadelphia on the Catholic peace movement and continued to cover the movement after being hired to work for The Washington Post. Her coverage of the movement led the Media burglars to believe that the head of the Post would consider the files newsworthy.

As highlighted in the book, she had “no track record as a published critic of the FBI” and had maintained a “lower profile” as a journalist, which likely enabled her to receive an envelope of files without the FBI noticing. And, on March 24, 1971, Medsger and Ken W. Clawson published the Post’s first story on the documents.

Two other journalists also were mailed the files, Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times and Tom Wicker of The New York Times. In the first case, the FBI created a record that Nelson had received them although “[S]omeone intercepted the envelope, opened it, and did not deliver it,” to Nelson. This was done without copying the files or informing the top editors of the media organization. Though eager to receive the files, Nelson never managed to get his hands on any of them.

People in the two Washington bureaus of The New York Times chose not to report on the files. Instead, they called the FBI to notify agents that they had received documents and then “promptly delivered the files to the FBI.”

Five sets of files were mailed by the burglars. Four of the five sets were returned to the FBI immediately, but the Post refused to hand their files over to Hoover’s FBI.

Medsger continued to receive envelopes of files in the weeks after her first story. She soon realized she had earned the prestigious honor of having her mail monitored by the FBI. One “tall white-haired man,” claimed to work in the mailroom. He noticed she was receiving stolen FBI files. He knew she was from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and even creepily said to her, “I see all those letters your mother sends you.”

It was, as Medsger interpreted, a “ham-handed attempt to ‘enhance’ my paranoia in the manner prescribed” in the first Media file that she had covered for the Post. (Note: The file indicated the FBI had as its goal to “enhance paranoia and let the people know the FBI was behind every mailbox.)

Not unlike today, the atmosphere was chilly for journalists. Someone reporting on the files had to be concerned about being forced to reveal their confidential sources. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press formed in this era to help provide journalists with legal assistance and aid reporters if they decided to go to jail instead of revealing their sources to the government.

Medsger recalls that she thought about what she would do if asked by the FBI to turn over what she received from the burglars.

…I concluded that my unknown burglar sources deserved my protections as much as they would if they were sources known to me who had asked me to promise to protect their identity. They had passed an important confidential source test. They had provided me with information important to public discourse that was not otherwise available

I assumed that they, at great risk, had performed what eventually would be seen as a valuable public service, though I had no idea at the time how significant that service ultimately would be…

Four decades later, well after the government could legally prosecute any of the burglars, Bonnie and John Raines made the decision to reveal to Medsger that they had been involved in the burglary that eventually led to the disclosure of the term “COINTELPRO” and started an unraveling that led to widespread scrutiny of US intelligence practices.

William Davidon, Keith Forsyth, Robert Williamson, Bonnie and John Raines, and “Ron Durst” and “Susan Smith,” (the latter two chose to reveal their involvement under pseudonyms), decided to break their silence and tell the story of their act of resistance, perhaps because they understood it would resonate with Americans today.

Few other journalists would tell the story as well and as properly as Medsger. She treats her sources and others, who were involved in Catholic war resistance, with the empathy that they deserve.

Medsger also is not afraid to take the contents of the Media files and all that transpired around them and carry everything to a logical extension. She implicates the entire system of government for allowing Hoover to gain such power.

It took a burglary, a righteous albeit illegal act, to bring abusive and illegal government conduct out into the open.

None of these domestic spying programs were politically defensible once exposed to public scrutiny. The intelligence reforms implemented afterward were “fragile.” They often are, which makes what she portrays and outlines so illuminating for those concerned about secret government.

The Burglary is now one of my most valued go-to sources for information to guide me in contextualizing what I cover and write about on a daily basis. I highly recommend purchasing a copy of the book if you have not done so already.

There are many more tidbits from Medsger’s exceptional book that I am eager to note, but I’ll save them for the enlightening chat we will be having.

Join me in welcoming Betty Medsger to this FDL Book Salon.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

81 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Betty Medsger, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI”

BevW March 29th, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Betty, Welcome to the Lake.
Kevin, Welcome back to the Lake and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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Kevin Gosztola March 29th, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Hello, Betty

Hello, Bev

It is an honor to be hosting this Book Salon. Before we get started, I would like to let everyone know that there is a film on the Media burglary, which is the subject of Betty’s book.

The documentary is called “1971″ and it is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 18.

Later this year, this documentary will be opening in movie theatres around the country.

dakine01 March 29th, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Betty and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon, Good afternoon Kevin.

Betty I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but did you ever ask why you were chosen as a recipient of the documents?

Have you had a feeling of deja-vu with the latest round of spying and the government response to Snowden?

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:01 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hello….. Thanks, Bev….. Thanks, Kevin………

Kevin Gosztola March 29th, 2014 at 2:03 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

Betty will address this too, but I’ll note that I cover why she was chosen in the introductory post.

Elliott March 29th, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Welcome to the Lake Hero Medsger!

Did you ever regret your “treachery”? Did the creepy tactics (like the guy who saw the “letters from your mother”) used against you make you think twice, or did it harden your resolve?

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:03 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 2

Very exciting that the documentary is about to premier. Johanna Hamilton has done a terrific job telling the burglars’ story. We are both very much looking forward to its premier and to its being shown throughout the country

Kevin Gosztola March 29th, 2014 at 2:05 pm

My first questions:

What was it like to receive the files? Were you ever criticized for being willing to report on these stolen documents and did you ever find yourself in a position where you had to defend the Post for publishing stories?

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:06 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

It does seem like deja vu. Especially the fact that despite the official oversight mechanisms set up in the mid-1970s after the burglary and congressional investigations, it has once again taken an act of resistance by a citizen to reveal out of control intelligence activities

RevBev March 29th, 2014 at 2:07 pm

To follow up on Kevin…First to say, I loved the book. I hope you can talk abit about the writing of it…how long it took, etc. I really appreciated from time to time how you would sum up/review the bidding to keep the narrative clear. Thank you.

eCAHNomics March 29th, 2014 at 2:08 pm

How corrupt is the FBI, considering who ran it for so many years.

I ask this in the context of listening to authors of book on Whitey Bulger earlier today. One thought that J.E. Hoover was the source of all evil, and tradition persists until this day. The only time FBI “catches” someone is when it entraps him.

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:08 pm
In response to Elliott @ 6

I didn’t feel threatened by him. I was surprised that the attempt to make me paranoid would be done so poorly — given the fact I had written about such tactics

Alice X March 29th, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Bless those patriots. The burglars I mean.

eCAHNomics March 29th, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Why couldn’t the antiwar movement figure out who the FBI infiltrators were?

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:13 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 8

Some people, including some members of my family, thought the content of the files should not have been reported. A few people wrote letters to the editor that were published by the Post condemning the paper for being what one described as a fence for criminals. Some thought it was all a communist conspiracy. The loudest responses, though, were the unprecedented calls for a congressional investigation of the FBI and of Hoover. That had never happened before. He was almost idolized. Few even raised questions about him until then.

Though some activists suspected that he was engaged in wide scale political spying, until the burglars released these files there was no documentary evidence and few people beyond activists believed such activity was going on.

JamesJoyce March 29th, 2014 at 2:17 pm
In response to Alice X @ 13


Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:18 pm
In response to RevBev @ 10

Thanks…… It took a long time. After I accidentally found two of the burglars, I wanted very much to tell this important untold piece of American history: who committed that historic act of resistance. Once I found seven of the eight burglars and they agreed to tell their stories, I realized I wanted it to be comprehensive: their powerful personal stories, their motivation, how they did it, etc., but also the enormous impact of what they did. That involved a lot of research….. reading the scholars and journalists who have written pieces of this history and reading the 34,000-page official bureau investigation of the burglary. That made it possible for me to tell the story also from inside the bureau as over 200 agents searched for the burglars for five years.

Elliott March 29th, 2014 at 2:19 pm

He was almost idolized. Few even raised questions about him until then

It’s a disgrace the FBI headquarters is still named after Hoover

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:21 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 11

I agree that it is very difficult for an institution that was led by one very powerful person for half a century, as the FBI was under Hoover, to truly change. The Bulger crimes and other organized crime cases are testimony to how the FBI, under Hoover, was unable to deal competently with some of the crimes that were most damaging to society.

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:22 pm
In response to Elliott @ 18

Some people have pushed for Hoover’s name to be removed from the building, but those efforts seem to have died.

RevBev March 29th, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Was the man who dropped out of the plan never heard from? His role made me very nervous….

Kevin Gosztola March 29th, 2014 at 2:27 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 17

And you did remarkable research. The bibliography is a great selection of further reading. I went ahead and purchased a few books that you referenced, which are now out of print. Reading “Lawless State” now.

DWBartoo March 29th, 2014 at 2:28 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 15

How much of people’s unwillingness to actually look at Hoover and what he was doing amounts to willful blindness? It seems, Betty, that willful blindness, and even willing complicity, must be at work once again … that those “in the know”, politician, pundit, or “Operative”, are accorded complete belief until their deeds become known and the damage to democracy has been far more severe than would have been the case had honest doubt or healthy skepticism been encouraged, rather than myth-mongering … and fear-mongering.

We can only imagine that the next “official” efforts, spying-wise and in tems of dismantling the rule of law, will be to demoralize the many so that the few may continue as they wish … all the while claiming they do what they do for the people … for security, and for democracy.


eCAHNomics March 29th, 2014 at 2:30 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 19

Came up in the Q&A in the Bulger book discussion that those who knew that he was an informant were afraid for their lives, and members in Congress were powerless because of Hoover’s 3×5 blackmail cards.

Was that similar in COINTEL? That is, some knew, some told, were their lives threatened? Did anyone tell members of congress, that is before the material appeared in the newspaper?

Kevin Gosztola March 29th, 2014 at 2:34 pm

The next question I have for you —

A portion of the book involves people who were war resisters in the Catholic peace movement.

What led you to want to report on the Catholic peace movement?

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:36 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 14

Many people suspected that some people in their organizations, people walking with them at demonstrations were FBI or police informers. It was this fear that there were informers that drove Bill Davidon, the Haverford physics professor who got the idea for the burglary and who led the group. He kept hearing about such concerns throughout 1970.

It’s important to realize that the presence of such people creates exactly what that one Media file instructed agents to do: “enhance paranoia” and make people think there’s an “FBI agent behind every mailbox.” That paranoia makes people distrust each other, but it does not make people certain. In fact, at that time that fear was making some people suggest that others were somewhat mentally ill because they had such suspicions.

David realized in a very deep way that there was a need for evidence — not speculation — about whether it was true that movements were being spied on by the FBI. He thought that without evidence people would turn against each other; more and more people would become hopeless.

That’s why he thought it was absolutely necessary to solve this big problem. Probably few people would have concluded that, or least believed it possible. But he did. And he was able to convince seven other people that it was a problem so big they should be willing to risk many years of freedom in order to search for that evidence by breaking into an FBI office.

After working with them and on this story for many years by now, I am still struck again and again by the amazing fact that they decided to break in without any knowledge of whether they would find a single thing of value. They had no idea what was in those files.

It is impossible to know who is an informer unless the informer admits his or her role or unless one finds documentary evidence of informing.

Kit OConnell March 29th, 2014 at 2:37 pm

As members of a Catholic movement, how did the burglars justify what they were doing from an ethical perspective?

RevBev March 29th, 2014 at 2:38 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 26

As you have lived with all this stuff/facts/history, can you imagine that we the people will ever again trust our gov.?

Mauimom March 29th, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Welcome, Betty, and thanks for your excellent work.

I lived in DC during “Watergate,” [et seq] and it’s remarkable to see how far the Washington Post has “fallen” to its current lack of willingness to cover anything that questions the “establishment.” I was taken aback when I read that your coverage appeared in the Post. Not TODAY’s Washington Post!!!!

Quixote March 29th, 2014 at 2:43 pm
In response to Kit OConnell @ 27

Are you asking that question as a practicing or lapsed Catholic or as someone who wants to paint a picture on others?

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:43 pm
In response to RevBev @ 21

The man who dropped out…… That’s another thing that always amazes me — the fact that they were willing to proceed after he told them just a few days before the burglary was to take place that he wouldn’t participate. And simply walked away. He knew every detail of their plans.

A few weeks after the burglary he visited John and Bonnie Raines, the couple who were burglars, one evening. It was pretty startling to find him at their door. He had come to tell them he was thinking of turning in the burglars to the FBI. He said he had heard that the stolen files contained information about military sites that, if made public, would endanger national security. They told him they had read all of the files and none of them contained that type of information.

Days later they hired him to help John Raines paint their kitchen. They did so in order to have an opportunity to talk to him at length and, they hoped, convince him not to turn them in. He told them he thought what they had released so far was valuable public information and should be released, but he still felt uncertain about what had not been released. He left with their having no idea whether he would turn them in.

About two years later, he was interviewed by the FBI. He did not reveal anything about the burglars or about his own role.

Interestingly, immediately after the burglary he was a leading suspect. He was under 24-hour surveillance for weeks.

Kevin Gosztola March 29th, 2014 at 2:43 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 26

The Media burglars and Snowden both show the importance of having actual documents.

Especially now, any whistleblower, activist or concerned American citizen seeking to call attention to abuses has to have the documents – proof – so they can be taken seriously. The documents make revealing the information a crime, but it seems a crime has to be committed to reveal the truth. Just going to a reporter and saying, “I know this,” isn’t good enough.

Mauimom March 29th, 2014 at 2:43 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 26

He thought that without evidence people would turn against each other; more and more people would become hopeless.

Interesting thought in light of the current evidence of widespread government spying.

Alice X March 29th, 2014 at 2:44 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 23

Capitalism is more than wealth, though that is its aim.

Capitalism is about the relationship between the owner and labor.

The surplus value of labor leads to wealth for the owner.

Wealth leads to the search for its security.

Wealth can obtain political advantage.

J Edgar Hoover was working for someone, just not-one among the many.

I would construe.

eCAHNomics March 29th, 2014 at 2:47 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 26

Thanks for the extended explanation. I sort of knew about the paranoia, and how difficult it is to know who the infiltrators are without proof.

Not having been in one of these groups, I naively ask if there are “tells” that infiltrators have. Like there are CIA manuals for dead drops, foiling followers, other techniques CIA agents are supposed to use. But those techniques can be used against agent, to identify him, to create paranoia in him.

Also, can’t traps be set for infiltrators, like planting false info and watching how it turns out?

Perhaps this is too detailed for today’s discussion, but I keep thinking there’s got to be a way.

In your case, it turned out lucky, but it’s a high risk, low probability of return tactic to use regularly.

On FDL, some commenters are ‘plants’, these days most likely Cass Sunstein minions. They are easy to spot.

RevBev March 29th, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Does anyone know how he had attracted so much attention? Guess it is good he had dropped out…

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:48 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 22

“Lawless State” is a very good book from that era. Each book on that list adds to the history of the FBI of that era. The development of that history, still taking place in new books and articles today about the Hoover era, was/is possible because of the reforms that took place after the burglary. Most important, I think, was the strengthening of the Freedom of Information Act by Congress in 1974. That made it easier for citizens to obtain FBI files — it is still difficult, but it’s not as difficult as it was before.

Once it was possible to obtain original FBI files, it was possible for the first time for an accurate history of the FBI to be written.

emptywheel March 29th, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Betty, welcome. I really loved your book and obviously it was invaluable coming at this point in time.

I’m curious whether as you talk to people, whether they get hung up on the legality (or not) of what Hoover did. I’ve found writing about the NSA stuff that that word “legal” serves as a security blanket for people–an easy way to dismiss what is really just an automated version of what Hoover did. There’s even an NSA document–of their own!!–where they say they’ve got contemporary versions of Project Minaret (I think it involves some of the abuses found in 2009).

But how much of what Hoover did was ever found “illegal”? Or even prohibited (as opposed to ruled out in the Levy Guidelines)?

emptywheel March 29th, 2014 at 2:54 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 31

And they used the same tactic with the Snowden files, claim that he took (chose to take) a bunch of files showing military operations. So much of it is the same playbook.

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 2:56 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 23

Undoubtedly, there was a lot of willful blindness then and now. People in power could have asked questions, but they did not. Many of those people were afraid of Hoover — afraid he had files on them. As a result of that and a culture that gave intelligence agencies whatever they wanted without requiring accountability, it was possible for Hoover to thrive. The press also did not investigate Hoover or the FBI. The only journalist who had done so in a serious way, Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times, was attacked viciously by Hoover in efforts to get him fired — efforts that were going on in 1971.

Now is somewhat different. I think the same result — lack of accountability for intelligence agencies despite oversight mechanisms being in place — returned because of the fear generated by the 9/11 attacks. I also tend to think that by that time we had returned, to some extent, to being the unquestioning society we were before the Vietnam war and the civil rights movements changed us. I search for new insights about this question.

msmolly March 29th, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Just want to say I am reading the book now and am finding it fascinating.

eCAHNomics March 29th, 2014 at 2:58 pm

How did Hoover con Hollywood into making so many TV series showing the FBI in favorable light? Did FBI pay the budgets for such series?

Favorable treatment on TV and in books (I think its Cornwell whodunits who uses incompetent FBI lab for backup), CSIs on TV.

Considering the truth about the FBI is the opposite to how it’s portrayed in such programs, it’s got to be a deliberate plan that should be able to be unearthed.

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 3:00 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 29

I think the Washington Post is many things today. I think it would not call for an investigation of intelligence agencies in an editorial, as it did very forcefully then. However, It has many excellent reporters today who, day in and day out, are doing excellent reporting, including some of the best on Snowden’s revelations.

At that time, 1971, such reporting was very unusual — in the Post or any other newspaper. This was three months before the Pentagon Papers. The Post was just beginning to move into becoming known for having courage.

Kevin Gosztola March 29th, 2014 at 3:01 pm

While Betty is getting to all the questions, here’s something from the book that caught my attention and is especially relevant to today.

In 1972, then-executive director of the CIA, William Colby, wrote a memo that indicated the label “international terrorist” would replace “political dissident.” This would make it possible for the CIA to continue MHCHAOS, the agency’s secret domestic spying program.

Remember the historic interchangeability of the terms when thinking about how government officials rationalize certain “national security” programs today.

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 3:02 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 32

Absolutely right about the need for evidence. Davidon, the group’s leader, was so adamant about the fact that rhetoric about the possibility of political spying would worsen the situation. It would deep cynicism, make people more fearful. Therefore, evidence was essential.

emptywheel March 29th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Betty: If I’m correct you met with all but (2)? of the original burglars.

HOw many of the people (like the guy who backed out of the burglary) who ended up being falsely suspected of being part of the team did you talk to? I’ve know of one and she seems to still measure courage by what the burglars do, even though her life was ripped apart. She has been unbelievably courageous herself.

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 3:16 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 38

Much of what Hoover was doing was illegal, such as setting up violent episodes of group against group, and even setting up murder in some instances. I describe the worst of it, the COINTELPRO operations and others like them, as ranging from crude to cruel.

But the question of legality is an important one when it becomes the focus. Some people claim now that some of the mass surveillance programs operated by the NSA and revealed by Edward Snowden are, indeed, legal. Others, including Rep. Sensenbrenner, disagree and say they never intended for the Patriot Act to permit the programs now being conducted.

A problem arises, as you may be suggesting, with how to deal with what be legal but may be against the acceptable norms of a democratic society. This arose then when the effort to establish a charter that would spell out what the FBI could and could not do failed because it was impossible to reconcile the differences between those who wanted to put restraints on the bureau and those who wanted to make legal many of the actions that had been illegal.

That is an issue in some of the various intelligence bills now being considered in Congress. Some of them would “reform” by making legal some of the programs that are considered by many people to be illegal.

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 3:20 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 42

Hoover was a genius at using PR, and the use of Hollywood was one of the most powerful elements in his PR strategy. He had close relationships with the leading studios. He edited and approved the scripts for every movie about the FBI and required that every person involved in a film about the FBI be investigated by the bureau — including the lowest level employee. That was also true of the popular ABC network weekly series, the FBI.

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 3:22 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 46

I interviewed seven of the eight burglars. (The eight do not include the person who dropped out.) I know who the eighth person is, but I was not able to find her.

Teddy Partridge March 29th, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Thank you for this book, and thanks for chatting with us today. I’ve only just started reading it, so if my questions are answered within your book, my apologies.

I wonder about tradecraft — the conspiracy to commit the burglary. Not that our current bumbling “national security” apparatus catches anyone they don’t set up nowadays, but do you think a burglary like this one could be planned and executed without detection today? I’m particularly thinking of the peace activists who were recently sentenced for their break-in to a nuclear research facility. Seems to me that the nuts-and-bolts security (thinking, also, of the napping security guard who missed the World Trade Center BASE jumpers last fall….) is just as lax as it ever was.

Your thoughts on how easy it might be to procure such documents, from such a facility, in the modern era?

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 3:30 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 44

Yes, I was struck when I discovered that change of language then — dissident to terrorist. They knew that if their files became public, people would think it was wrong to be going after dissidents but all right to after terrorists, so you simply rename your targets.

It was interesting to me to discover that Hoover always feared that if people knew what he was doing — instead of what he had convinced people through all those movies, televisions shows, radio shows and dozens of popular ghost-written books — that would be upset. For that reason, he often changed his file system in ways that he thought would protect his secret files even more.

I think it’s nice that though he hoped to turn people into compliant lambs, he thought they would roar if they knew the truth. So did Bill Davidon. And that is just how people reacted in 1971 — and even more so as the crimes of Watergate were revealed. Over a period of four years, people learned more and more about the manipulation of intelligence agencies for political purposes.

Elliott March 29th, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Will you be on CSPAN’s Q&A tomorrow perchance?

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 3:37 pm

I think it would be very difficult to pull off such a burglary today. But what do I know? Everyone would have thought it was impossible then.

I think the nature of files today mean that any parallel to the Media burglary would involve getting information from computers, not file cabinets. And Snowden has shown us that was possible, but from the inside.

Time out for irony: the Media burglary never could have taken place except for an error in judgement in September 1970 by Mark Felt, later known as Deep Throat. He then turned down a request from the agent in charge at the Media office for an alarm system and for a very large file cabinet-style safe.

Teddy Partridge March 29th, 2014 at 3:41 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 51

…. and yet, now, the American people seem terribly complacent about our intel agencies’ manipulation and monitoring. Is it that we’ve got used to it, or everyone “knows it’s happening” or what, do you suppose?

Kevin Gosztola March 29th, 2014 at 3:41 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 51

Since we’re in the last half hour of our Salon, I’ll make my last question about language.

It is striking to listen to how officials rationalizing NSA programs redefine commonly used words. For example, the word “query” is used instead of “search,” possibly to get around the Fourth Amendment.

Is there anything else similar, which you remember from the era of Hoover’s FBI? Or in general is there any term from the era that struck you as absurd or wild?

I recall the FBI had “ghetto informants,” as part of its targeting of black Americans.

pmcall March 29th, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I can’t wait to read the book. Thank you for writing it.

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 3:42 pm
In response to Elliott @ 52

I have been interviewed by Brian Lamb, and I think it will be on tomorrow. C-Span also has links to event at Free Library in Philadelphia where I interviewed three of the burglars, John and Bonnie Raines and Keith Forsyth.

Teddy Partridge March 29th, 2014 at 3:43 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 53

That’s a very interesting footnote about Felt. One has to wonder, given his later role, if he thought there was a reason to provide some level of accessibility to those files. I mean, when has a government agent ever actually thought, “Our security is fine as is.”?

pmcall March 29th, 2014 at 3:46 pm

I wondered the same thing. Maybe it wasn’t an error in judgment?

pmcall March 29th, 2014 at 3:47 pm

What’s next for Betty Medsger? Any other book in the works?

Teddy Partridge March 29th, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Thanks to all involved for a wonderful Book Salon today!

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I think it is some of what you’ve said. I think part of it is genuine fear on the part of some people, a fear that we’ve been encouraged to have. I think surveillance today also is much less visible for most people. Years ago, you heard those clicks on your phone. Today, advanced technology makes it less visible when it is finely targeted and also when it is massively targeted.

I also think we have forgotten lessons from history about what surveillance/spying do to individuals and to a society. I find it interesting that the people who have expressed the most outrage about the massive surveillance revealed by Snowden’s files have been Germans. They still remember, from both the Gestapo of the Nazis and the Stasi of the East German communist government, what it means when the government watches everyone — that some people become other than what they want to be in order to stay on the right side of the government, even a terrible government.

Elliott March 29th, 2014 at 3:51 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 57

Oh good – 8pm ET!

DWBartoo March 29th, 2014 at 3:52 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 47

Yes, as “the law” is changed to protect major assaults on democracy and on individual rights, on the rule of law, the law is being used, by the executive, and with the complicity of the other branches, to destroy the law. We must consider that our democracy is now negligible, there is little to say of it except that those who have sought to destroy democracy, made use of democratic “tradition” to achieve their aims, that and myths of exceptionalism which clouded the vision and conscience of the many.

When I was young, many years ago, I often wondered how it was that the rise of fascism in Germany came about, I no longer wonder … nor do I wonder at the complacency, the desire not to have their comfort afflicted, which seems so typical of “good” citizens who are successfully propagandized into “belief” and uncritical compliance.


BevW March 29th, 2014 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the last minutes of this great Book Salon discussion. Any last thoughts?

Betty, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and the burglary that changed the US.

Kevin, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information: Betty’s book and Twitter. Kevin’s website and Twitter.

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: Photographer John Anderson / In Search of a Revolution: Occupy Austin in Photographs and Text; Hosted by Kit O’Connell

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Betty Medsger March 29th, 2014 at 3:54 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 55

There is much about Hoover’s operations that was absurd, wild. In the end, the constant attack of African Americans is what disturbs me most.

I think few people absorbed then, or remember now, that under Hoover’s FBI there truly was blanket surveillance of African Americans. In many ways, just as bad as the Stasi was in East Germany.

spocko March 29th, 2014 at 3:54 pm

These people came out of the Catholic movement, during a time when being Catholic might have meant more than fighting about abortion. Did you talk at all about their faith now?

I’m specifically interested in what part of the Catholic faith that they learned they felt so strongly about that they did this break in? Was it because of the immorality of the war?

DWBartoo March 29th, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Superb Book Salon, thank you, Betty and Kevin.

Thank you, Bev, as always …

Ongoing appreciation to those who gather here to cuss and discuss.


Kevin Gosztola March 29th, 2014 at 3:55 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 62

Though I have felt some times that there is this strain running through coverage of Germany’s reaction, which seems to suggest that what US intelligence is doing to their country might be less outrageous if they did not have this history that included the Stasi.

Just today we have new disclosures from Snowden on the Obama administration obtaining a top secret court order so that an NSA unit could target Merkel. And GCHQ – likely in collaboration with the NSA – was infiltrating German internet firms.

Kevin Gosztola March 29th, 2014 at 3:56 pm

I quite enjoyed hosting this Salon. Thank you, Betty.

And thanks everyone for participating in this Salon.

Elliott March 29th, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Thanks Betty for coming today, and for making our country a better place. Good luck with your book.

Thanks Kevin, and as always BevW.

pmcall March 29th, 2014 at 4:01 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 64

I agree. I too no longer wonder how the German people could have been so willingly led into allowing fascism to control their country. Since 9/11 I’ve seen first hand how easy it is to manipulate people into undermining our own democracy.

pmcall March 29th, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Thanks Betty, Kevin and Bev. Wish I would have gotten here sooner.

spocko March 29th, 2014 at 4:06 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 64

Excellent comment. Back in my Star Fleet days a friend of mine were talking about the rise of fascism. Her response astonished me and has stayed with me since. She said, “I know if I was in Germany during that time I would not stand up. I would end up being a guard or something. It’s nice to think that we would be brave, but think about all the times you didn’t challenge authority in other cases, and in cases were the response wouldn’t be as vicious.”

I was lucky. My Jesuit teachers went deep into social justice issues of war, income inequality, caring for the poor and non-violence (you know, the teachings of that dirty hippie from the middle east.)
It pains me to see so little focus on anything else in today’s church.

spocko March 29th, 2014 at 4:15 pm
In response to pmcall @ 72

Yes. A few weeks ago they had someone on who was talking about the “powerful people” advertisers and White House residents who were pushing the idea that it was UnAmerican to question the war.

This is how you do it. Accuse them of being “UnAmercian” I think they even had a committee about it. I often wish that Dan Rather’s case had come to trial I really wanted to read what the people at CBS were being told and who was saying what. (Again, I think I know but the EVIDENCE would prove it)

emptywheel March 29th, 2014 at 4:33 pm
In response to Betty Medsger @ 53

The equivalent today is that after being hacked via USB stick in Irag in 2008, DOD swore they were going to get rid of removable media. Manning and her Lady Gaga CD still managed to work though. And even then, after Manning’s leaks, Snowden was still able to get what he got off removable media. DOD has sworn they would fix this over and over and over, but no.

jaango March 29th, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Like several here, I am late to this discussion.

And my further appreciation for uncovering the COINTELPRO in all its formality, is certainly expressed.

And from the informality standpoint, I encountered my version in Denver, Colorado during the summer of 1970 and where we, Chicanos and military vets were assisting Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales, Denver’s version of the Chicano Movement to craft and implement a non-profit oriented school that provided education to school kids and where the subject areas were taught in both English and Spanish, and at the behest of the parents.

And thus, the “myopia of cointelpro” when seen from our then and now, political perspective. Of course, the FBI was often dismayed that within and without or the surrounding arena of the Chicano Movement, no political violence ever occurred. Sadly, had any violence occurred, the local version of the Fourth Estate would have been slobbering on the evening news for even more violence, as proof of need for more ‘cointelrpro.’


Betty Medsger March 30th, 2014 at 7:41 am
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 69

I don’t think it’s a matter of what we are doing being less outrageous if they didn’t have that history. I think they are an example, with or without their outrage, of what massive surveillance inevitably equals: control. It so happens that as a society they have come to understand that, and they are determined that it should never happen again.

Betty Medsger March 30th, 2014 at 7:52 am
In response to spocko @ 67

The Media group included only one Catholic, Bob Williamson, but they did, indeed, come out of the Catholic peace movement. Bill Davidon and the others all agree that they never would have thought of burglary if they had not been part of the Catholic groups that in the previous year raid draft boards.

Aggressive non-violence was what they called it. The central philosophy of their resistance came from many teachings, including those of Dan Berrigan, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. But, beginning in 1969, they became part of that group of Catholics who moved beyond acts of resistance where draft board files were removed, as at Catonsville, MD, and the perpetrators stood and explained their action to cameras while they waited to be arrested. By 1970, many in that movement had move to actually trying to damage the ability of the draft system to operate by removing files in the night and avoiding arrest. Few ever were arrested.

These groups, as the Media group shows, were ecumenical. The roots of their resistance came from those Catholic thinkers and also from revulsion to the silence that made the Holocaust possible. All of them also were deeply motivated by the historic injustice to African Americans and some of them had participated in the civil rights movement.

A note about the Catholic part of their thinking — understanding Pope John XXIII and the teachings that came out of the Second Vatican Council are central to understanding how some American Catholics were able to move in those days from being devoted to the military to raising fundamental questions about the war.

bgrothus March 30th, 2014 at 8:52 am

I am sorry I was unable to participate in this excellent book salon. Thank you very much for hosting, Kevin, and many many thanks to Betty for writing the book and for dropping by to discuss it here!

All of this brings me back to those years. Really looking forward to this read!

openhope March 30th, 2014 at 11:58 am

What a great book salon. Thank you all for making it happen. Thank you, Burglers and Betty, for adding to the paradigm shift in our society today. I just ordered the book!

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