Fifty Years Later, Remembering the Activities of the "Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI"

Mar 15, 2021

Fifty years ago, in March of 1971, a group of activists calling itself the "Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI" broke into a small FBI office in Pennsylvania and stole more than 1,000 classified documents. They then anonymously mailed the documents to several U.S. newspapers, thereby exposing numerous illegal FBI operations vis a vis domestic surveillance. On this edition of ST, we revisit our 2014 conversation with Betty Medsger, a former Washington Post journalist who wrote a book detailing this incident. That book is "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI." And as per a critic writing for Booklist: "In 1971, somebody burgled an FBI office in Pennsylvania, stole secret files, and sent them to journalists. One of the recipients, Medsger revisits the story because she has discovered who the burglars were (the FBI never identified them). Organized by a college teacher, they were a small group of academics and students whose act Medsger recounts with sympathy for their audacity and antiwar motivations. In discursive detail, Medsger recounts the protester-burglars' movements, from casing the building to publicizing the purloined documents (with interludes of their worries about their fates if caught), and follows the course of the futile FBI investigation into the caper. Besides dramatizating the incident, Medsger pursues its historical significance.... This work encapsulates an important event of interest to readers of the history of the antiwar movement."