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

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

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

The never-before-told full story of the history-changing break-in at the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, by a group of unlikely activists—quiet, ordinary, hardworking Americans—that made clear the shocking truth and confirmed what some had long suspected, that J. Edgar Hoover had created and was operating, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, his own shadow Bureau of Investigation.

It begins in 1971 in an America being split apart by the Vietnam War . . . A small group of activists—eight men and women—the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI, inspired by Daniel Berrigan’s rebellious Catholic peace movement, set out to use a more active, but nonviolent, method of civil disobedience to provide hard evidence once and for all that the government was operating outside the laws of the land.
The would-be burglars—nonpro’s—were ordinary people leading lives of purpose: a professor of religion and former freedom rider; a day-care director; a physicist; a cab driver; an antiwar activist, a lock picker; a graduate student haunted by members of her family lost to the Holocaust and the passivity of German civilians under Nazi rule.

Betty Medsger's extraordinary book re-creates in resonant detail how this group of unknowing thieves, in their meticulous planning of the burglary, scouted out the low-security FBI building in a small town just west of Philadelphia, taking into consideration every possible factor, and how they planned the break-in for the night of the long-anticipated boxing match between Joe Frazier (war supporter and friend to President Nixon) and Muhammad Ali (convicted for refusing to serve in the military), knowing that all would be fixated on their televisions and radios.

Medsger writes that the burglars removed all of the FBI files and, with the utmost deliberation, released them to various journalists and members of Congress, soon upending the public’s perception of the inviolate head of the Bureau and paving the way for the first overhaul of the FBI since Hoover became its director in 1924.  And we see how the release of the FBI files to the press set the stage for the sensational release three months later, by Daniel Ellsberg, of the top-secret, seven-thousand-page Pentagon study on U.S. decision-making regarding the Vietnam War, which became known as the Pentagon Papers.
At the heart of the heist—and the book—the contents of the FBI files revealing J. Edgar Hoover’s “secret counterintelligence program” COINTELPRO, set up in 1956 to investigate and disrupt dissident political groups in the United States in order “to enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles,” to make clear to all Americans that an FBI agent was “behind every mailbox,” a plan that would discredit, destabilize, and demoralize groups, many of them legal civil rights organizations and antiwar groups that Hoover found offensive—as well as black power groups, student activists, antidraft protestors, conscientious objectors.

The author, the first reporter to receive the FBI files, began to cover this story during the three years she worked for The Washington Post and continued her investigation long after she'd left the paper, figuring out who the burglars were, and convincing them, after decades of silence, to come forward and tell their extraordinary story. 

The Burglary
is an important and riveting book, a portrait of the potential power of non­violent resistance and the destructive power of excessive government secrecy and spying.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307962959
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/07/2014
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 880,300
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Betty Medsger was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Medsger is a former chair of the Department of Journalism at San Francisco State University and is the founder of its Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism. She is the author of Winds of Change, Framed, and Women at Work. She lives in New York and Connecticut.

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The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written and on a fascinating subject. I never thought of the FBI as heroes and since I'm a child of the sixties they were always suspect and now it's been proven. It truly makes you wonder what they are up to now with all their powers under the Patriot Act?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this down, well researched and quite detailed, this author weaves a story that every American should read.
PVF More than 1 year ago
I didn't even know this daring FBI office invasion had happened, much less that the patriots who accomplished it had never been caught. It was the first of America's revelation of the police surveillance state, contemporaneous with Ellsberg and a grim precursor to the more recent Edward Snowden revelations. Hoover was a nasty, gossipy old man who held law-enforcement awareness back by decades. Most of the glories he is associated with were made up. He was the one who discovered Ma Barker dead with a machine gun in her hands. Yeah, right. All she ever did was cook for the Barker gang, but J. Edgar needed to beef up his resume. He was the initiator of the deadly "national security" scare that kept information that should have been transparent and public hidden away because of the looming end-of-the-world crisis that J. Edgar kept promoting and inventing. This book provides critical context to the Eddie Bernays political propaganda triumph that has ultimately conquered what passes for reality in matters of interest to the American and world public. Read this book. You will be illuminated and disheartened, but left with a glimmer of hope.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every citizen should understand how secrecy has been used to subvert our democracy. This book should be a wake-up call in light of Edward Snowden's revelations and the Justice Department' efforts to silence and prosecute Bradley Manning.
NewsieQ More than 1 year ago
In March of 1971, eight ordinary men and women – peace activists all – burglarized the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, stealing nearly every document. They were looking for evidence that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was spying on Americans for no other reason than they wanted to stop the war – or were black, and therefore suspect to Hoover. They found it. The members of the burglary team then sifted through the documents, destroying those that had nothing to do with their mission and parceled out the relevant documents to officials and journalists they thought would disseminate it to the public. The author of The Burglary was the first journalist to do so. Although I was familiar in a general way with the burglary, it didn’t resonate with me at the time as a pivotal event in our understanding of and cynicism about our government. Followed, as it was, by the revelations in the Pentagon Papers a few months later and in Watergate awhile after that, the Burglary confirmed that our government and its officials were shamelessly lying to us. The author is at her best when she’s telling the story of the burglary itself, the bumbling investigation, and what happened to the burglars – who were never caught – after the burglary was over. (Several of “came out” about their involvement about the time this book was published. I saw them on TV news and their story immediately grabbed me.) And, although I understand the author needed to tell the broader story of the FBI and its shenanigans over the years to add context, at many points in the book, that information felt redundant. Many of the book’s revelations about what the FBI was doing to people are appalling. And the actions (inactions, really) of Congress and the presidents were worse. That keeping Americans constantly in fear of something or someone – communists, radicals, peace activists – was Hoover’s top goal is disheartening. The saddest thing is that not much has changed and in many ways, it’s getting worse. The Burglary is filled with little factoids that make me want to know more. For example, I was stunned to learn that the FBI had a formal agreement with the American Legion that enlisted members to help spy on people. I could go on and on about the fascinating information that The Burglary brings out, but I won’t. I leave that to readers to find out for themselves. I was pleased to find that the book has voluminous backnotes, and both index and bibliography. (I’ve already started searching for referenced articles to give me more information.) I highly recommend this readable, revealing and well researched book.
robertlockwoodmills More than 1 year ago
In 1971 an ad hoc group of antiestablishmentarians burglarized an FBI office in Media, PA. Their goal was to find documentation of their belief that the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was violating the Constitutional rights of those who spoke out against the Vietnam conflict. The burglars succeeded, and eventually the proofs they secured occasioned Congressional inquiries and (following Hoover's death) significant reforms. Remarkably, the burglary was never solved despite intense FBI investigation. Several decades later one couple violated the group's secrecy oath and told their children what had happened. By then, the government was no longer interested in prosecuting the case. Betty Medsger, who as a young journalist received the stolen documentation and assisted in its distribution throughout the media, tells the story brilliantly, punctuating the narrative with comments directly from the burglars themselves. Civil libertarians will love the book, but everyone should read it. Five stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good subject matter, very much interested me But Betty, Betty, Betty Medsger, you could have said in less than 300 pages what you unwisely choose to spread out to 600 pages.....Very, very, very redundant. For that reason, I could only give you 2 stars. Besides that, I did enjoy your book. Without the redundancy, I think I could have given it 3, maybe even 4 stars.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although, it was tragic, Hardy got what he desire for turning in the camden group. He should have put a little more thought into his decission to turn in his trusted friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kiss ur hand 3 time post this on 3 ther places look under ur pillow