Five Burglars Involved In An FBI Heist That Changed History Are Finally Coming Forward

J. Edgar Hoover FBIAPJ. Edgar Hoover in 1971

Five of the burglars who were involved in one of the biggest FBI file heists in history are stepping forward, finally going public ahead of the release of a book about the heist.

Those involved spoke to the New York Times in an article published Tuesday. They said they felt a unique similarity with National Security Agency leak source Edward Snowden, whose leaks have prompted a debate over the NSA’s surveillance programs.

The 1971 heist revealed the extent to which J. Edgar Hoover targeted and spied on political activists — particularly anti-Vietnam War activists and student dissident groups.

The heist was the brainchild of William C. Davidon, a professor of physics at Haverford College and then a frequent anti-war protester in Philadelphia. He was joined by Keith Forsyth, John and Bonnie Raines, and Bob Williamson, and three other participants whose names have not been revealed.

They broke into a poorly secured FBI satellite office in Media, Pa., one night in 1971. Unlike Snowden, who downloaded hundreds of thousands of NSA files onto computer hard drives, this group pulled off their scheme the old-fashioned way — by packing papers into suitcases, wearing gloves to not leave behind a trace.

The most damning document to come out of the heist was a 1968 routing slip entitled “Cointelpro” — an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program. It was a secret FBI program that spied on everyone from civil rights leaders to political organisers to suspected Communists.

The Rev. Martin Luther King was one of the FBI’s biggest targets revealed by the program. The documents revealed that the FBI sent King an anonymous letter that encouraged King to commit suicide if he did not want revelations of his extramarital affairs to come forward.

More than 200 FBI agents were assigned to the case after the heist, but the FBI closed the case in 1976 without finding the culprits. The eight people involved can no longer be prosecuted.

“The Burglary,” the book from former Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger, is out on Tuesday.

Read the full NYT story here >

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