Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI
The Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI was a leftist activist group operational in the US during the early 1970s. Their only known action was breaking into a two-man Media, Pennsylvania office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and stealing over 1000 classified documents. They then mailed these documents anonymously to several US newspapers. Some news outlets refused to publish the information, as it related to ongoing operations and they contended disclosure may have threatened the lives of agents or informants. "The complete collection of political documents ripped-off from the F.B.I. office in Media, Pa., March 8, 1971" was published for the first time as the March, 1972 issue of WIN Magazine ("Peace and freedom thru nonviolent action"), a journal associated with the War Resisters League. The documents revealed the COINTELPRO operation, and led to the Church Committee and the cessation of this operation by the FBI.
- "According to its analysis of the documents in this FBI office, 1 percent were devoted to organized crime, mostly gambling; 30 percent were "manuals, routine forms, and similar procedural matter"; 40 percent were devoted to political surveillance and the like, including two cases involving right-wing groups, ten concerning immigrants, and over 200 on left or liberal groups. Another 14 percent of the documents concerned draft resistance and "leaving the military without government permission." The remainder concerned bank robberies, murder, rape, and interstate theft." - Noam Chomsky
The theft resulted in the exposure of some of the FBI's most self-incriminating documents, including several documents detailing the FBI's use of postal workers, switchboard operators, etc., in order to spy on black college students and various non-violent black activist groups.
|Delaware County Courthouse in Media, PA|
|Stealing J. Edgar Hoover’s Secrets, Retro Report, January 7, 2014.|
Some forty years after their successful infiltration, some of the perpetrators decided to go public. In 2014, Betty Medsger's book The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret F.B.I. was released, which contains the burglars' description of the burglary, and revealed the identities of five of the eight burglars. Filmmaker Johanna Hamilton also made a documentary titled 1971.
The FBI closed their investigation into the group's burglary on March 11, 1976 without conclusively identifying any of the perpetrators. The group's identity remained a secret until early 2014, when four of its eight members agreed to be interviewed prior to a book on the burglary being published. The members breaking their silence were Keith Forsyth, John C. Raines and Bonnie Raines, and Robert Williamson. William C. Davidon (the recruiter and informal leader) died in 2013 but had planned to reveal his involvement.
The burglars did extensive surveillance of the FBI office, to ensure they knew when the office was empty. The break-in was perpetrated on the day of Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali's Fight of the Century, in the hope that any security guards would be glued to their radios.
In a 2014 interview, John Raines said that while returning from the burglary early in the morning, the group had stopped at a pay phone, called a Reuters journalist and delivered the following statement:
On the night of March 8, 1971, the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI removed files from the Media, Pennsylvania, office of the FBI. These files will now be studied to determine: one, the nature and extent of surveillance and intimidation carried on by this office of the FBI, particularly against groups and individuals working for a more just, humane and peaceful society; two, to determine how much of the FBI’s efforts are spent on relatively minor crimes by the poor and the powerless against whom they can get a more glamorous conviction rate, instead of investigating truly serious crimes by those with money and influence which cause great damage to the lives of many people—crimes such as war profiteering, monopolistic practices, institutional racism, organized crime, and the mass distribution of lethal drugs; finally, three, the extent of illegal practices by the FBI, such as eavesdropping, entrapment, and the use of provocateurs and informers.
As this study proceeds, the results obtained along with the FBI documents pertaining to them will be sent to people in public life who have demonstrated the integrity, courage and commitment to democratic values which are necessary to effectively challenge the repressive policies of the FBI.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. 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.
FBI had up to 200 agents working on the case, but it was never solved, and the investigation was closed when the five-year statute of limitations ran out.
- Global surveillance disclosures - The 2013 whistleblowing leak by Edward Snowden.
- Tim Phillips, "Activists Confess to Breaking Into Federal Bureau of Investigation Office More Than Forty Years Ago", Activist Defense, January 7, 2014.
- Noam Chomsky. New Political Science, Volume 21, Number 3 (September, 1999), pp. 303-324
- Medsger, Betty (2014). The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret F.B.I. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-96295-9.
- Mazzetti, Mark (January 7, 2014). "Burglars Who Took On F.B.I. Abandon Shadows". The New York Times.
- Goodman, Amy (January 8, 2014). "From COINTELPRO to Snowden, the FBI Burglars Speak Out After 43 Years of Silence (Part 2)". DemocracyNow.
- 1971 - A film by Johanna Hamilton - A 2014 documentary about the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI.
- LA Times Article
- Democracy Now! interviews - "It Was Time to Do More Than Protest": Activists Admit to 1971 FBI Burglary That Exposed COINTELPRO
- WIN Magazine
- War Resisters League
- National Public Radio story, audio