book just published about the incident, the New York
revisists the 1971 burglary of an FBI office in Media,
Pennsylvania—a politically fueled act committed in an age when the
Snowdens of the world often had to work with lockpicks and
crowbars instead of thumbdrives. The eight burglars made off with a
treasure trove of information about the FBI’s surveillance of
domestic political organizations. They also unearthed the first
hints that led to later revelations about COINTELPRO—the federal
government’s effort, as
documented by Reason’s own Jesse Walker, to infiltrate and
discredit groups deemed subversive or simply inconvenient. All of
this might just be thrilling history if Snowden’s recent actions
hadn’t made clear that little changes when it comes to governments
spying on their own people.
writes for the Times:
After packing the documents into suitcases, the burglars piled
into getaway cars and rendezvoused at a farmhouse to sort through
what they had stolen. To their relief, they soon discovered that
the bulk of it was hard evidence of the F.B.I.’s spying on
political groups. Identifying themselves as the Citizens’
Commission to Investigate the F.B.I., the burglars sent select
documents to several newspaper reporters. Two weeks after the
burglary, Ms. Medsger wrote the first article based on the files,
after the Nixon administration tried unsuccessfully to get The Post
to return the documents.
Other news organizations that had received the documents,
including The New York Times, followed with their own reports.
Ms. Medsger’s article cited what was perhaps the most damning
document from the cache, a 1970 memorandum that offered a glimpse
into Hoover’s obsession with snuffing out dissent. The document
urged agents to step up their interviews of antiwar activists and
members of dissident student groups.
“It will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will
further serve to get the point across there is an F.B.I. agent
behind every mailbox,” the message from F.B.I. headquarters said.
Another document, signed by Hoover himself, revealed widespread
F.B.I. surveillance of black student groups on college
But the document that would have the biggest impact on reining
in the F.B.I.’s domestic spying activities was an internal routing
slip, dated 1968, bearing a mysterious word: Cointelpro.
Under COINTELPRO, FBI agents infiltrated political groups and
spread rumors that loyal members were the real infiltrators. They
tried to get targets fired from their jobs, and they tried to break
up the targets’ marriages. They published deliberately inflammatory
literature in the names of the organizations they wanted to
discredit, and they drove wedges between groups that might
otherwise be allied.
So the federal government wasn’t merely spying on groups that
disagree with the powers that be—itself a chilling assault on
freedom of thought and speech—it actively sought to sabotage
opposition. The modern FBI itself confesses that COINTELPRO
was “rightfully criticized by Congress and the American people for
abridging first amendment rights.”
But domestic surveillance continues on an expanded scale, we
know, in part because of the massive data released by Edward
Snowden, and also because of the increased inquiry and scrutiny
directed at other government agencies as a result. We’ve learned
that the FBI
continues its surveillance activites, expanding its powers
(sometimes unilaterally) and shares information with agencies
including the NSA. The DEA, in concert with local police agencies,
engages in domestic phone surveillance that may dwarf the
official spy agency’s efforts.
Sen. Rand Paul responded to news of such domestic snooping,
Each new agency scandal or revelation-whether the IRS, DOJ, NSA,
or now, the DEA-paints a picture of a domestic and national
security apparatus run amuck. Our longstanding tradition of
balancing liberty against security is now threatened by an emerging
Washington mentality in which no liberty is protected
against the greater need for security.
Memories of the Media, Pennsylvania, break-in, and what was
learned from the FBI documents seized at that time, remind us that
the national security state isn’t just here to help. It’s not
benign. The state spies on its own subjects for its own reasons,
and those reasons often involve retaining power. The information it
gathers becomes a potent weapon against anybody labeled an enemy,
for whatever reason.
Mazzetti of the Times writes that the Media burglars
who have come forward “felt a kinship toward Mr. Snowden, whose
revelations about N.S.A. spying they see as a bookend to their own
disclosures so long ago.” That kinship is very real, unfortunately,
because the security state has experienced very little in the way
of reform between the two sets of revelations.
from Hit & Run http://reason.com/blog/2014/01/07/edward-snowdens-of-the-past-reveal-thems