Privacy SOS

Event: On the robbery of the FBI in Media, Pennsylvannia

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Before Watergate, WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, There was Media, Pennsylvania

Thursday, January 15 | Cambridge

Cambridge Public Library
449 Broadway
Lecture Hall

5:30pm: "The Burglary" book signing with veteran journalist Betty Medsger
6:00pm: Screening of "1971"
7:15pm: Discussion with Betty Medsger and filmmaker Johanna Hamilton

One of the best books—if not the best book—I read last year was Betty Medsger's "The Burglary", which details the formerly secret history of the robbery that blew open the COINTELPRO scandal.

A quick history for those unaware: In 1971, activists affiliated with the anti-war and Catholic Worker movements broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvannia and stole every file they could carry. They took the files to a house in the middle of the woods and combed through them, searching for evidence of what they and other radicals knew but couldn't prove—that the FBI had been spying on and trying to quash their movements for social justice. The files provided a window into the FBI's obessession with black people and the American left-wing. The activists could hardly believe their eyes. Finally, here was evidence, in black and white and written by the FBI itself, of what they had long known but couldn't prove to the mainstream.

The activists provided the files to select journalists at the nation's top newspapers. Initially, only one journalist had the courage to publish them: Betty Medsger of the Washington Post. After Medsger and the Post covered them began a stream of reporting on the documents that lasted a decade, and prompted the historic Church committee investigations into the FBI, CIA, and military's spying and assassination campaigns.

Years after Medsger first published select FBI files from the Media robbers, NBC journalist Carl Stern, curious about the word COINTELPRO, which was scrawled on some of the files, won the first successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in US history, against the FBI. The rest is history.

"The Burglary" tells the story of the people who committed the robbery that blew open the J. Edgar Hoover FBI's war on dissent and black America. It details just how far the FBI went to stop social justice activism from having any impact, and Hoover's tyrannical obsession with controlling and monitoring dissidents he didn't like.

Decades after they sent Betty Medsger those files, the living robbers come forward to tell their story in her book. The activists were never caught, and lived free until well after the statute of limitations of their robbery expired.

Filmmaker Johanna Hamilton tells the story in her 2014 film, "1971." On January 15, 2015, Boston residents will have a rare opportunity to hear from Medsger and Hamilton at a book signing and film screening at the Cambridge public library. It's going to be a fabulous event. Don't miss it.

© 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts.