Leftist group behind 1971 burglary of FBI office comes forward

FBI field office in Media, PaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Members of an American leftwing group, who in 1971 burgled a regional branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), stealing documents that revealed illegal government activities, have come forward. The mysterious group, which called itself The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, is credited by historians as having unearthed the initial revelations that eventually led to the exposure of COINTELPRO. The acronym stood for COunter INTELligence PROgram; it incorporated a host of questionable and often illegal activities by the FBI, which were aimed at discrediting domestic political organizations considered ‘radical’ by longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The program targeted mostly nonviolent antiwar groups and black civil rights organizations and leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was regarded by Hoover as a communist agent. In association with the Watergate scandal, the COINTELPRO revelations led to the creation of the Church and Pike committees in Congress, which radically restructured the oversight of the United States Intelligence Community. The burglary took place on the evening of March 8, 1971, in the town of Media, Pennsylvania. It resulted in the theft of over 1,000 documents, which were then reproduced and mailed anonymously to several national newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. Nearly half of the stolen documents concerned surveillance and disruption operations —mainly blackmail, intimidation and sabotage— against liberal groups. They also included a controversial directive by Director Hoover to place “an FBI agent behind every mailbox” in America. A furious Hoover placed as many as 200 agents on the burglary case; but the investigation got nowhere, and the Bureau was forced to close the case in March 1976, having failed to conclusively identify the burglars. But now a new book written by Betty Medsger, who at the time of the burglary was working for The Washington Post, has revealed for the first time the identities of four of the eight-member team that carried out the burglary. The book, called The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, contains detailed interviews with the four former activists, who voluntarily came forward after Medsger tracked them down. The four are Bob Williamson, Keith Forsyth, who was the designated lock-picker during the burglary, as well as Bonnie Raines and John C. Raines, who was at the time a professor of religion at Philadelphia’s Temple University. A fifth member, Haverford College physics professor William C. Davidson, who led the group, died of Parkinson’s disease in 2013, but his co-conspirators said he had planned to come forward. According to the book, the team conducted months’-long extensive surveillance of the FBI office prior to the break-in. They then chose to act on the evening of the so-called “Fight of the Century”, when Muhammad Ali challenged Joe Frazier for the boxing World Heavyweight Championship at New York’s Madison Square Garden. They hoped —correctly as it turned out— that the FBI security guards would be glued on their radio sets.

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