Before Snowden was the Media, PA 8

There is a fascinating article and excellent video at the NY Times site about the 1971 burglary of an FBI office in Media, PA, and the subsequent release and disclosure of documents implicating the FBI in illegal spying (and other nefarious) activities against Americans under J Edgar Hoover 43 years ago.  The perpetrators were never discovered, remaining silent … until now.   A book revealing details of the burglary has just been published.  The statute of limitations for prosecution of the burglary has expired, which leaves the individuals free from any legal action.  Four of the 8 have have revealed their role, while the others remain anonymous.

Of particular note, the disclosures were a catalyst to revealing and eventually understanding the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, which aimed to intimidate and silence political dissent through surveillance, infiltration, entrapment and other tactics — political dissent being American citizens legally voicing their opinion and opposition to government policies and actions (e.g. protesting the Vietnam war).  Targets were silenced through coercion, vilification and criminalization, hardly what one would expect in a democracy.  But then, former-president Jimmy Carter believes the US “has no functioning democracy”.

The disclosures in 1971 have an obvious parallel to the Snowden disclosures on the NSA.  However, unlike Snowden walking away with hundreds or thousands of documents on a USB stick, these burglars did the deed the old-fashioned way — breaking into a locked office and walking off with suitcases full of paper documents.

One thing I find peculiar in both cases is the lack of security on what turns out to be among each agency’s most damning secrets.  As much of a fan as I am of the Snowden disclosures, I find it incredulous that such a person was able to obtain access to and walk off with the NSA’s trove of secrets.  The übersecret NSA still seems in the dark about what exactly Snowden made off with.  Weird.  Wheels within wheels, perhaps.

The book’s author, Betsy Medsger, was a reporter at the Washington Post at the time, and one of the first to publish articles on the disclosures. According to Medsger’s book, even though the New York Times eventually published a story based on the documents, a NYT reporter apparently handed the documents back to the FBI to help with their investigation. The Los Angeles Times never published a story and may have also handed the documents back to the FBI. Peculiar actions for newspapers and their investigative reporters, to help the agency fingered for the illegal persecution of US citizens to identify and apprehend the source of the damning information. Why would they want to help maintain a cloak over this activity rather than blow the cover off of it?  Things are not so different today.  MSM continues to be split on the Snowden disclosures, though many are coming around to acknowledging Snowden as a whistleblower rather than a traitor.

It is worth perusing the comments below the NYT article, as many contributors offer personal anecdotes about their own anti-war protest activities, surveillance by authorities and persecution during that time period. Fifty years from now, I don’t think there will be similar stories of protest over the surveillance and tracking activities of governments and corporations today. Where is the outrage? Instead, we see complacency, apathy and ignorance.  I just don’t get it.

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