It begins in 1971 in an America being split apart by the Vietnam War . . . A small group ofactivists eight men and women the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI, inspired by Daniel Berrigan s rebellious Catholic peace movement, set out to use a more active, but nonviolent, method of civil disobedience to provide hard evidence once and for all that the government was operating outside the laws of the land.
The would-be burglars nonpro s were ordinary people leading lives of purpose: a professor of religion and former freedom rider; a day-care director; a physicist; a cab driver; an antiwar activist, a lock picker; a graduate student haunted by members of her family lost to the Holocaust and the passivity of German civilians under Nazi rule.
Betty Medsger's extraordinary book re-creates in resonant detail how this group of unknowing thieves, in their meticulous planning of the burglary, scouted out the low-security FBI building in a small town just west of Philadelphia, taking into consideration every possible factor, and how they planned the break-in for the night of the long-anticipated boxing match between Joe Frazier (war supporter and friend to President Nixon) and Muhammad Ali (convicted for refusing to serve in the military), knowing that all would be fixated on their televisions and radios.
Medsger writes that the burglars removed all of the FBI files and, with the utmost deliberation, released them to various journalists and members of Congress, soon upending the public s perception of the inviolate head of the Bureau and paving the way for the first overhaul of the FBI since Hoover became its director in 1924. And we see how the release of the FBI files to the press set the stage for the sensational release three months later, by Daniel Ellsberg, of the top-secret, seven-thousand-page Pentagon study on U.S. decision-making regarding the Vietnam War, which became known as the Pentagon Papers.
At the heart of the heist and the book the contents of the FBI files revealing J. Edgar Hoover s secret counterintelligence program COINTELPRO, set up in 1956 to investigate and disrupt dissident political groups in the United States in order to enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles, to make clear to all Americans that an FBI agent was behind every mailbox, a plan that would discredit, destabilize, and demoralize groups, many of them legal civil rights organizations and antiwar groups that Hoover found offensive as well as black power groups, student activists, antidraft protestors, conscientious objectors.
The author, the first reporter to receive the FBI files, began to cover this story during the three years she worked for The Washington Post andcontinued her investigation long after she'd left the paper, figuring out who the burglars were, and convincing them, after decades of silence, to come forward and tell their extraordinary story.
The Burglary is an important and riveting book, a portrait of the potential power of nonviolent resistance and the destructive power of excessive government secrecy and spying."
- ISBN-13: 9780307962959
- ISBN-10: 0307962954
- Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
- Publish Date: January 2014
- Page Count: 596
- Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.43 x 1.52 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.14 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-11-11
- Reviewer: Staff
When a huge trove of classified documents was stolen from the Media, Pa., branch office of the FBI in 1971, Medsger (Women at Work) was one of the first journalists to cover the story. Four decades later she has tracked down the perpetrators, whose identities had never before been revealed, and written the definitive account of what she calls “perhaps the most powerful single act of nonviolent resistance in American history.” The burglary revealed to the public how the Bureau served as “secret judge, secret jury, and secret warden” in its efforts to “intimidate people from exercising their right to dissent.” The richly detailed narrative flows seamlessly from the planning and commission of the break-in to the FBI’s bungled investigation to the explosive aftermath of the files’ release. In its zeal to bring the perpetrators to justice, the FBI provided much support for the Camden 28, mistakenly believed to have committed the Media burglary as well, to rob a draft board—an attempted sting that became instead a watershed moment for the antiwar movement when the defendants were acquitted by jury nullification. Medsger concludes by following up with each of the plotters, most of whom have since enjoyed quiet lives since, unlike those who have appropriated classified files more recently. (Jan.)