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The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI [Kindle Edition]

Betty Medsger
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

The never-before-told full story of the history-changing break-in at the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, by a group of unlikely activists—quiet, ordinary, hardworking Americans—that made clear the shocking truth and confirmed what some had long suspected, that J. Edgar Hoover had created and was operating, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, his own shadow Bureau of Investigation.

It begins in 1971 in an America being split apart by the Vietnam War . . . A small group of activists—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 and continued 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.


Editorial Reviews

Review

“Rich and valuable.”
 
                                                -David J. Garrow, The Washington Post
 
 
“Impeccably researched, elegantly presented, engaging…For those seeking a particularly egregious example of what can happen when secrecy gets out of hand, The Burglary is a natural place to begin.”
 
                                                -David Oshinsky, New York Times Book Review
 
 
“Astonishingly good, marvelously written…the best book I've read about either the antiwar movement or Hoover's FBI; a masterpiece.”
 
                                                -Daniel Ellsberg
 
 
“The break-in at the FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania changed history.  It began to undermine J. Edgar Hoover’s invulnerability. Betty Medsger writes a gripping story about the burglary, the burglars, and the FBI’s fervid but fruitless efforts to catch them.  Her story of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI (and today’s NSA) teaches the dangers of secret power.”
 
-Frederick A. O. Schwarz, Jr., former Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee investigating America’s intelligence agencies and author of the forthcoming Unchecked and Unbalanced
 
“A riveting account of a little-known burglary that transformed American politics. Medsger's carefully documented findings underscore how secrecy enabled FBI officials to undermine a political system based on the rule of law and accountability. This is a masterful book, a thriller.”
 
                                                -Athan Theoharis, FBI scholar
 
Ordinary people have the courage and community to defeat the most powerful and punitive of institutions -- including the FBI. That's the unbelievable-but-true story told by Better Medsger, the only writer these long term and brave co-conspirators trusted to tell it. The Burglary will keep you on the edge of your seat -- right up until you stand up and cheer!"
 
-Gloria Steinem
 
“In The Burglary, Betty Medsger solves the decades-long mystery the FBI never could: who broke into an FBI office in 1971 and exposed the Bureau’s secret program to stifle dissent? An astonishing and improbable tale of anonymous American heroes who risked their own freedom to secure ours, triggering the first attempt to subject our intelligence agencies to democratic controls. The book couldn’t be more timely given the current furor over a new generation of domestic spying.”
 
-Michael German, former covert counterterrorism FBI agent
 
 “A masterpiece of investigative reporting. As a writer, I admire the way Betty Medgser has explored every angle of this truly extraordinary piece of history and told it with the compelling tension of a detective story. As an American, I’m grateful to know at last the identities of this improbable crew of brilliant whistle-blowers who are true national heroes. As someone appalled by recent revelations of out-of-control NSA spying, I’m reminded that it has all happened before, and that then, as now, it took rare courage to expose it. This brave group of friends were the Edward Snowdens of their time.”
 
                                                -Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost

About the Author

Betty Medsger was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Medsger is a former chair of the Department of Journalism at San Francisco State University and is the founder of its Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism. She is the author of Winds of Change, Framed, and Women at Work. She lives in New York and Connecticut.


Product Details

  • File Size: 5235 KB
  • Print Length: 609 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307962954
  • Publisher: Knopf (January 7, 2014)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00DXKHGEC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,360 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
60 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent Piece of Work January 2, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I found this book absolutely absorbing. Both the skill with which it is written and the story that it tells are astounding. The story centers around the decision in 1971 by 8 respectable and responsible people, including a young married couple with 3 children, to break in to a small local FBI office to attempt to get proof that the FBI was spying on and attempting to suppress dissent by those who opposed the Vietnam War. This act of civil disobedience was much different than what Civil Rights protestors had engaged in--if caught, these people would face not just a few days or weeks in a local jail, like Martin Luther King in Birmingham, but instead as much as 30 years in a federal penitentiary.

The author writes movingly and in great detail about what would lead people to make such a bold decision, their backgrounds, how they prepared themselves, the precautions they took to keep their act secret (again, unlike many other acts of Civil Disobedience), the stress and fear they felt, and at the end, how they now feel looking back on their younger selves. I was so moved by the story of the Robins family and their deep love for each other and for their young children, and yet their belief that a moral life may require putting all that at risk for a higher good. Though it might seem irresponsible, it is routinely expected that a married soldier of either sex will be willing to risk death or disability even though they have a family, so their conviction makes sense, and yet, it was so painful and hard won.
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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Far more than the title implies December 20, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
My first thought on having completed this massive tome is that it's misnamed. Yes, the break-in and the removal of secret files from the Media, PA, FBI office is discussed at length (one could say "at long length"), but that's only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Most of the book deals with the history and development of the FBI, before, during and after that break-in. Calling this book The Burglary is tantamount to calling Around the World in 80 Days something like My Trip to Paris.

Considering that Ms. Metzger was one of the original recipients of the Xeroxed copies of the pilfered files, she's certainly been involved in the story for a long time. That break-in occurred in 1971. After all this time, though, seven of the eight burglars have decided it's safe to come out of the closet. (The one hold-out, whoever he/she is, is probably either paranoid or dead...or both.)

To be sure, this is a fascinating book, even if it does stray. There are many insights into the workings of the FBI under Hoover. If you go by the book's subtitle, "The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI," rather than the actual title, which is limiting, you have a fascinating history of the bureau. But just when Ms. Metzger has wandered afield of the Media burglary, she'll toss in a line or two bringing it back into focus, such as: "The [Media] break-in may have been necessary in order for the truth about FBI operations to emerge."

So despite the length of this book (which I still feel is excessive), the information contained in Ms. Metzger's volume is fascinating and eye-opening. The burglars were looking primarily for corroboration that the FBI was stepping on Americans' right to dissent (in particular against our presence in Vietnam).
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Original Wikileaks! December 30, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In our age of Wikileaks, Edward Snowden's release of CIA documents, and endless debate over how much we shall allow governments to operate in how much secrecy, histories like this one need telling. On March 8, 1972, the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI - really, a small group of concerned anti-war protesters - burgled the FBI building in Media, PA, taking every document they could find in the building. This amateur group of burglars' intent was to validate to themselves and others their (and others') suspicion that the FBI was using its accountability-immune power to create a sense of terror amongst the American people and spy on people who posed no ostensible threat to national security (anti-war protesters, social activists, etc). Once the documents were gotten, the Commission set out to gradually release documents to media sources so that Americans could glimpse what sorts of things the FBI was doing.

As the book states, not only were the Commission's concerns completely validated, but their "results" kicked off a huge firestorm of controversy over the (until then) quite autonomous FBI.

This is a wide-ranging book, profiling the planning of the burglary, the media's reaction to the leaked documents, the FBI's attempts to contain the PR damage as well as their unsuccessful attempts to find the burglars (who were never caught), and the nation's attempts to grapple with how to reform an agency that might need some secrecy in order to protect the country, but also clearly needed to be accountable to the nation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading in context of Snowden... nothing's changed.
PRIOR to Daniel Ellsberg's release of the Pentagon Papers and the revelation that our government was lying to the American people about the Vietnam War, there was the 1971 break-in... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Mary
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a read that will cause anyone to doubt the true workings of...
Excellent book and subject matter. Raises the question as to WHY do we have a national HQ Bldg with such a monstrous crook's name on it ????? Read more
Published 4 days ago by keeper
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Extremely well done--and scary !
Published 4 days ago by gth
2.0 out of 5 stars too long
The book kept repeating itself and could have been edited to half of the original lenght. The one thing that the book high lighted was how naive Americans are and are willing to... Read more
Published 6 days ago by rose bentovim
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good read, J Edgar went well beyond just
watching his own back!
Published 9 days ago by Stanley Bruce Boots II
3.0 out of 5 stars startling if you had confidence before
The fbi under hoover is very different from the current operation
Published 11 days ago by dmparce
4.0 out of 5 stars Eternal Vigilance
Medsger has written a tale of caution for all of us. We should never think the snake is dead until we burn it in a fire.

1. J. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Larry Rochelle
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Book
Incredible document, not just about the FBI abuses but about current government invasion of privacy of U.S. citizens. It is clear that Ms. Read more
Published 19 days ago by MAF
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative
I had heard very little about the burglary of the Media, Pa. office until I read this book. I found it disturbing that civil dissent was and still is suppressed, often illegally. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Elaine Booth
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating but chilling
How could the U.S. tolerate a secret police, which spied on its own citizens for almost 50 years?Hoover managed to impede the cause of civil rights and quash dissent throughout his... Read more
Published 24 days ago by joan white
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