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The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 7, 2014
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In 1971, somebody burgled an FBI office in Pennsylvania, stole secret files, and sent them to journalists. One of the recipients, Medsger revisits the story because she has discovered who the burglars were (the FBI never identified them). Organized by a college teacher, they were a small group of academics and students whose act Medsger recounts with sympathy for their audacity and antiwar motivations. In discursive detail, Medsger recounts the protester-burglars’ movements, from casing the building to publicizing the purloined documents (with interludes of their worries about their fates if caught), and follows the course of the futile FBI investigation into the caper. Besides dramatizating the incident, Medsger pursues its historical significance—the documents’ revelation of extensive domestic surveillance by the FBI—into the congressional investigations of the 1970s. Medsger also discusses J. Edgar Hoover’s appointment in 1924 and NSA activities in the present. Though it could have been more tightly organized, this work encapsulates an important event of interest to readers of the history of the antiwar movement. --Gilbert Taylor
“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
“A cinematic account . . . By turns narrative and expository, The Burglary provides ample historical context, makes telling connections and brings out surprising coincidences . . . makes a powerful argument for moral acts of whistle-blowing in the absence of government action.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“An important work, the definitive treatment of an unprecedented and largely forgotten ‘act of resistance’ that revealed shocking official criminality in postwar America. One need not endorse break-ins as a form of protest to welcome this deeply researched account of the burglary at Media. Ms. Medsger’s reporting skill and lifelong determination enabled her to do what Hoover’s FBI could not: solve the crime and answer to history.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Riveting and extremely readable. Not just an in-depth look at a moment in history, The Burglary is also extremely relevant to today's debates over national security, privacy, and the leaking of government secrets to journalists.”
—The Huffington Post
“Astonishingly good, marvelously written…the best book I've read about either the antiwar movement or Hoover's FBI; a masterpiece.”
“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
"I stayed up until 3 a.m. today. Now it's nearly 6 p.m. I have not done laundry, paid my bills or washed the dishes. I can't put the damn book down. What a triumphant piece of work!"
-Rita Henley Jensen, founder and editor-in-chief, Women's eNews
“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, author of Abuse of Power: How Cold War Surveillance and Secrecy Policy Shaped the Response to 9/11
"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!"
“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
“Extraordinary . . . It is impossible to read Betty Medsger’s book without drifting into comparisons between then—when J. Edgar Hoover was the director of the FBI—and now—when Gen. Keith Alexander was the director of the NSA.”
—Firedoglake Book Salon
“Reading [The Burglary] might make you feel . . . like taking a crowbar to the offices of the NSA . . . Gripping . . . [The] timing couldn’t be better.”
“There is joy and fun—and lots of law breaking—in Betty Medsger's book. The Burglary answers the question long asked and speculated about within Catholic Left, as well as law and order, circles: Who did the 1971 Media, Pa., FBI break-in . . . Fast paced, fascinating . . . studded with timely insights for today's WikiLeaks, intelligence breaches and NSA scandals.”
—Frida Berrigan, Waging Nonviolence
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Top Customer Reviews
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. I also was fascinated by Brenda Robins, the wife and mother, as she carried out her role in the break-in--she sometimes took on the role of "earth mother," as the author describes it, cooking meals for the other burglars as they planned their job, and yet at a crucial moment making one of the boldest moves of all by going to an FBI office under false pretenses, spending over an hour talking to an agent in order to study the space. She was the only person that the FBI had any description of in the case, and was probably in the most danger of being caught. Her actions led her to become a feminist early on, and to develop a strong sense of herself as a free moral agent and not just a wife and mother.
In addition to the personal drama, the book also reveals (which is not new, but deserves to be reconsidered in the light of current circumstances) the unbelievable extent that the FBI went to to surveil and harass not only potentially violent protestors, but anyone that J. Edgar Hoover personally disliked, which basically included all black civil rights advocates and all anti-war protestors, no matter how committed they were to non-violence.(The American Friends Service Committee and the ACLU, for example.) It is well-known by now that the FBI had extensive files on Martin Luther King, and it is almost taken for granted, but it needs to be remembered that it was illegal for them to do so. One of the key points that was released by the Media burglars (Media being the name of the city where they committed their burglary) is that the FBI had an explicit policy of attempting to "create paranoia" in any group that they felt was suspect. The irony is that it was the FBI, and the government, and in fact the American people as a whole, who were the victims of paranoia. (and the disease is still rampant today, not a paranoia of communism now, but a paranoia of terrorism that is mostly unjustified.)
This book is long, but I found it captivating from first page to last. The only slightly clunky bit of organization is that the death of J. Edgar Hoover is narrated in one chapter and in the following chapters, we are back to a time when he was still alive. Other than that, the story is told with remarkable clarity and smoothness. The writing is never showy, but clear and straightforward. The author clearly is in sympathy with the burglars and the decision they made, but she is even-handed in her description of the questions they raised before, during, and after the burglary and the questions that could be raised in opposition to their decision. She also connects the dots to the pre- and post- 9/11 domestic surveillance, and the actions of Edward Snowden that reveal how much more extensive NSA surveillance is than anything Hoover was capable of. Curiously, she does not make a direct comparison of Snowden's decision to break the law and the Media burglars' decision to do so in 1971. It should also be noted that the author is one of the journalists who first received copies of the stolen FBI files back in 1971, and her paper was the first to publish them. She did not know until recently who it was that conducted the break-in, and some of the participants have maintained their vow of life-long silence and secrecy, though several of them made the decision to break that silence, resulting in this book.
Reading this book took me back to the atmosphere in the 1960s and 70s, when many people were aroused to action, first against racial discrimination and then against what they believed to be an unjust war. It hints at the fact that the United States is a complicated country--proclaiming itself the land of the free, but stooping to shameful depths to curtail efforts to make "liberty and justice for all" a reality.
Since the awful tragedies of 9/11, we live in fear once again. And once again our federal law-enforcement agencies have turned their sophisticated surveillance instruments against the very people whose freedom and rights they are supposed to protect. Medsger's book is important for what it tells us about the recent past and more important for what it can tell us about the present and future. Besides all of that, it's a great read.
This book is an excellent explanation of events during an important era in the history of Unites States politics and the FBI. It presented information I heard partially in the past, but with a lot more completeness. Many pieces of the puzzle from the intelligence community, Washington, D.C. politics and the U. S. Supreme Court are put together clearly by this book.
Extensive illegal conduct by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and by people associated with him over at least three decades should not be forgotten just because of the passage of time. The same mechanisms for wrongful conduct by government officials are still in place and call for vigilance by citizens and by elected officials.
The book explains that Hoover, multiple Attorneys General and presidents, including John Mitchell of Watergate and one of the worst presidents of the modern era, Richard M. Nixon, engaged in flagrantly illegal wiretapping, surveillance and harassment of U.S. citizens based on their political views (frequently anti-Vietnam war), race and political associations, without any crime having been committed by the people targeted. Illegal break-ins were frequent and standard.
The main activities in this book happened mostly in late 1970 to the end of 1971, before the Watergate break-in conspiracy (1/72). The events and players tied in exactly with and led exactly to the Watergate cast. W. Mark Felt, a top ranking FBI official under Hoover, was a player in this book toward the end, and he became Deep Throat of Watergate after Hoover passed away in 1972 (5/2/72). The pressure was too much for Hoover and he died of a heart attack at the age of 77, about 14 months after the break-in against the FBI which is the basis of this book (3/71). Hoover was the long time Director of the FBI until the day he passed away.
Outrageous conduct and mostly with zero oversight by many weak congress members over at least five decades. This book shows you what was happening during a certain period of time in the past, and suggests what probably continues to happen electronically and in other ways today.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I just finished reading Betty’s profound and timely book about the Media burglary and its aftermath, which still...Read more