It’s a mystery I covered from the start and now it has been solved.
A big breaking story this morning features startling revelations about the infamous raid by antiwar activists on the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, (yes, that’s the name) in 1971, on the night of the Ali-Frazier “fight of the century,” who are finally exposing themselves in a new book and film. The book is by the Washington Post reporter who received some of the leak files back then, Betty Medsger. The activists, none of them household names then or now, cleared out all the files there that day and this led to the first big scoops on illegal FBI surveillance and the notorious COINTELPRO program, which we covered so widely at Crawdaddy that decade.
One of the perps even waved to Edward Snowden on the Today show today and said, “Hi, from one whistleblower to another.” And The New York Times has now posted a thirteen-minute video.
Of course, by 1971, there had been rumors and personal reports about undercover FBI snooping, including use of electronic surveillance, for years but with little black-and-white official evidence. Hell, we even had a break-in at the Crawdaddy office that seemed suspicious and, as a longtime (if minor) antiwar activist, I always figured I might have drawn some official attention. But the Media raid proved incredibly valuable, even as it made many of us more paranoid.
Indeed, as NBC reports:
Among the stolen files: plans to enhance “paranoia” among “New Left” groups by instilling fears that “there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.” Another instructed agents in the Philadelphia area to monitor the “clientele” of “Afro-American type bookstores” and recruit informants among the “the Negro militant movement.”
The raid and its results didn’t immediately stop COINTELPRO, then run by good old Deep Throat himself, Mark Felt. In fact, two of my closest friends—innocent but suspected of taking part in the Weather Underground bombing of the US Capitol—and regular Crawdaddy writers were closely monitored. As a frequent visitor to their mountaintop home in the Catskills I surely turned up in case reports.
We learned about the extent of the surveillance when the couple, Stew Albert and Judy “Gumbo” Clavir, pulled a homing device off the underside of the rear bumper of their car—the first one ever seized by a left activist in that period—parked outside Bill Kunstler’s apartment in the Village where they were staying. They called me over quickly to arrange for photographs. We’d gone to an Emmylou Harris concert in New York City the night before. Probably we were followed.
They went on to sue the government, forcing release of files that revealed the extensive monitoring, which included bugs in their home (even the bedrooms) during a time when I visited them, with a girlfriend. They won the suit and a monetary pay out—allowing them to get a new roof on their house.
By then, the Media raid had finally produced some of the aims sought by the burglars. From NBC:
“These documents were explosive,” said Medsger, who was the first reporter to write about them after receiving a batch of the files anonymously in the mail. Her book traces how the stolen files led to a landmark Senate investigation of intelligence and law enforcement agency abuses by the late Idaho Sen. Frank Church, and eventually to new Justice Department guidelines that barred the bureau from conducting investigations based on First Amendment protected political activity.
After the burglary, said Medsger, “The FBI was never the same.”
Glenn Greenwald weighs in on today’s revelations. He is, of course, supportive of the 1971 action.
An interesting angle I hope to pursue: the activists claim they sent the docs to The New York Times and members of Congress–in each case instead of acting the recipients gave the material back to the FBI.
For further updates, go to my Pressing Issues blog.