Thursday, March 09, 2006

The More Things Change

An Op-ed piece in the LA Times yesterday commemorated the 36th Anniversary of a break-in that occurred in the Media, PA office of the FBI, A break-in to end all break-ins, which preceded Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers.

THIRTY-FIVE YEARS ago today, a group of anonymous activists broke into the small, two-man office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Media, Pa., and stole more than 1,000 FBI documents that revealed years of systematic wiretapping, infiltration and media manipulation designed to suppress dissent.

The Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, as the group called itself, forced its way in at night with a crowbar while much of the country was watching the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight. When agents arrived for work the next morning, they found the file cabinets virtually emptied.

Within a few weeks, the documents began to show up -— mailed anonymously in manila envelopes with no return address - — in the newsrooms of major American newspapers.

* * * *

To this day, no individual has claimed responsibility for the break-in. The FBI, after building up a six-year, 33,000-page file on the case, couldn't solve it. But it remains one of the most lastingly consequential (although underemphasized) watersheds of political awareness in recent American history, one that poses tough questions even today for our national leaders who argue that fighting foreign enemies requires the government to spy on its citizens. The break-in is far less well known than Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers three months later, but in my opinion it deserves equal stature.

Found among the Media documents was a new word, "COINTELPRO," short for the FBI's "secret counterintelligence program," created to investigate and disrupt dissident political groups in the U.S. Under these programs, beginning in 1956, the bureau worked to "enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles," as one COINTELPRO memo put it, "to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox."

The Media documents -— along with further revelations about COINTELPRO in the months and years that followed -— made it clear that the bureau had gone beyond mere intelligence-gathering to discredit, destabilize and demoralize groups -— many of them peaceful, legal civil rights organizations and antiwar groups -— that the FBI and Director J. Edgar Hoover found offensive or threatening.

* * * *

Eventually, the COINTELPRO memos -— some from Media and some unearthed later-— prompted hearings . . . on intelligence agency abuses. In the mid-1970s, the wayward agency began finally to be reined in.

It is tragic when people lose faith in their government to the extent that they feel they must break laws to expose corruption.

But a war that had been started and sustained by lies had gone on for years. And a government had betrayed its citizens, manipulating their fear to strengthen its grip on power.

Today, again, many people worry that their government may be on the road to subverting its own ideals. I hope that the commemoration of those unknown activists being held today in Media, Pa., will serve as a reminder that fighting for democracy abroad must remain more than merely an excuse to weaken civil liberties at home.
Sound familiar?

I wonder what it would take to get these guys out of retirement? Now this is truly something about which you should "Be afraid, Be very afraid."

(Via Attytood)

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