FBI Burglars Come Forward, 43 Years Later

Five anti-Vietnam War activists who stole a trove of documents exposing the FBI’s surveillance of war protesters and political groups have come forward, the New York Times reported Tuesday — nearly 43 years after committing the crime.

The successful scheme was spearheaded by William C. Davidon, a physics professor at Haverford College and antiwar protester. He was joined by Keith Forsyth, John and Bonnie Raines, and Bob Williamson, and three other participants whose names have not been revealed. Their unmasking comes ahead of the release of a book detailing the burglary, written by Betty Medsger, a former Washington Post reporter who was one of the first journalists to receive the groups’ documents.

The documents, which the burglars took out of a poorly secured FBI satellite office in Media, Pa. in suitcases, revealed the extent to which then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover presided over the surveillance of antiwar activists and dissident student groups. One document in particular disclosed a spying program, Cointelpro (Counterintelligence Program), which the Times described as “an expansive campaign to spy on civil rights leaders, political organizers and suspected Communists, and had tried to sow distrust among protest groups.”

Hoover assigned 200 agents to investigate the burglary, but the agency closed the case in 1976 without discovering any of the culprits. The members of the group can no longer be prosecuted, as the statute of limitations has long since expired.

Now that they have come forward, two of the participants — the Rainses– told the Times they felt a kinship with former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, whose disclosures of NSA surveillance they feel “bookend” their own.

Read the full report here.

Image via Shutterstock / Twin Design

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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