March 16, 2014

'The Burglary': More important than the Pentagon Papers, perhaps

The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBIThe Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI by Betty Medsger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating book on a fascinating subject.

I had briefly and vaguely heard about and read about, in the past, the 1971 burglary of the Media, Pa., FBI office. I had no idea of the details involved in an event that, in my estimation, was more important than the printing of the Pentagon Papers in the same year.

The short story:

In early 1971, eight antiwar activists, after careful planning, burgled the aforementioned office. They took out every piece of paper, other than blank forms, they could get their hands on.

After two weeks of collating and analyzing, then making copies, they started releasing it to hoped-for sympathetic press. The FBI intercepted one or two, it seems. Others got killed within their offices. But one landed in the right hands, of a then-Washington Post reporter, the author of this book.

Before Woodward and Bernstein on Deep Throat, Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee had to make their first stare-down with the Nixon Administration over publishing their first story about the first release of the FBI papers.

Things took off from there, including the fact that one piece of paper had the then-mysterious word "COINTELPRO" on it.

The book breaks into rough third, with the middle third being the biggest.

The first third is about the assembling of the team of eight for the burglary. (Medsger found seven of the eight, all of whom talked, and five with their real names.) This is followed by a description of the planning and the date chosen, plus the burglary. Muhammad Ali and Deep Throat himself, pre-leaking Mark Felt, are both connected.

The second third is about the fallout, from printing, through Hoover's reaction (and FBI failure to catch anybody) and on to Congress, eventually  the Church Committee of 1975.

The final third is "fallout," both with today's FBI and kickbacks against the late 1970s reforms, and "where are they today" with the the lives of the burglars since the middle 1970s.

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