On House floor, Rep. Conyers praises burglars who broke into FBI office in 1971

J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the US FBI.

J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the US FBI.

Well, this is interesting.

On the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, Rep. John Conyers openly praised the burglars who broke into the FBI office in 1971 to expose J. Edgar Hoover's domestic spying program, COINTELPRO.

Here is the text in full.

[Congressional Record Volume 161, Number 51 (Thursday, March 26, 2015)]

[Extensions of Remarks]

[Page E442]




of michigan

in the house of representatives

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Speaker, today I wish to recognize the efforts of eight individuals whose actions in 1971 helped uncover the illegal actions by some working on behalf of our own government to suppress the civil rights of many of our citizens. These eight individuals were members of a group who called themselves the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI (the ``Citizens' Commission''). The Citizens' Commission was responsible for obtaining documents from the Media, Pennsylvania office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that helped prompt the national debate about the intelligence community's domestic surveillance programs. The ensuing discussion ultimately led to the first congressional investigations of all intelligence agencies and to the establishment of the first congressional intelligence oversight committees.

We know the names of six of these individuals: William C. Davidon, Keith Forsyth, Bonnie Raines, John C. Raines, Robert Williamson, and Judi Feingold. Two members of the Citizens' Commission whose actions are equally commendable and contributed just as significantly to the cause and legacy of the Citizens' Commission have chosen to remain in anonymity.

On the evening of March 8, 1971, the members of the Citizens' Commission entered the satellite office of the FBI in Media, Pennsylvania, and left having taken nearly all of the documents they found within the office. In the following months, the members of the Citizens' Commission repeatedly mailed to reporters at several news publications documents detailing the contours of our intelligence agencies' programs that spied on American citizens and the vast length to which our civil rights had been violated for decades in the name of J. Edgar Hoover's desire to quell political dissent. These programs included COINTELPRO, or Counter Intelligence Program, a series of covert and often illegal programs conducted by the FBI targeted at disrupting domestic political organizations. It has been said that the intent of COINTELPRO was to accomplish its goals by destroying lives and ruining reputations.

The revelations made by the Citizens' Commission sparked a national debate concerning these programs as well as the importance of civil and privacy rights to all Americans. The news reports generated by the documents that had been made public helped form the basis for creation of the congressional committees that investigated intelligence agencies in 1975. Hearings held by the Senate committee, known as the Church Committee for its chairman, the late Senator Frank Church of Idaho, revealed the wide scope and impact of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI on American life throughout his nearly half century as director of the Bureau. Testimony before the committee revealed that he had secretly used his power to destroy individuals and organizations whose opinions and purposes he disliked. He secretly punished civil rights and antiwar activists and also average Americans who expressed their dissent in letters to newspapers or by participating in demonstrations. In the Bureau's harassment operations--as opposed to law enforcement or intelligence gathering--officials of the FBI secretly operated as prosecutor, judge and jury against people Hoover regarded as subversive. Thousands of people in government and education lost their jobs as a result of unverified files created by FBI informers that were used against people who were not permitted to face their accusers.

From the beginning of the Vietnam war, Hoover made himself the watchdog of dissent against the war--dissent by average Americans as well as Members of Congress who questioned war policy. In August 1964, when only two senators, Senator Ernest Gruening, Democrat from Alaska, and Senator Wayne Morse, Democrat from Oregon, opposed the Vietnam War authorization legislation--known as the Gulf of Tonkin resolution--the FBI director regarded their votes as subversive. Agents collected the names, and started files on people who sent telegrams to Senator Morse expressing support for his stand against the authorization bill. Two years after the resolution was passed, when Senator J. William Fullbright, Democrat from Arkansas, convened hearings to assess the progress of the war, Hoover placed Fullbright under surveillance to determine if he was a communist or dupe of communists.

The Church Committee's extensive final report stated:

``Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that. The unexpressed major premise of the programs was that a law enforcement agency has the duty to do whatever is necessary to combat perceived threats to the existing social and political order.''

The Church Committee further concluded, ``Too many people have been spied upon by too many government agencies, and too much information has been collected.''

As a result of the actions of the Citizens' Commission, the resulting national discussion about these issues led to important changes to our government's domestic surveillance operations. The FBI's policies and practices were evaluated and reformed with respect to how the agency addressed domestic security threats, and the Department of Justice instituted investigative guidelines on domestic intelligence gathering.

Because of the important contribution the Citizens' Commission made to the public awareness and debate concerning domestic surveillance, national security, civil rights, and privacy, these eight individuals deserve our recognition as some of them have recently made their identity known. The identities of six of them and the impact of their non-violent act of resistance recently became known in the documentary film 1971, directed by Johanna Hamilton, and in the book The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI, written by Betty Medsger.

While we continue to discuss the proper use of domestic surveillance techniques today, particularly as technology evolves in ways that could not have been foreseen during the 1970s, we must remain vigilant to abuses of power, even if done with the stated goal of protecting the public. May we strengthen our resolve to protect the rights these individuals cherished and helped preserve over forty years ago.

[HT: Trevor Timm]