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.
[Congressional Record Volume 161, Number 51 (Thursday, March 26, 2015)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
COMMENDING THE CITIZENS' COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE THE FBI
HON. JOHN CONYERS, JR.
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
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
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
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]