A Celebration of Democracy, Dissent and Civil Liberties
March 8, 2006, Media, PA
March 8, 1971: A group calling themselves the "Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI" break into the Media, PA FBI office, removing hundreds of files which when made public document the FBI's COINTELPRO
[Counter-Intelligence Program – scroll down for more] policy of spying, infiltration, and harassment of civil rights and anti-war activism at the time.
Account from the Celebration of Democracy,
Dissent, and Civil Liberties, ,
Wednesday, March 8, was International Women's Day. It was also the 35th anniversary of the Break-in at the Media FBI Office. In the face of the Bush's policy of spying, intimidation of dissent, and disregard for civil liberties, the Brandywine Peace Community organized a "Celebration of Democracy, Dissent, & Civil Liberties" in front of the Delaware County Courthouse located in Media just across from the apartment building where the Media FBI was
located 35 years ago.
Brandywine was joined by the ACLU, Veterans for Peace and the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom -
We heard from:
Paul Hetznecker, human rights attorney in Phila. who is working with the Brandywine Peace Community and other local groups in an effort to challenge what Paul called the historic "war on dissent" through a campaign of group filing of Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] requests; Max Obuszewski, American Friends Service Committee staff in
Baltimore, MD and target of National Security Agency [NSA] spying, spoke of the NSA and recommended that we read "The Puzzle Palace", by James Bamford; Carol Seeley, of the Women's International League for Peace &
Freedom, spoke of the surveillance of women social change pioneers, like Helen Keller and Eleanor Roosevelt;
Beth Centz, co-founder of the Brandywine Peace Community, spoke of how she, in the wake of the FBI Break-in 35 years ago, was asked to be an FBI informant; and Sara Mullin (see her speech below), of the ACLU PA, gave
recent examples of government surveillance and spoke of the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act outreach workshop campaign with which Brandywine is a co-sponsor.
Music was provided by
Throughout the demonstration, people held a specially prepared and striking poster reading: "BUSH: Don't Spy on Me" (above the "Don't Tread on Me" insignia) and containing the names, logos, and web sites of Brandywine Peace Community, American Friends Service Committee, and the American Civil Liberties Union. If you would like
to place one of these posters on your front door, e-mail us at email@example.com with your address and will send it out to you.
Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
March 8, 1971: On International Womens Day, a group calling themselves the "Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI" broke into the Media, PA FBI office, removed hundreds of files which when made public documented the FBI's COINTELPRO [Counter-Intelligence Program] policy of spying, infiltration, and harassment of civil rights and anti-war activists.
Now, Again, We Must Protect Our Basic Rights...Torture, imprisonment without charges, domestic spying for the sake of unrestricted presidential war powers...we must protest the Bush Administrations widespread policy of domestic
Today, March 8, 2006, International Womens Day, Media, PA in front of the Delaware County Courthouse across the street from the site of the Media FBI office 35 years ago.
American Civil Liberties
Womens International League for Peace &
Celebration of Democracy, Dissent & Civil Liberties
Memorial & Dedication
On International Womens Day, During A Time of War, March 8, 1971: a group calling themselves the "Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI" broke into the resident office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], located
then in Media, PA within the County Court Apartment Building, across from the Delaware County Courthouse. The group removed hundreds of files which when made public documented the FBI's COINTELPRO [Counter-Intelligence
Program] policy of spying, infiltration, and harassment of civil rights and anti-war activists.
Now, 35 years later, during another time of war, evidence shows that another Presidential Administration is conducting
an even more widespread policy of domestic spying and intimidation of the exercise of free speech and peaceful
“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
- Benjamin Franklin
democratically by exercising fully and freely our civil liberties; We will celebrate democracy, dissent, and
civil liberties for all.
American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclupa.org
Brandywine Peace Community,
Veterans for Peace
Women's International League for Peace & Freedom -
Sara Mullen, Associate Director, ACLU of
I really wish today were one of those occasions when we looked back at a dark chapter in our history and wonder “how could that have happened?” Unfortunately, today’s anniversary is all too relevant.
We’re all aware that the government is continuing to spy on its critics. They are not targeted because they are a threat to national security – they’re targeted because they are a threat to the policies of those in power. In the words of one of our clients, “The fabric of democracy has a big hole in it.”
if the government has not learned its lessons from the bad old days of
COINTELPRO, we have. Over the past year the ACLU filed Freedom of Information
Act Requests on behalf of dozens if not hundreds of activist groups around the
country as a first step in fighting this appalling practice. We have only recently received responses to
them. I’d like to share the results of one of those requests with you now. This
information will not become public until next Tuesday, so I can’t disclose the
name of the group yet. I can, however, tell you that these relate to another
peace group in
The documents clearly indicate an ongoing and significant level of government surveillance on the group’s peaceful activities since September 11, 2001. Some of the highlights include:
We will be using the release of these documents to draw media attention to this issue in addition to a legal challenge down the road. The ACLU and Paul Hetznecker will also be filing another round of Freedom of Information Act requests for local groups.
I’m sure many of you are wondering if you have your own files (and would be somewhat disappointed if you didn’t). The ACLU is putting on a series of File Your Own FOIA Requests workshops for individuals. The first one is March 22 at AFSC. We have fliers with more information about that.
A break-in to end all break-ins
In 1971, stolen FBI files exposed the government's domestic spying program.
By Allan M. Jalon
ALLAN M. JALON is a longtime contributor to The Times and other publications on issues of culture and media.
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. When the Washington Post received copies, Atty. Gen. John N. Mitchell asked Executive Editor Ben Bradlee not to publish them because disclosure, he said, could "endanger the lives" of people involved in investigations on behalf of the United States.
Post broke the first story on
More documents went to other reporters — Tom Wicker received copies at his New York Times office; so did reporters at the Los Angeles Times — and to politicians including Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota and Rep. Parren J. Mitchell of Maryland.
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
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.
For instance, agents sought to persuade Martin Luther King Jr. to kill himself just before he received the Nobel Prize. They sent him a composite tape made from bugs planted illegally in his hotel rooms when he was entertaining women other than his wife — and threatened to make it public. "King, there is one thing left for you to do. You know what it is," FBI operatives wrote in their anonymous letter.
Under COINTELPRO, the
bureau also targeted actress Jean Seberg for having made a donation to the
Black Panther Party. The fragile actress ultimately committed suicide after a
gossip nugget based on a FBI wiretap was leaked to the
The sheer reach of a
completely politicized FBI was one of the most frightening revelations of the
Media documents. Underground newspapers were targeted. Students (and their
professors) were targeted. Celebrities were targeted. The Communist Party of
Eventually, the COINTELPRO memos — some from Media and some unearthed later — prompted hearings led by Rep. Don Edwards of California and by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho 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
Copies of the actual stolen FBI files - from WIN Magazine - published in 1971 (Courtesy Swarthmore Peace Collection) Warning: this is a large .pdf file and will take time to download.
Below you will find the cover letter which accompanied the FBI files when they were submitted to WIN Magazine. There are also 5 examples of the FBI pages. To see the complete set of pages, please download the above .pdf file.