They were Snowden before Snowden, except no one ever knew who they were until now. Five of the eight burglars who ultimately helped take down J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI domestic surveillance machine have revealed themselves.
"Burglars broke into this office outside Philadelphia in 1971 and stole 1,000 secret documents — the culprits never found. 'We did it. Somebody had to do it.'" (Via NBC)
The burglars revealed themselves ahead of a new book released Tuesday detailing the daring raid in the midst of the Vietnam War era — "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI."
The group was formed by a Philadelphia professor who grew increasingly frustrated years of Vietnam War protests had little actual impact. After months of casing an FBI satellite office in Media, Pennsylvania, the eight broke in, stuffed thousands of pages of documents into suitcases and drove getaway cars to a farmhouse.
"We were like, 'Oh, man! I can't believe this worked!' We knew there was going to be some gold in there somewhere." "Each of the eight of us were sorting files, and all of a sudden, you'd hear one of us. 'Oh! Oh, look! Look at this one!" (Via The New York Times)
The documents revealed widespread domestic surveillance on anyone Hoover considered a threat or dissenter — from an anonymous letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. threatening to reveal his extramarital affairs to interviews of college student war protesters. (Via WSWP)
Archived articles from 1971 show one document read, "It will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across there is an F.B.I. agent behind every mailbox." (Via The Harvard Crimson)
The burglars sent those documents to several journalists, including former Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger — the book's author. (Via The Burglary)
Despite the Nixon administration's attempts to get the documents returned, Medsger wrote the first article detailing the FBI's surveillance two weeks after the break-in.
During the mid-1970s, a Senate investigation revealed more FBI abuses and led to greater congressional oversight, though Hoover was dead by that point. (Via NPR)
Knowing they could go to prison for years, two of the burglars — John and Bonnie Raines — even arranged for family members to take care of their three children if they were caught. (Via NBC)
But they weren't, though the eight never met again as a group. When the statute of limitations for filing charges expired and the FBI closed the cased, Medsger writes only one of the burglars was on the FBI's final list of possible suspects.
John Raines told The New York Times, "It looks like we're terribly reckless people. But there was absolutely no one in Washington — senators, congressmen, even the president — who dared hold J. Edgar Hoover to accountability."
Three burglars chose to remain anonymous, despite the book's release and no risk of prosecution. The Raines say they feel a kinship toward NSA leaker Edward Snowden.