The Burglary

On the night of March 8, 1971, eight ordinary Americans broke into the regional office of the FBI in the town of Media, Pa., and removed all of its files. The damning documents that came from their brazen act hammered the first crack in the façade of competence and moral rectitude created by the bureau’s longtime director, J. Edgar Hoover. As they revealed, there was a “secret FBI,” one that willingly and often broke the law and violated the Constitution in order to pursue the director’s obsession with communists, civil-rights and black-power groups, and anti-Vietnam War activists. It culminated in the notorious COINTELPRO, a rogue counterintelligence program designed to sow paranoia among these groups—in some cases by murdering their members. The author, who for three years was a reporter at the Washington Post, was the first journalist to receive copies of the documents. She’s followed the story ever since, tracking down the eight burglars—something the FBI was never able to do, much to Hoover’s embarrassment—and convincing them finally to tell their stories. The Burglary brilliantly illustrates anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous line, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”