The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI by Betty Medsger tells the story of a 1971 breakin at an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. The breakin is perpetrated by eight anti-war activists who were seeking proof that Hoover is using the FBI to spy on and suppress the anti-Vietnam War movement.

The eight make off with thousands of pages of documents which they then secret away to a farmhouse where they spend weeks cataloguing the contents, then photocopying selected documents which they then forwarded along to members of the press and congress who they thought would be sympathetic to their cause. And they got away with it. None of them were ever arrested for their crimes and it was only after the statute of limitations had expired that they came forward and told their story to Medsger.

Sounds interesting right?


Medsger devotes way too much time to biographical profiles of the eight, and far too little time on what was revealed by what they stole. She does touch briefly on COINTELPRO which showed up on one of the documents, just the word not an explanation of the program mind you, and would only later be fully revealed during the Church Committee hearings which were held later in the 1970s.

The only purpose this book really served for me was to remind me how corrupt the FBI was under Hoover and had me questioning whether or not that agency would ever be able to be kept within the bounds that it’s supposed to observe, or if a Director with his own set of ethics and ideas would always lead to the corruption of that agency. So, unless you’re a fan of boredom, I wouldn’t recommend picking up this book. It’s 500 pages too long.