In late 1970, a mild-mannered Haverford College physics professor privately asked a few people this question: “What do you think of burglarizing an FBI office?” In remarkable detail and with astonishing depth of research, Betty Medsger reveals the never-before-told full story of the history-changing break-in at the Media, Pennsylvania, FBI offices. Through their exploits, a group of unlikely activists exposed the shocking truth that J. Edgar Hoover was operating a shadow Bureau engaged in illegal surveillance and harassment of the American people.
The Burglary brings the activists, who have kept their secret for forty-three years, into the public eye for the first time—including, new to this edition, the recent discovery of the eighth and final member of the team. The burglars’ story of personal sacrifice and civil disobedience is a vital episode in the American whistle-blower tradition that includes the Pentagon Papers, Watergate’s Deep Throat, and, most recently, Edward Snowden and the NSA.
Betty Medsger first wrote about the Media files as a reporter at The Washington Post in 1971. She is a founding member of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and founder of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University, where she was chair of the Department of Journalism. She is the author of Women at Work, Framed: The New Right Attack of Chief Justice Rose Bird and the Courts and Winds of Change: Changes Confronting Journalism Education. She lives in New York with her husband, John T. Racanelli.
One of the Best Books of the Year, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) Book Award Winner
“Rich and valuable.”
—David J. Garrow, The Washington Post
“Impeccably researched, elegantly presented, engaging…For those seeking a particularly egregious example of what can happen when secrecy gets out of hand, The Burglary is a natural place to begin.”
—David Oshinsky, New York Times Book Review
“A cinematic account . . . By turns narrative and expository, The Burglary provides ample historical context, makes telling connections and brings out surprising coincidences . . . makes a powerful argument for moral acts of whistle-blowing in the absence of government action.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“An important work, the definitive treatment of an unprecedented and largely forgotten ‘act of resistance’ that revealed shocking official criminality in postwar America. One need not endorse break-ins as a form of protest to welcome this deeply researched account of the burglary at Media. Ms. Medsger’s reporting skill and lifelong determination enabled her to do what Hoover’s FBI could not: solve the crime and answer to history.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Riveting and extremely readable. Not just an in-depth look at a moment in history, The Burglary is also extremely relevant to today's debates over national security, privacy, and the leaking of government secrets to journalists.”
—The Huffington Post
“Astonishingly good, marvelously written…the best book I've read about either the antiwar movement or Hoover's FBI; a masterpiece.”
"Ordinary people have the courage and community to defeat the most powerful and punitive of institutions -- including the FBI. That's the unbelievable-but-true story told by Better Medsger, the only writer these long term and brave co-conspirators trusted to tell it. The Burglary will keep you on the edge of your seat -- right up until you stand up and cheer!"
“Beautifully told…The Burglary vividly recreates the atmosphere of the era.”
—Aryeh Neier, The New York Review of Books
“The break-in at the FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania changed history. It began to undermine J. Edgar Hoover’s invulnerability. Betty Medsger writes a gripping story about the burglary, the burglars, and the FBI’s fervid but fruitless efforts to catch them. Her story of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI (and today’s NSA) teaches the dangers of secret power.”
—Frederick A. O. Schwarz, Jr., former Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee investigating America’s intelligence agencies and author of the forthcoming Unchecked and Unbalanced
"I stayed up until 3 a.m. today. Now it's nearly 6 p.m. I have not done laundry, paid my bills or washed the dishes. I can't put the damn book down. What a triumphant piece of work!"
—Rita Henley Jensen, founder and editor-in-chief, Women's eNews
“A riveting account of a little-known burglary that transformed American politics. Medsger's carefully documented findings underscore how secrecy enabled FBI officials to undermine a political system based on the rule of law and accountability. This is a masterful book, a thriller.”
—Athan Theoharis, author of Abuse of Power: How Cold War Surveillance and Secrecy Policy Shaped the Response to 9/11
“In The Burglary, Betty Medsger solves the decades-long mystery the FBI never could: who broke into an FBI office in 1971 and exposed the Bureau’s secret program to stifle dissent? An astonishing and improbable tale of anonymous American heroes who risked their own freedom to secure ours, triggering the first attempt to subject our intelligence agencies to democratic controls. The book couldn’t be more timely given the current furor over a new generation of domestic spying.”
—Michael German, former covert counterterrorism FBI agent
“A masterpiece of investigative reporting. As a writer, I admire the way Betty Medgser has explored every angle of this truly extraordinary piece of history and told it with the compelling tension of a detective story. As an American, I’m grateful to know at last the identities of this improbable crew of brilliant whistle-blowers who are true national heroes. As someone appalled by recent revelations of out-of-control NSA spying, I’m reminded that it has all happened before, and that then, as now, it took rare courage to expose it. This brave group of friends were the Edward Snowdens of their time.”
—Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost
“Extraordinary . . . It is impossible to read Betty Medsger’s book without drifting into comparisons between then—when J. Edgar Hoover was the director of the FBI—and now—when Gen. Keith Alexander was the director of the NSA.”
—Firedoglake Book Salon
“Reading [The Burglary] might make you feel . . . like taking a crowbar to the offices of the NSA . . . Gripping . . . [The] timing couldn’t be better.”
“There is joy and fun—and lots of law breaking—in Betty Medsger's book. The Burglary answers the question long asked and speculated about within Catholic Left, as well as law and order, circles: Who did the 1971 Media, Pa., FBI break-in . . . Fast paced, fascinating . . . studded with timely insights for today's WikiLeaks, intelligence breaches and NSA scandals.”
—Frida Berrigan, Waging Nonviolence