PHILADELPHIA — A group of Philadelphia-area antiwar activists who broke into an FBI office in 1971 and stole, then gave to the media, documents showing the agency was targeting protesters has come forward for the first time to give details about the break-in.
Until now, the crime was unsolved. But the period to charge anyone also has lapsed.
The group, including three college professors, a day care director and a cabdriver, did much of their plotting in a home in Philadelphia before the March 8, 1971, raid on the FBI office in Media, about 22 miles southwest of Philadelphia. Their activities came during the Vietnam War protests that deeply divided the country.
Members of the group spoke to the media in the runup to two chronicles of the break-in: journalist Betty Medsger's book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI, released Tuesday, and 1971, filmmaker Johanna Hamilton's documentary to debut this year.
Keith Forsyth, a 20-year-old cabdriver at the time of the break-in, said the members wanted to avoid prosecution — the statute of limitations ran out in 1976. But he said they also kept quiet until now because they wanted the public to pay attention to the revelations. "We wanted the focus to be on the documents we found and not on us," he said during a conference call Tuesday with reporters.
The stolen material was the first glimpse of an agency operation called COINTELPRO — an illegal and secret surveillance program targeting Americans, and one that used dirty tricks and smear tactics.