By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

Congratulations to the nonviolent activists who have come forward after exposing illegal FBI spying 43 years ago.

On March 8, 1971, a group of eight peace activists, including two professors, broke into an FBI office in a Philadelphia suburb and carried away every document they could lay their hands on.

The team of burglars, a sort of real-life "Ocean's Eleven," strongly believed they would find evidence of FBI lawbreaking.

They found the evidence they were looking for, and much more.

The seized documents revealed the existence of an illegal, top-secret undertaking, codenamed COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program), whose purpose was basically to suppress political dissent in the United States.

This politically motivated program targeted the civil rights movement and peace groups opposed to the Vietnam War and the draft.

The FBI program not only conducted extensive surveillance of citizens who were lawfully exercising their legitimate First Amendment rights, but it also aimed to disrupt their activities through dirty tricks, infiltrators and provocateurs.

The COINTELPRO documents also revealed that during the 1960s, the FBI was trying to destroy the Puerto Rico independence movement by exacerbating internal divisions. It even founded a front group whose purpose was to foil any attempt at unity.

The raiders of the FBI office in Pennsylvania, who called themselves the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, sent the explosive files to Betty Medsger of the Washington Post.

"The first file that I read was about a group of FBI agents who were told to enhance the paranoia in the antiwar movement and to create an atmosphere that there's an FBI agent behind every mailbox," Medsger recently revealed on "Democracy Now!" Medsger just published a book on this episode, entitled "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI."

After the story appeared in the Washington Post, the revelations caused a national scandal, and the U.S. Congress responded by ordering COINTELPRO shut down. The Senate Church Committee unequivocally concluded that COINTELPRO "infringed the constitutional rights of American citizens."

Those of us who revere our liberties owe a huge debt of gratitude to these heroes who have just come out of the shadows.

In a sense, they were the forebears of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden, who in our time have taken great personal risks to defy the law nonviolently and reveal the wrongdoing of the U.S. government.

Like Manning and Snowden, the brave members of the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI revealed the dangers of secret and unaccountable power.

They were forced to take their actions because our system of checks and balances wasn't working the way it was supposed to. Nor is it working properly now.

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican author, journalist and environmental educator. He can be reached at

Copyright Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero.

Photo: "Burglar with flashlight and crowbar," via Shutterstock.


Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.


Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project