PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A group of U.S. anti-war activists who broke into an FBI office in 1971 and leaked its files to the media has come forward for the first time to give details about the unsolved crime.
But they can't be charged. The period to charge anyone lapsed in 1976.
Decades before Edward Snowden revealed National Security Agency surveillance programs, the group exposed how the government was targeting protesters.
Their activities came during the Vietnam War protests that deeply divided the country.
Members of the group spoke to the media before the release of two chronicles about 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 later this year.
Keith Forsyth, a 20-year-old cab driver at the time of the break-in, said the members kept quiet until now because they wanted the public to pay attention to the revelations from the files.
"We wanted the focus to be on the documents we found and not on us," Forsyth said during a conference call Tuesday with reporters.
On a night when the nation was tuned in to a Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier championship boxing match, the group carried out their plan, leaving the office with suitcases full of files.
Group members said they sorted the documents and only sent to reporters the ones that showed the FBI targeting civilians — and not those that could have compromised national security.
The envelopes they sent out to journalists came from what they called the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI. One arrived on the desk at The Washington Post of Medsger, who never gave up telling the story of the break-in and its meaning.
"The FBI was conducting a secret war on dissent," she said Tuesday, "particularly on anti-war activists and African Americans."
One of the memos the group took and leaked called for FBI agents to increase questioning of campus leftists, saying the effort would "enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox."