Secrecy then and now

This is an important event to remember:

there were eight people with suitcases who broke into an FBI office housed in a suburban apartment building.

They knew the building superintendent would be preoccupied that night. Like  millions of Americans on March 8, 1971, he was next to his radio, transfixed by  the “Fight of the Century” between heavyweight champion Joe  Frazier and challenger Muhammad Ali.  They stuffed the luggage full of documents, which within days were slipped into  large envelopes headed for the desks of journalists, politicians and  activists.

More than 40 years after the break-in, which revealed a spying program run by  J. Edgar Hoover that targeted antiwar and civil rights activists, some of the  burglars went public Tuesday to discuss an event that they say is more pertinent  than ever in this age of ramped-up surveillance.

The theft revealed that under Hoover, the FBI conducted an illegal spying  operation that included blackmail, opening of personal mail and forging  documents, with the aim of disrupting student antiwar groups, black civil rights  organizations, suspected communists and others. The revelation  led to congressional hearings and reforms that scaled back the government’s  freedom to spy on U.S. citizens.

This is what happens when programs are kept secret without oversight. A small crime to expose a bigger crime was and is a good thing.

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