On March 8, 1971, a handful of activists broke into the FBI’s field office in Media, Penn., and made off with a stack of incriminating documents. Over the next several months, they began to publish what they had learned. In the pre-Internet age, this often meant reprinting the FBI records in the alternative press, though papers such as the Washington Post and New York Times also picked them up. Like Glenn Greenwald’s recent revelations about the NSA, the discoveries from the Media break-in sparked widespread public outrage—and turned out to be one of the biggest scoops in intelligence history.
The program they exposed was called COINTELPRO (short for “counterintelligence program”), known today as the most notorious of the many notorious secret operations authorized by former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.