Reporter Donates Documents on Infamous 1971 FBI Burglary to Swarthmore College Peace Collection

This article was written by the Communications Office
at Swarthmore College.

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Betty Medsger sitting at table with microphone

Investigative reporter Betty Medsger, who recently spoke at McCabe Library, donated approximately 70,000 documents used while researching her 2014 book The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI. (Photo courtesy of Delaware County Daily Times)

As recently noted in the Delaware County Daily Times, the Washington Post journalist who was the first to report on files stolen from a Delaware County FBI office almost 50 years ago donated her book research on the topic to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

The collection, housed in McCabe Library, accepted approximately 70,000 documents that investigative reporter Betty Medsger used in writing her 2014 book The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI. The documents include the 35,000 files she received from a Freedom of Information Act request that methodically detailed theillegal surveillance techniques conducted by the FBI to suppress dissenting speech and activities by people and organizations viewed as subversives.

Read more about the operation in the Fall 2014 Swarthmore Bulletin. Related documents are available in the Black Liberation 1969 digitial archive.

“These were the documents that convinced Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and publisher Katharine Graham to defy J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General John Mitchell, and break the story that the FBI was spying on ordinary Americans who had committed no crimes,” says Wendy Chmielewski, George Cooley Curator of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

“The publication of the stolen records from the Media [Pa.] FBI office also directly influenced and encouraged the editor and publisher to go forward with publishing investigations of the well-known cases of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, and in the subsequent two years of investigations over Watergate,” says Chmielewski.

Some of the files detailed ways College staff members were used as informants for the FBI to keep an eye on certain professors or student groups through a program called COINTELPRO, which operated from 1965 to 1971.

“I’m in very good company,” Medsger said at an April 3 event at McCabe Library, noting her work’s inclusion with that of Nobel Prize laureate Jane Addams and documentary filmmaker Anthony Giacchino. “I’m glad my files will have good company and be valuable to people doing research.”

Since its founding in 1930, the Peace Collection has gathered and preserved for scholarly research the materials of people and organizations who have worked for nonviolent social change, disarmament, and conflict resolution between peoples and nations. The collection houses material on a wide variety of subjects, such as the history of the peace movement, pacifism, women and peace, conscientious objection, nonviolence and disarmament, internationalism, and civil disobedience. It also contains a large number of posters, photographs, and memorabilia, including the medal Jane Addams received when she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Read more about the donation in the Delaware County Daily Times.