John and Bonnie Raines, two of the burglars, at home in Philadelphia. (Photo: Mark Makela for The New York Times)

In 1971, as opposition to the Vietnam War peaked and civil unrest rattled America, activists knew they were being watched, infiltrated and undermined by the FBI. But they didn’t know the extent of the agency’s efforts, nor how far J. Edgar Hoover’s agents would go to suppress dissent.

That would change one night in March, when eight men and women broke into an FBI satellite office in Media, Pa. They absconded with nearly every piece of paper they could find, sifted through it and anonymously sent various documents detailing the agency’s spying and dirty tricks to major media organizations.  While some outlets were initially reticent about reporting on the documents, the revelations would ultimately unleash a torrent of investigative reporting, shining a light on Hoover’s efforts to destroy Martin Luther King and the agency’s now-notorious COINTELPRO program.

The burglars then faded into obscurity until this week, when it was revealed that five of them had agreed to be interviewed for a new book by Betty Medsger, a former Washington Post reporter who was one of the first to receive the stolen documents.

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