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The New York Times' national security Mark Mazzetti deserves credit for his must-read article on the Americans who helped expose Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spying on political opponents:

They were never caught, and the stolen documents that they mailed anonymously to newspaper reporters were the first trickle of what would become a flood of revelations about extensive spying and dirty-tricks operations by the F.B.I. against dissident groups.

Exposure of the surveillance program (known as COINTELPRO) led to wide-ranging investigation into the government's spying powers (The Church Committee) and massive legal reforms, including the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and creation of the congressional oversight intelligence committees.

Senator Church’s investigation in the mid-1970s revealed still more about the extent of decades of F.B.I. abuses, and led to greater congressional oversight of the F.B.I. and other American intelligence agencies. The Church Committee’s final report about the domestic surveillance was blunt. “Too many people have been spied upon by too many government agencies, and too much information has been collected,” it read.
The patriots who exposed COINTELPRO form an informative historical parallel:
The burglary in Media, Pa., on March 8, 1971, is a historical echo today, as disclosures by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden have cast another unflattering light on government spying and opened a national debate about the proper limits of government surveillance. The burglars had, until now, maintained a vow of silence about their roles in the operation. They were content in knowing that their actions had dealt the first significant blow to an institution that had amassed enormous power and prestige during J. Edgar Hoover’s lengthy tenure as director.
The decision of the protestors who exposed the FBI's surveillance is especialy timely. Whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations have demonstrated that - as with COINTELPRO - again a government agency is in secret overreaching against Innocent people with political views the government does not like.

As with NSA's surveillance, the public was largely in the dark, and in denial, about the FBI's spying on dissidents and peace groups:

[O]ne of the burglars, Keith Forsyth, who is finally going public about his involvement. “There was only one way to convince people that it was true, and that was to get it in their handwriting.”
Similarly, NSA whistleblowers Bill Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe and Thomas Drake and members of Congress warned about NSA's massive surveillance years before Edward Snowden gave documents to journalists. It took the documents to spark the necessary global debate and influence meaningful reform efforts.    

The only things Mazzetti didn't ask the protestors is what they think of Edward Snowden, but given their demonstrated commitment to the Constitution and holding government officials accountable, I can only imagine their decision to go public now is informed by Mr. Snowden's actions.

Reflecting back on their decision, here's what one otold Mazetti:ors told Mazetti:

"But there was absolutely no one in Washington — senators, congressmen, even the president — who dared hold J. Edgar Hoover to accountability.”

“It became pretty obvious to us,” he said, “that if we don’t do it, nobody will.”

Mr. Snowden expressed a similar sentiment to Bart Gellman of the Washington Post:
“Dianne Feinstein elected me when she asked softball questions” in committee hearings, he said. “Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden. . . . The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do. The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility.” . . . “You have the capability, and you realize every other [person] sitting around the table has the same capability but they don’t do it. So somebody has to be the first."
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