An Agent in Every Mailbox

Forty years ago Senator Frank Church of Idaho during Senate committee hearings on investigation of the FBI and CIA and their misuse of power at home and abroad stated “We have seen today the dark side of those activities, where many Americans, who were not even suspected of crime, were not only spied upon, but they were harassed, they were discredited, and, at times, endangered.”  (1)

A few years earlier on March 8, 1971, a group of eight individuals successfully broke into the FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania where they took numerous files.  These files contained documents implicitly involving the FBI and its director, J. Edgar Hoover in a secret program which came to be known as COINTELPRO, standing for Counterintelligence Program.  Even with the power of the FBI the burglars have successfully remained free and only this week have their identities become known.

In her new book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, Betty Medsger reveals the narrative stories of the Media break-in and gives insight into the political times of yesteryear and today in light of privacy and national security.  Among the files removed from the Media field office were documents directing personnel to initiate surveillance “in every place where people would gather – churches, classrooms, stores down the street, just everything.”  Illustrative of the impact of the directive to spy on Americans is the statement “make the people think there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox”.  (2)  Although the burglars who identified themselves as the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI delivered documents to several news outlets and key individuals only The Washington Post published documents, refusing to comply with White House demands not publish the documents.

In considering our current concerns with surveillance and the publication of the Snowden documents, should the fear of terrorism be offset with our government’s capability to employ digital surveillance to spy on people without proper due process and equal protection?  Should citizens of the U.S. as well as of other countries fear the “unknown” associated with the long arm of law enforcement?  Moreover, what should we as civilians draw from COINTELPRO compared with today’s NSA, much less the continuing existence of the FBI and CIA?

Perhaps key to the analysis is whether those who have been labeled criminal and whistleblower by the government are truly the beacons of freedom and knowledge that the citizenry requires in order to rein in the government as the servant of the society?  In consideration of these questions is a pivotal observation.  Sometimes government must keep secrets and sometimes it must lie to the citizenry.  Contrary to popular sentiment this is often necessary in order to keep a peaceable society.  Humans after all have a very basic instinct in reacting to fear with anger, hate, and reprisal.  These qualities while sometimes positively driven by need for patriotism contrastingly if allowed to arise as purely behavioral responses may be very destructive to the unity and safety of the nation.

Having said this and no doubt distanced several readers let me comment that only in dire circumstances should government directly and purposefully lie in response to public inquiry about its activities involving the citizens of the nation.  Citizens of this nation are to be protected by the government, but the government is always accountable to the people and must respond to inquiry.  This does not obviate the government’s decision to decline to answer in order to protect the nation, but this is not carte Blanc sanction establishing a bill of secrecy.

Our constitution provides fundamental protections.  Two of these protections have been interpreted as privacy and free movement.  The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments listed in the Bill of Rights charge the government with a duty to assure not only Due Process but also Equal Protection to each citizen.

In instances where government is a party to a citizen’s potential loss of life or liberty in movement citizens must be afforded fair opportunity to protect themselves.  When government shrugs its shoulders and neglects to intercede to protect the citizen or purposefully involves itself in denial of Due Process and/ or Equal Protection of the citizen then citizens must take unusual steps to correct the deficiency of government.

Where capable of implementing legal process should be employed, but where that fails or is barred, the citizen has the right to challenge government extra-legally.  The cases of the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI and Edward Snowden are examples of citizens forcing government to acknowledge its hidden agendas.

Malcolm L. Rigsby J.D., Ph.D. is assistant professor of Sociology and Coordinator of Criminal Justice at Henderson State University, Arkansas.  His recent study involves religious conversion in prison comparing Islamic and Christian converts and transforming sociality.


(1)   AARC.  2014.  AARC the Assassination Archives and Research Center. Volume 6: Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Silver Spring, MD.  Retrieved January 8, 2014 (http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/contents/church/contents_church_reports_vol6.htm).

(2)   Democracy Now.  2014.  “It Was Time to Do More Than Protest”: Activists Admit to 1971FBI Burglary That Exposed COINTELPRO”.  Democracy Now.  Retrieved (http://www.democracynow.org/2014/1/8/it_was_time_to_do_more).

More articles by:
March 22, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Italy, Germany and the EU’s Future
David Rosen
The Further Adventures of the President and the Porn Star
Gary Leupp
Trump, the Crown Prince and the Whole Ugly Big Picture
The Hudson Report
Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons and Debt in Antiquity
Steve Martinot
The Properties of Property
Binoy Kampmark
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism
Jeff Berg
Russian to Judgment
Gregory Barrett
POSSESSED! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised
Robby Sherwin
What Do We Do About Facebook?
Sam Husseini
Trump Spokesperson Commemorates Invading Iraq by Claiming U.S. Doesn’t Dictate to Other Countries; State Dept. Defends Invasion
Rob Okun
Students: Time is Ripe to Add Gender to Gun Debate
Michael Barker
Tory Profiteering in Russia and Putin’s Debt of Gratitude
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am a Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us