Two burglars spent last weekend repeatedly breaking into a Dallas law firm and stealing three computers while leaving other valuables behind. The attorneys said Sunday that this was no ordinary break-in: it may have been politically motivated.Fair enough. It looks suspicious enough to warrant attention. But the common comparisons to Watergate bother me for this reason: it was not an anomaly. The FBI was operating COINTELPRO at the same time it occurred and was engaged in numerous black-bag jobs against radical leftist groups. Indeed, the much lauded Watergate "whistleblower" Mark Felt was himself convicted of ordering illegal break-ins. The only reason the Watergate burglary lead to a major scandal is that its target was an establishment political party.
The law firm targeted is Schulman & Mathias, which represents State Department whistleblower Aurelia Fedenisn, formerly with the department’s office of inspector general. Fedenisn revealed to CBS News earlier this year that she’d seen internal investigations called off or misdirected by higher ups, drawing a rapid and terrifying response from law enforcement, with a specific focus on her family and children.
Then, last weekend, security cameras caught two unknown people repeatedly burglarizing Fedenisn’s attorney’s office in north Dallas. An office across the hallway that was left unlocked and was full of valuables was overlooked by the thieves, who only took three computers.
Speaking to Foreign Policy on Sunday, attorney Cary Schulman said he suspects the crime was political in nature. “It’s clear to me that it was somebody looking for information and not money,” he said. “My most high-profile case right now is the Aurelia Fedenisn case, and I can’t think of any other case where someone would go to these great lengths to get our information.”
From one of the many Church Committee reports:
Since 1948 the FBI has conducted hundreds of warrantless surreptitious entries to gather domestic and foreign intelligence, despite the questionable legality of the technique and its deep intrusion into the privacy of targeted individuals. Before 1966, the FBI conducted over two hundred "black bag jobs." 1 These warrantless surreptitious entries were carried out for intelligence purposes other than microphone installation, such as physical search and photographing or seizing documents. Since 1960, more than five hundred warrantless surreptitious microphone installations against intelligence and internal security targets have been conducted by the FBI, a technique which the Justice Department still permits. Almost as many surreptitious entries were conducted in the same period against targets of criminal investigations.Ever since COINTELPRO and the Watergate scandals, there have also been other suspicious break-ins targeting left-wing groups.
Below are some useful sources:
1987 Congressional hearing: Break-ins at Sanctuary Churches and Organizations Opposed to Administration Policy in Central America
1987 AP article: Congressman investigating sanctuary break-ins
1988 AP article: Church break-ins remain a mystery
1988 AP article: BREAK-IN AT OFFICE OF GROUP OPPOSING U.S. CENTRAL AMERICAN POLICY
2008 Raw Story article: Break-ins plague targets of US Attorneys
Of special note is the last source I linked, which suggests that "enemies" of Bush-aligned attorneys may have been targeted by political burglaries.
Historical context is everything. The US right is trying to portray itself as the only victims of dirty tricks since Watergate. The truth is that the left-wing and its related causes have always been the main target of US government repression. That fact is as true now under Obama as it always was.
(On a side note, the conservative Heritage Foundation once openly encouraged the use of illegal burglaries against opponents of the Reagan administration.)