Man Who Stole Shocking FBI Spying Documents Reveals Himself 43 Years Later

Sameera Ehteram
In 1971, Keith Forsyth and his group of activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and stole documents containing some truly shocking information. Those responsible were never caught nor did they make a public appearance – until now.

Keith Forsyth

Sick and tired of the liberties that the FBI and other intelligence organizations had taken with people’s privacy, these people have decided to reveal all in the new documentary 1971.

It seems quite similar to the startling revelations of Edward Snowden regarding the NSA, except this was 43 years ago.

Apart from the documentary, Forsythe also came in Reddit recently for an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session.

We took every document in the office, and shared the evidence we found of illegal FBI activity with the American public. The documents we found exposed COINTELPRO for the first time, a massive program of domestic surveillance intended to intimidate dissenters and infringe on our right to free speech,” he said at the beginning of the AMA session.

Here are some of glimpses of Keith Forsyth’s AMA session:

What did you find?

All of us knew that the FBI was breaking the law, but even we were shocked when we saw the extent and how brazen they were about documenting it. Probably the most shocking thing in the Media files was how many people were FBI informants: they had informers on the inside of virtually every local institution including churches and colleges and the post office. Even more shocking documents came out later as a byproduct of the action.”

How come you never got caught and were you afraid?

…there were a number of factors: we spent months planning and were extremely careful about every detail, the FBI was a giant bureaucracy run by a megalomaniac and staffed by conformists, and probably most importantly there were hundreds if not thousands of suspects to sift through, all of whom despised the FBI and refused to cooperate. On the first question, we were certainly nervous and there were some deep-breath moments during the process of getting through the doors, but we were prepared for that.”

Why did you come forward now?

I was persuaded by other Commissioners that this episode should be documented for its historical value, and also that stepping forward and the attendant publicity would help advance the political dialog about privacy, due process, and government power. I'm not really that comfortable with publicity, but I was persuaded by those arguments.

Would you do it today?

“I've asked myself that question a hundred times since the January release of the book & film. My basic values haven't changed, only the details, so I hope I would and I think I would, but I'm not 100% sure. I have to confess that my tolerance for risk at 64 isn't what it was at 21. We'll have to see what I do with the rest of the time I have left.”

Do you have fears you'll be monitored now, after coming out?

“Based on what Edward Snowden has revealed, both of us are definitely being monitored. However, I doubt that it's at the level of "every move", but then official paranoia is never entirely rational and anything is possible.”

Do you think that people have become complacent with regards to government spying, and merely see it as a "done thing" these days?

“There was plenty of that in the 60's & 70's also. I think it was easier to believe in the possibility of change when there were demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people in the streets; it's much harder to have that belief today.

keith forsyth

1971 is being screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.

“Before Watergate, WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, there was Media, Pennsylvania,” goes the very apt description of the film.