May 7, 2016

Recovered history: The FBI's war against the Berigan brothers


In 1970, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover took the extraordinary step of publicly and falsely accusing Daniel and Philip Berrigan of conspiring to blow up tunnels under federal buildings in Washington, D.C. and to kidnap President Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger. Hoover did this despite knowing that FBI investigators and Department of Justice officials had officially concluded there was no such conspiracy. But to save Hoover’s reputation after his public comments, Justice officials convinced a grand jury to bring charges against Philip Berrigan and others; Daniel Berrigan was named an unindicted co-conspirator. The 1972 trial ended in a hung jury.

For a while, Hoover succeeded in recasting the public image of the Berrigans and the Catholic peace movement into a group of violent extremists. The effort helped Hoover get the extra $14.5 million he wanted from Congress that year to hire a thousand new agents he said were needed because of the crisis created by these activists. But that effort backfired. Within the bureau, these new agents were known as “the Berrigan 1,000” because they resisted spying on political dissidents and asked to be assigned instead to organized crime and other criminal cases — areas of investigation in which, strangely, Hoover had little interest.

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