A bunch of pissed-off citizens exposed the FBI's secret activities in 1971.
1971 (Johanna Hamilton). 79 minutes. Opens Friday (March 6). Rating: NNNN
Watch online: iTunes
Johanna Hamilton's 1971 may not be as dynamic or immediate a documentary as executive producer Laura Poitras's Citizenfour, but as a look at the earliest iteration of America as a security state, it's essential.
Before the age of digital information - when the secrets of governments and corporations can be released to the world with a few keystrokes and a laptop, and citizen journalism and activism are as easy as posting a video to Twitter - stealing secrets meant breaking into offices and removing physical files.
And in 1971, eight pissed-off Philadelphians did just that to expose the malfeasance of the FBI's operations against college activists, raiding a Bureau office in Media, Pennsylvania, and sending the documents to the Washington Post and a couple of congressmen.
They called themselves the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, and their efforts wound up revealing the COINTELPRO program that J. Edgar Hoover had set up to conduct counterintelligence operations against Americans he felt were undermining the nation. (Martin Luther King Jr. was an early target, as dramatized in Selma.)
Hamilton tells their story through archival footage, a few re-enactments and present-day interviews with surviving Commission members who are understandably proud of their accomplishments, if still a little surprised that they didn't end up being tried for treason.