Lesson Plan

Stealing J. Edgar Hoover's Secrets – Mini Lesson


A break-in at an F.B.I. office in Media, Pa., was followed by a massive leak of documents that provided the first tangible evidence that J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I. was systematically targeting and harassing hundreds of American citizens, then known collectively as the New Left. Congressional investigations soon led to more revelations of secret, illegal F.B.I. actions, followed by sweeping reforms. The burglars were never caught, despite a five-year investigation. This 13-minute documentary video explores the events surrounding the break-in, which revealed a nationwide surveillance program known as Cointelpro.


Students will:

  • Identify differing tensions and perspectives related to the balance between personal privacy and national security.
  • Examine the roles of individuals and the news media in holding the government accountable for transparency.
  • Analyze the significance of the break-in at the F.B.I. office and the subsequent exposure of the Cointelpro program.
  • U.S. History
  • Civics & Government
  • 1960s America
  • Cultural and Social Change
For Teachers

Essential Questions

  • What responsibilities does a government have to be transparent to citizens about its activities meant to ensure national security?
  • How did government surveillance practices affect the civil liberties of the individuals targeted by Cointelpro?
  • What lessons can be learned about government accountability and transparency, and the balance between national security and individual rights?

Additional Resources

Transcript for "Stealing J.Edgar Hoover's Secrets"Retro Report 
Primary Source: Debate in the House of Representatives on the USA Patriot Act of 2001House of Representatives 
Primary Source: Debate in the Senate on the USA Patriot Act of 2001Senate 
Compilation of National Security vs. Civil Liberties briefsAmerican Constitution Society 
Article: How Does a Country Balance Its National Security With Civil Liberties? Colgate Magazine 

Explain how the U.S. Constitution establishes a system of government that has powers, responsibilities, and limits that have changed over time and that are still contested.

Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.

Analyze how people use and challenge local, state, national, and international laws to address a variety of public issues.

Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.

Questions? Tips? Concerns? Reach out to our Director of Education, David Olson: dolson@retroreport.com